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Now that Europe is pressing ahead with its Galileo satellite navigation system, it seems that is a bit stuck for ideas for what to do with it. Enter the Galileo Masters 2005 competition, with a prize of €50,000 of business development support for the European team that comes up with the best idea for an innovative use of the network.

The competition is open to small businesses or entrepreneurs across Europe, and entries will be evaluated regionally before progressing to a final showdown of the best ideas. The competition organisers are focussing on seven regions within Europe: London, Gothenburg, Nice-Sophia Antipolis, the Czech Republic, Varese, South Holland and Munich.

All the regional winners will be invited to the International Systems IT and Telecommunication Fair in Munich in October, where they will be given free stands. Last year the Sat-Nav section of the fair had more than 65,000 visitors. The overall winner will be provided with six months in an office in their region's "business incubator" along with consultancy and promotional support, a package worth around €50,000.

Galileo will provide an EU-controlled alternative to the US GPS satellite navigation system, designed for civilian use, and will offer more detailed resolution than its US counterpart. The project will cost an estimated €3.7bn, of which €2.1bn will be spent on deployment.

Two thirds of this investment will come from industry. The final exploitation costs are likely to run to €220m per year. The public sector will make an exceptional contribution of €500m, the European Commission said, but from then on, the costs will be covered entirely by the private sector.

Naturally, with all this cash being pumped into the network, the relevant bigwigs are keen to make sure they will have an early return on the investment. And this is where the contest comes in. Competition organisers reckon that by 2015 over 400 million satellite navigation users will have created more than 100,000 new jobs within the European aerospace and electronics industry. So the sooner people start coming up with applications, the better.

Bruno Naulais, manager of ESA's European Space Incubator, said: "[The contest] is important for Europe's space industry as it creates novel utilisations for our navigation systems and in the end will generate income for their technology."

Last year's winner suggested using the satellites to track fish stocks. The company, HCL Technologies, developed a device that would help fishermen in developing nations decide where they should cast their nets.

The 2005 competition closes on 30 June, so if this sounds like your sort of thing, get over to the Galileo Masters website here (flash warning). ®

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