Let the search for sat nav apps begin

Alex Walls
April 2, 2013

A competition looking for apps and location technologies to take advantage of the launch of the Galileo sat nav system is now open.

The European Satellite Navigation Competition, the UK branch of which is run by the University of Nottingham, is looking for ideas on the applications of satellite data in smartphones, location-based services and more.

Sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board, the UK government’s innovation agency which identifies and invests in potential growth areas, as well as the likes of the  UK Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult,  the competition saw over 400 ideas using satellite navigation technology year on year, Nottingham’s business engagement arm Grace’s general manager Paul Bhatia said.

Launched by the European commission, Galileo recently gave its  first ever positional reading  and with its coming online, this provided an opportunity to take advantage of its signals to produce new, more accurate applications using positioning and navigational technologies to underpin new business, Mr Bhatia said.

Why phones?

Something like 60% of all apps used location technology within the services they provided, whether through feedback to developers who who was using the app to actually being integrated into the service offered, Technology Strategy Board Head of Space Tim Just said.

“Things like Twitter now include your location so that you can see who’s tweeting nearby rather than just who else is talking about a given topic, so it’s that geographical reference that’s significant, but in almost all cases that is achieved by using satellite navigation.”

Space itself had been identified as having delivered growth over the last seven years of close to 10% year on year and through out the recession, Mr Just said.  It was forecasted to continue this growth to be worth around £40 billion by 2030 to the UK economy.

“We want to make sure that we actually achieve that ambition and support the innovative technologies that are needed to ensure that the space sector stays at the forefront of that growth potential, and the key area in that growth is actually in the application of using space data, such as navigation data, which is why we support this competition.”

And this, he said, meant mobile apps.

Galileo’s launch was a good opportunity to focus on building these apps, he said.

The system was designed to be complementary to the GPS network, meaning twice as many satellites providing information, preventing problems with sat nav resulting from too few satellites or buildings blocking signals.

“I’m sure we’ve all had frustrating moments where we’ve been a little bit lost in the car or in the high st and you switch on your sat nav and you don’t quite get the location as quickly as possible or it sometimes goes off track…when you have twice as many sats to chose from you’re much more likely to be able to get that position fix and keep navigating and not only with reliability but also it makes it more accurate so you have greater confidence in exactly where you are when you’re trying to find the front door of the building you’re trying to get to.”

The competition had been running for nine years and when it first started, there were lots of people who had great ideas that required a bespoke device to be developed, Mr Just said.

“With the advent of the smartphone, that’s no longer requirement ‘ they’ve got sat nav tech, they’ve got a screen, they’ve got a processor, they’ve got a user interface, the user has already got the handset, all you need to do is develop the app to turn the idea into a reality and so that’s much cheaper, much quicker and a much better user experience generally as well.”

The competition now saw many great ideas that were effectively apps and were not prohibitive in terms of cost for final product.

What’s up for grabs

The prizes up for grabs included the winner of the UK regional competition, who received a prize worth £10,000, made up of a £5000 cash prize and business support and incubation services.

Anyone who entered the UK competition went into the draw for the overall prize worth ‚¬20,000, including a ‚¬10,000 cash prize.

And there were also various special topic prizes up for grabs as well, Mr Bhatia said.

While previous years had seen winners with apps that allowe geotagging of photos for car accidents, or taxi location services with driver rating options, the theme was a good business idea as well as a great app idea, Mr Just said.

“We’re not just looking for good ideas, we’re looking for good business as well.”

The competition closes on June 30th and is open to anyone with an idea that uses sat nav, positioning or timing technology.

And just for fun…what phone are you using?

Mr Just: BlackBerry for work, an iPhone personally. Tragically, not an iPhone 5.

Mr Bhatia: iPhone 5

What’s your favourite app?

Mr Just: Right now, and I’m going to sound a bit girly, but I think this is a fantastic tech, it’s something called Snap Fashion and it won the audience award at our innovate conference earlier this month, basically if you see someone wearing some clothes that you like, you take a picture on your phone and it will then find a shop that sells those clothes.

Mr Bhatia: Not such a good answer I’m afraid, mine’s got to be RunKeeper. Which is a good GPS app also.

If you could have a dream attachment to your phone, what would it be?

Mr Just: A satellite

Mr Bhatia: A remote control for the TV

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