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Scottish upstart to help track cops using Galileo

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An EU project to create wearable tracking devices for cops has recruited Sofant, a mobile tech startup spun out of Edinburgh University last year. The plan is to slip Sofant's antennas into uniforms to receive Galileo satnav signals.

And it's not just for the police: the ARMOURS* project will spend €1.5m developing prototypes for all sorts of emergency personnel who need to be tracked with an accuracy in centimetres, using Galileo satellites, rather than metres that GPS offers. Sofant will provide the antennas to make this happen.

Those antennas don't have to be sewn into the uniforms; the ARMOURS project accepts they may be built into existing radio kit. There's no doubt Sofant will plan to make use of its tiny transmitter chip knowhow seen last month. Sofant, which is only three people, will work alongside Spanish outfit Acorde, and microelectronics specialist Imec, along with the Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne.

The money comes from the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems agency, a body largely charged with finding uses for the world's only civilian satellite-navigation system Galileo. Galileo only has two satellites at the moment, but plans to have 18 birds in the air by the end of 2014 which will be enough to declare the service operational.

Existing systems, the American GPS and Russian Glonass, are run by their respective militaries, and only offer an accuracy of metres. Coming late to the party Galileo is able to offer much greater accuracy, and hopes to play a role in mission-critical applications where one is loath to trust an army.

But mostly Galileo exists to annoy the Americans, and prove that Europe is just as much a world power as anyone else - including the Chinese, whose BeiDou-2 system is already under construction: you're no one if you haven't got your own satellite-navigation system these days.

Having multiple systems does have some advantages though, by combining the signals one can achieve a much higher level of accuracy than any network alone can offer, which is why antennas need to be designed to work at different frequencies - there's not much distance between them, but there is some.

The ARMOURS project will run until March 2014, but which time enough of the Galileo network should be up and running to see if it works, and if it can help justify the enormous cost of building the competing sat-nav networks. ®

Bootnote

* ARMOURS stands for, believe it or not, Antenna and fRont-end Modules for pUblic Regulated Service.

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