Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation network has unveiled the technical details of its signal, critical information for manufacturers wanting to develop in-vehicle components for use with the system.

Galileo, a $4 billion joint venture of the European Union, European Space Agency and private investors, is Europe's answer to the U.S.'s Global Positioning System. When its full network of 30 satellites is operational in 2008, Galileo is expected to fill the present GPS signal gaps in urban and mountainous areas, where service often is intermittent.

"With Galileo, you’ll be sure that you can trust the signal,” ESA Communications Manager Dominique Detain says.

"It can calculate exactly where you are, getting this right to the nearest meter. With Galileo in place, SatNav (satellite navigation) will be accurate enough to keep your car journeys on the straight and narrow.”

Bethesda, MD-based Lockheed Martin Co. and Germany’s EADS Astrium, a leading satellite system specialist, have announced a JV for hardware and software systems to make GPS and Galileo interoperable.

"We look forward to making our 30 years of GPS experience available to the Galileo program to maximize performance and utility for all users of satellite navigation when both Galileo and GPS III are in operation,” says Marshall Keith, Lockheed Martin vice president in charge of international programs.

eRide, a San Francisco, CA-based semiconductor company, opened a new development center in Munich this May to develop dual mode semiconductor chips for combined use with Galileo and GPS.

U.K.-based companies also are seizing opportunities. Nottingham Scientific Ltd. has just been awarded a grant from the East Midlands Development Agency to develop a next-generation receiver capable of processing signals from both GPS and Galileo. The grant means the company now can commercialize existing applications without having to procure third-party equipment that NSL General Manager Mark Dumville says often lacks the critical functionality needed for U.K. automobile applications.

France's Vu Log is developing an innovative use for a Galileo-based SatNav system that would allow fleets of "green" minicars to operate like a self-drive taxi fleet in cities.

Highly precise positioning equipment would be installed in each electrically powered car. Motorists could use the Internet or their cell phone to find the nearest vehicle, start it with a "smartcard" and drive away.

By comparison, GPS does not give sufficiently accurate and reliable location data to pinpoint a vehicle in a heavily built-up area.

"There would be no constraint; you could leave the car wherever you wanted,” says a Vu Log spokesman. “The service provider would come and charge the cars up every two or three days.”

The system won a prize in the 2005 Galileo Masters Challenge competition, a European industry-led program aimed at entrepreneurs, academics, researchers and businesses.