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GMV Study Recommends Increase in GNSS Capacity

By | December 15, 2008
      [Satellite News 12-15-08] Advancements in satellite positioning services, combined with telecommunications and cartographic services, will greatly benefit civil service fields such as law enforcement and emergency management in Europe, according to a study project coordinated by GMV and co-funded by the European Commission.
          The study also recommends that Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS) capacity be increased to support the future needs of law enforcement and emergency services.
          The project, dubbed Harmless, studied how services provided by the Galileo and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS) navigation systems could streamline processes and change operations in these fields by analyzing GNSS use in three phases. The process involved interviews with users, commercial companies, organizations and support service providers.
          “Projects like Harmless help to build bridges between technologists and users, striking the right balance between what can be done technically and what actually needs to be done in practice,” Project Coordinator José Caro told Satellite News. Caro discussed details of the project and what government-funded research initiatives like Harmless mean for the satellite industry.

      Satellite News: What was the European Commission’s interest in this study? Are there problems with emergency management and law enforcement in Europe that call for assistance from satellite technology?

      Caro: The Harmless study was co-funded by the European Commission within the sixth European Union framework program for research and technological development. The strategic objective of the program is to strengthen the scientific and technological bases of industry while supporting European Union policies. The study itself was not requested due to specific emergency management or law enforcement challenges in Europe but with the intention to use research funds to increase competitiveness of the organizations engaged while providing maximum public benefit.

      Satellite News: How will the GNSS develop to better suit emergency management systems in Europe?

      Caro: The EGNOS and Galileo missions lack requirements devoted to emergency management, apart from the Galileo support to the Cospas-Sarsat search and rescue system. During the study, it became apparent that the inclusion of an alert broadcast service through GNSS satellites could be highly beneficial worldwide. Cell phones with GNSS receivers are also becoming a commodity. If navigational systems such as GPS or Galileo included specific messages to alert on quickly evolving disasters, it would be possible to warn people in real time, depending on their actual location.
          Let us imagine the case of tsunamis. Tsunami detection systems currently exist in some oceans and seas. Including a link with GNSS ground segments to broadcast a tsunami alert is technically feasible, provided the downlink protocols are updated. The user terminal could recognize if the receiver is in a region that could be affected by the tsunami and then could recommend an escape route. The bandwidth needed for such alert broadcast is quite limited, and many lives could be quickly saved. Another long-term recommendation is to increase the capability of GNSS satellites with limited communication functions to be used for the coordination of emergency on-field teams, both among themselves and with their headquarters.              However, the technical feasibility of this has not been analyzed in depth, and more work would be needed to determine whether this functionality should be implemented in future GNSS generations.

      Satellite News: In the study results, you mention that one of the ways GNSS could assist law enforcement is by tracking valuable assets. How could this be done?

      Caro: A potential application of GNSS is to include small devices in expensive assets with geographical fencing functions and minimum mobile communication links to report an alert when the asset is moved away from, its primary location. For instance, a person’s new 55-inch home theater could include this device embedded into it so that if removed from the house, it will send an alert indicating its new location, making a fast recovery possible. To achieve this, we need to increase the indoor availability of GNSS to include dataless signals and robust codes for attenuated conditions, such as GPS L2C CL code or the Galileo pilot signal.

      Satellite News: What space segment is needed, if any, beyond what already exists to implement GMV’s suggestions?

      Caro: The study included the analysis of several emergency management, humanitarian aid and law enforcement GNSS-based applications. Some of them are feasible with current technologies, while others require an evolution of the GNSS ground segment without modification of the space segment. For instance, one would implement a worldwide alert broadcast system and another would require an evolution of the space segment. Another example would be to include additional communication capabilities in navigation spacecrafts to allow for coordination of emergency teams.

      Satellite News: Are your suggestions economically viable and sustainable?

      Caro: One of the conclusions from our interactions with professional users is that emergency management systems have to be very well adapted to the operational environment in order to be accepted smoothly. For instance, aspects like the size of communications devices and their robustness are fundamental. The main features humanitarian aid users were concerned with include price and simplicity of use, as many organizations depend on local agents with less training. Most of the applications analyzed were proven to be in the limit of being economically viable due to the development cost rather than the marginal cost. For them, it is suggested that the development cost is funded by public organizations. In all cases, the cost and benefit analysis is subtle, as the addressed user communities are not commercial entities. Another important aspect of this analysis is the social benefit, which is not simple to translate into a standard economical cost and benefit figure.

      Satellite News: Which commercial companies were involved in the study, and how does the outcome affect those involved?

      Caro: The study was conducted with the participation of 10 organizations including GMV, INSA, NEXT, EADS Astrium, EADS Infoterrra, EADS Secure Networks, NSL, IIASL, a non-government organization called MapAction and an association of police officers, the ACPO, in addition to other users, were interviewed during the study. The commercial companies that participated in the study have complementary interests, ranging from use of GNSS in the fields of management of forest fires, management of floods, secure communications, mapping, management and control of police assets, development of GNSS ground infrastructure, support systems for gender violence, and GNSS-based support for canine search and rescue. After the study, the commercial links of these companies are stronger, so the possibilities of synergetic developments and participation in further development projects have increased.

      Satellite News: Will the European Commission implement your suggestions?

      Caro: Our final conclusions have not yet been incorporated in the evolution programs, due the fact that the study has just concluded. Our expectation is that next evolution of EGNOS and Galileo mission requirement documents may include sections devoted to emergency management that will pave the way to development of applications with great social benefit.

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