The UK Space Agency alongside other space leaders are currently looking for British people, tech start-ups and developers with ideas for consumer technologies and apps that can take advantage of the European satellite infrastructure known as Galileo. We speak here to Tim Just, Head of Space at the Technology Strategy Board with Paul Bhatia from the University of Nottingham to hear about why we should all be getting all excited about this opportunity.
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For those unfamiliar with the Galileo project, give us an overview?
Galileo is the European satellite navigation system equivalent to the US GPS system and it has been in the making for some years now but the final constellation was launched into orbit and we have the first four satellites operating. On 12th March we had the first position fix from those first 4 satellites. It is fantastic news for the UK space industry because the pay loads and a lot of the ground infrastructure were produced and developed here in the UK. This competition is not about the satellites it is about how we use the improved positioning performance we have got from this new space infrastructure.
Tell us more about this competition then, what have those entering got the opportunity to become involved with?
This competition has been running since 2004 and it started life as the Galileo Masters Competition to develop new applications and ideas for businesses that would use Galileo when it came online. The competition is more commonly known as the European Satellite Navigation competition and it is currently entering its 10th year. The competition opened on the 1st April and it closes on the 30th June and it is basically looking for people to come forward with innovative ideas that use satellite navigation for new applications, ideas that can actually be transformed into businesses that will employ people and use the Galileo services and to make money.
Is this competition something that is open to established businesses and organisations as well as individuals with their own ideas as well?
Tim Just/ Paul Bhatia
Yes it is an all-inclusive competition. Something that is assessed through the application and judging process is how much people have actually thought about the business case. There ought to be a business that can be made out of the application, service or product.
What sort of businesses do you envisage having the most to offer to this project and how have the entrants ideas changed over the last 10 years that you have been running it?
Nowadays we are seeing more and more application developers come to the fore whereas in previous years we had seen people coming forward with ideas for products that would be bespoke and using navigation in their design. To give you some examples, the winner of the UK leg of the competition for last year was a company called Igolize. They were a start-up but people who had experience in creating successful businesses in the past had started it. Their idea was like a paradigm shift in terms of the whole navigation and location direction thing whereas they are looking at time travel or travel time i.e. how long does it take you to get from A – B by using a particular mode of transport following a particular kind of scenario. They are getting lots of interest from companies who offer services like Rightmove looking at a location of a house close to certain amenities.
Other people who have entered have included SMEs or even some larger companies. For example, I was telling you that this kind of competition started in Europe a good few years ago and there are now about 23 regions across Europe that participate in their own regional challenges. We actually operate the UK challenge but there have been companies for example, like GMV from Spain who entered the Spanish leg of the competition a couple of years ago. They went on to win the national competition with an application that was helping to locate people who had been stuck in disaster situations where it helped to guide sniffer dogs to people who were in trouble. Another example is the runner up in the competition from last year who had an idea around precision sports. His application is basically looking at the performance of athletes by using the technology in tandem with other things to improve the performance of soccer players and athletes.
The beauty of this competition is that it is ultimately an ideas competition and if you have got a good idea of how you can use satellite navigation and you have got a good idea of how you are going to turn that into a business we can help. In the first round of the application process you will get your idea validated and there is a panel of experts who will review that and if you make it to the final you get a chance to meet them. If you are the successful winner of the UK leg you get a business incubation support package and some cash to get the company going which is usually about £5,000. You also get some patenting advice and the knowledge you need to get the company going. Also you get a huge amount of visibility and recognition in the community. To help you take it to the next stage it could be an investor or it could be an industrial partner. It could access some of the governments support infrastructures we have, such as the newly created Satellite applications catapult centre or the business incubator program so that you can turn your idea into a business.
So it is exciting stuff to be getting involved with isn’t it? Do you think here in the UK we are making the most of the Satellite based data and applications that are available to us?
We are starting to and I think we are leading the way certainly in Europe and possibly in the world. The UK has some of the highest ideas and applications within this competition across all the home and European regions. Also, the government is starting to recognise the importance of supporting both start up companies and bigger companies that are changing direction to make use of this technology. We have become very location dependant in our daily lives and we are very dependent upon space technology but don’t actually realise it. Something like 60% of all apps now use location information within some form of how they operate. The majority of searches are location sensitive these days. We often take it for granted that satellite navigation is there and available for us to use. What we want to do is get people to recognise that potential, recognise the improvement in the infrastructure that is coming with Galileo and how we can do more commercial things or just think about how it could improve society by being more location aware in what we do.
Galileo really is seen by Europe, as the long-term solution for location-based technology isn’t it?
Whilst we are in the process of launching the first Galileo program constellation we are already thinking about what improvements can be made to make it more affordable, more efficient and if necessary to improve its accuracy for the next generation of satellites. We have seen a real commitment across Europe that this is a long-term infrastructure program.
Of course it is not just about Galileo it is about the kind of improvements coming forward in GPS and the other global satellite navigation systems that are coming online so now the chip sets that are available within your mobile phones will already pick up the Russian system, GLONASS as well and there is the Chinese system coming on line called Beidou. Pretty soon there will be so many satellites that we can lock on to in order to improve the quality of our positioning. It’s about using the positioning sensors and navigation sensors within the phone or within the device in tandem with other sensors as well. There might be the camera inside your phone and for example the winner of the UK leg of the competition 2 years ago was a company called Instantview and what they did was design an app for a smart phone which allows you to take a picture of an incident with your vehicle and that goes directly to the insurance company to validate your claim. There is a lot interest in that business and there is a whole support structure that is getting stronger and stronger in the UK to help to develop these businesses even further.
The creation of the Satellite Navigations catapult centre in Harwell are working in partnership with centres like Grace at the University of Nottingham to give support to businesses to help them get to that next stage in development, so it s really an exciting time at the moment.
For anyone listening who might have a great idea and want to enter this competition to submit a business idea to utilise the Galileo technology. Give us some good inside tips on how to make our entries noticed?
First of all the database closes on the 30th June if you are applying from the UK. The UK leg is a really good regional challenge and as Tim has already said I think you can win a package which is worth about £10,000. But you will have multiple chances to win in this competition. So it is not only the regional challenge there is a special topic prize that you can go for as well; If you go for the European space agency special topic prize you can win more cash and you can win up to 10,000 Euros and you can get some kind of incubation as well. Then having entered into the competition you can go in for the main prize which gives you 20,000 Euros plus some incubation and so on. One of the innovations that we have in the UK is that the validation phase is built into the submission process meaning you will get actually the opportunity to get advice on your idea when you put it into the database. The earlier you put it in and the earlier you start the process the better off you will be and in the UK we offer surgeries at events around the country which will be publicised through the www.grace.ac.uk website where you can come and meet the business, accountancy, IP and technical experts. There is a lot of value in there that you can extract to maximise your chances of winning and also as Tim said it is the exposure to the network that’s so valuable. We really rely on the hub of experts and the support that people like Tim give to this competition. As an entrant, you have an opportunity to interact with these guys and the networks that they are connected to.
Tim any advice that you can add?
I think there are probably two bits of advice that I would give the first is that it is not just an ideas competition it is a business competition so a little bit of time and expense and thinking about what the market might be will help. It doesn’t have to be fine detail but just a little bit of thought about what the business might look like and secondly, what sort of technologies we are looking at. We see a huge range of ideas in mobile phone apps but the Internet of things is coming and many of those things need to be location aware so there could be a real opportunity within the Internet of things in this competition.
Those with an interest in entering should visit the competition website here.