On the final Galileo Application Days in Brussels, participants gathered to discuss some of the latest tools for exploiting the high degrees of accuracy and precision now possible with EGNOS, Galileo and other GNSS technologies.
"High precision is a very important selling point for new GNSS applications," said Carmen Aguilera of the European GNSS Supervisory Authority (GSA). The market for such applications has seen continuous growth over recent years, she said, and expectations remain high for new developments in a number of sectors, including construction, mining, surveying, and others.
"EGNOS is already a success story in the agricultural sector," said Aguilera. "It already has 50% market share, which is expected to reach 70% by 2010. The ultimate result will be increasing yields, conservation of resources and materials, and lower costs. The benefits are there, the EGNOS signal is already being exploited by farmers, and it is available free of charge."
The benefits are indeed there, not least for businesses ready to answer the call of a burgeoning market. "But it's not just about money," says Aguilera. "The public benefits are just as important." Some estimates put the total real benefits for EU 27 countries at over €6 billion by 2030, including fuel savings, optimal use of seeds and other resources, water conservation and many improvements in efficiency and quality of life.
Aguilera says the GSA and the European Commission are working hard to promote the benefits of Galileo and EGNOS in the agricultural sector in particular under the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research, fostering partnerships between industry, the research community and other market players.
Tools for agriculture
The Galileo Application Days 'High Precision' session highlighted a number of GNSS applications already being used in the agriculture sector.
Michael Quinckhardt of Claas Agrosystems outlined how his company is exploiting advanced GNSS-based applications. "Precision farming includes automatic steering for tractors and monitoring of all our machines," he explained. "We can help farmers to know where their machines are and what they are doing at any given moment."
Tracking and yield analysis can also help to optimise the use of fertilisers. "One can understand that different fields across a wide area will differ in terms of various qualities and in their abilities to support crops," said Quinckhardt, "But the fact is there is a degree of variability in terms of soil quality even within a single field."
By recording information from harvesters about what the soil is producing from one patch to the next within a field, and matching that information with precise GNSS-based location information, farmers can pinpoint very accurately where they need to apply more fertiliser and where they can save money by applying less.
Rob Kiernan of Leica Geosystems discussed the three phases of action in agriculture: planting, crop protection and harvest. "Maximising production in agriculture is all about doing the right thing at the right time in the right place," he said. "Systems like Galileo and EGNOS tell us about place with a high degree of accuracy throughout the production cycle, and this is revolutionising the way we work."
Tools for policy
Wim Devos of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre explained how GNSS is helping the Union to better apply one of its key policyies, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). "The CAP involves the distribution of funds in the tens of billions of Euros every year. Basically we pay European farmers to be good custodians of our productive farmlands." These payments, he explained, are based on the area of land claimed by a given farmer.
"GNSS systems like Galileo and EGNOS are now becoming increasingly important as we verify claims for funding. In the past we relied on farmers' reports followed by random inspections." Now, says Devos, GNSS gives authorities the ability to increase accuracy and to analyse how the land is actually being used. "In just four years since we adopted GNSS-based technologies," he said, "we have doubled our level of precision."
With eight million claims registered every year and over 2000 EU inspectors in the field, Devos says the need for GNSS-based applications and equipment for CAP-related activities is high and will continue to present a significant niche market all by itself.
Tools for industry
Also featured at the High Precision session were a number of presentations on brand new applications.
Dimitrios Mastoris of Greece's Ktimatologica discussed how combined systems incorporating GPS, EGNOS and soon Galileo are changing the way the surveying sector works in his country.
Petra Krahwinkler of Aachen University explained how her group is combining satellite-based location data with ground-based laser scanner data to improve precision in forestry operations. "Under the forest canopy," she said, "it isn't always clear who owns a particular tree that is being felled, especially in border areas. We take global tree maps generated by GPS and overlay laser-based maps generated using equipment on working harvesters to get very accurate readings on individual trees and minimise mistakes."
Egon Füglein of FH Würzburg/Schweinfurt presented the 'Weed-Robot', helping farmers deal with weeds in organic farming and in water protection zones, where it is illegal to use herbicides.
Kutz Arietta of iSaski Softaware explained new GNSS applications in the crucial economic area of port operations and freighter berthing.
Ongoing research and development
More presentations highlighted work funded under the EU's Research Framework Programme:
FIELDFACT – an in-depth look at opportunities for new EGNOS and Galileo-based applications in the European agricultural domain.
MOW-BY-SAT – developing a GNSS-based navigation and guidance system for an autonomous lawnmower.
ASPHALT – an advance Galileo navigation system for asphalt fleet machines.
GOLDEN-ICE – using EGNOS to improve the efficiency of de-icing services and emergency call management of winter professional vehicles.
12 GPS –integrating interferometry and GNSS for precision surveying.
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