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RIN president slams Galileo development

  • Friday, 02 November 2007 | News

The President of the Royal Institute of Navigation in the UK, Professor David Last, has launched a scathing attack on the EU's Galileo positioning system, a European answer to American GPS which has suffered a number of delays and is already at least three years behind schedule.

Speaking Tuesday at the NAV07 conference in London, Professor Last accused the EU of having "ignored the elephant in the room" and having squandered opportunities due to "pork-barrel politics" in its pursuit of the system.

"With delays allowing other nations to steal a march on the development of "Europe's GPS?, we now have to ask - where on Earth is Galileo going?? said Prof Last. "Does its development even have a clear destination any more?"

"Two key arguments then convinced the politicians. First, that Galileo would give Europe that independence of the US it sought. Second, that it would bring to Europe a substantial new industry."

"Independence has proved to be a myth. The mass market demanded technical compatibility between Galileo and GPS, not a separate and different Galileo. And US national security blocked Europe's freedom to operate Galileo without US co-operation. So free-to-air Galileo has become essentially another version of GPS."

He continued: "And that major new industry? Well, Galileo has stimulated those companies that design and launch satellites. But for every satellite you launch, there are a million users on the Earth. Here is where the money's made, or lost."

"As the Japanese showed the US, operating the satellite system doesn?t guarantee that you dominate the satellite navigation user market."

Prof Last feels that the fact that a fully functioning positioning system already exists with GPS makes this a somewhat pointless exercise.

"In a sense, Europe's dreamers had ignored the elephant in the room," he said. "And what an elephant: GPS. Probably the most successful technological innovation of the late 20th century."

"A high-tech industry with no downside, whose customers seized the opportunities it offered, a technical enabler that spawned a thousand products across the world."

"Galileo once promised a technically superior system to GPS, to be delivered in 2008, which starts in two months' time. The Galileo schedule has slipped roughly two years per annum. That window of opportunity has now slammed shut, lost largely to the pork-barrel politics of which nation got which part of the work."

"By now, the US has a new and better GPS on the way. Russia's GLONASS is being upgraded and China, Japan, and India are each planning their own satellite navigation system. At least one of them could well be in place before Galileo. A second elephant and a third!"

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