German start-up firm Nogago has shown how the application of European satellite technology can improve the lives of citizens. Having won the 2009 European Satellite Navigation Competition GSA Special Topic Prize for the most promising EGNOS application for its Smartphone navigation device, the firm is continuing to push forward the boundaries of what is an exciting new market.
“We knew there must be a market for this sort of thing,” says Nogago product manager Ingmar Schmidt. “We started to do a little programming in 2008, and developed a basic application that involved GPS logging on to a blackberry. We then took part in a first competition, and published our idea at the end of 2009. In a matter of a few days, we recorded 15 000 downloads, most from the UK, US and Central Europe.”
Navigating without limits
The firm’s first application, Nogago Outdoor, works like this. Maps and other location-critical data are updated automatically every time the user logs onto the system. Nogago makes extensive use of open, community-maintained data, i.e. data sources already in the public domain. With the availability of A-GPS, today's Smartphones can outperform dedicated outdoor navigation devices with respect to the time needed to receive a satellite fix.
“We compile the map on the phone, not from the internet,” explains Schmidt. “Other such applications are based on a background service from a centralised server.”
This means that customers can use the tool offline, and enjoy free and up-to-date navigation data, in comparison to some currently available products that charge hundreds of euros for maps of limited scope and questionable accuracy. In December and January, the company recorded 45 000 downloads.
“We were not surprised that this was such a success. The background to this was very well researched, and we knew that there was potential in this market. We enjoy playing around with navigation software, and there was nothing like this on the market. What made our application different was that it could be used without an Internet connection. This of course is where we come in again – no roaming fees.”
The first product has been developed specifically with outdoor activities in mind, such as hiking in the Alps, where avoiding roaming fees and using the very latest satellite mapping are clear advantages. At present Nogago Outdoor is being giving away as a free app, while customers have to buy the maps. A 29 000 sq km map costs 4.99 euros. “For hikers, this is a big area,” says Schmidt.
Mapping the future
The team is busy creating variants of the product to accommodate different outdoor navigation needs: these include 'Nogago Guide' for sightseeing and pedestrian navigation, and 'Nogago Sport' for running and biking. The next product will be a travel guide application that again can be used both online and offline. “The offline city guide will be ready for April or May,” says Schmidt. “The application is really just the tip of the iceberg though – below this the amount of work is enormous. Creating the maps to put on the phones for example; the amount of research that goes into this is immense.” With an internet connection, relevant text will pop up when your destination approaches.
In addition to being rather busy, the company also faces the same challenges as other innovative start ups: developing viable markets, commercialising their products and competing with more established businesses. Nogago is constantly searching for qualified staff in order to commercialise and market its products, and is also operating in a tough economic climate that does always encourage entrepreneurship and risk-taking. The GSA has provided the company with funding, and also a platform from which to promote its technology.
“We have received the first part of our prize award from the GSA,” says Schmidt. “The second part will arrive soon. Another big support was that we were able to participate in 'Galileo Application Days' – a large exhibition held last March in Brussels. We had our own stand, had a prototype running. It was a chance to raise our profile, network, and also get an impression of the market, the competition.”
Among other things, the GSA works with the European Commission on a range of market development activities aimed at helping European entrepreneurs and businesses – especially high-tech small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), business incubators and related networks – commercially exploit EGNOS and Galileo. These promotional activities are aimed at ensuring that European industry maintains a competitive edge in the global satellite navigation marketplace.
Nogago is a good example of a firm at Europe’s cutting edge. Even its name is forward-looking. “We wanted a name that was unique in every way, and that was not taken already,” explains Schmidt. “So we used the name of Marcus Noga, a colleague and one of the founders. And as our application is mainly for people on foot, for pedestrians, we thought: Go!”