The European Union introduced on Thursday a free global positioning system that it claims is almost five times more accurate than the U.S. system currently in use.
Called the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), the system uses three satellites and a ground network of about 40 ground positioning stations and four control centers.
The U.S. military-run GPS system, in widespread use across the globe, offers a 10-meter (32 feet) accuracy level, but EGNOS promises to fine-tune this experience and deliver accuracy levels to around 2 meters (6 feet).
EGNOS only covers the 27 member-states of the EU at the moment, but it is expected to expand to neighbouring nations and Northern Africa in the near future. The service is free for use by anyone within the coverage area with a GPS/SBAS compatible receiver.
The EU sees various uses for its more-accurate GPS system, which was in testing mode since 2006. Farmers would benefit from precision spraying fertilizers, and blind people could have personal guides. It could automatically charge road tolls or pay-per-use car insurance.
It is also expected that the next generation of GPS-enabled smarptohones such as the Apple iPhone, Palm Pre or Google Android devices, will benefit from the improved accuracy of EGNOS. Some standalone GPS devices might soon use EGNOS as well, given that the manufacturers release firmware updates to support the system.
EGNOS is mainly the precursor of EU’s Galileo project, Europe’s own GPS system, which has been plagued with delays in the last years and is expected to begin operating in 2014.
Meanwhile, American users have had their EGNOS equivalent for some tine now, called Wide Area Augmentation Service (WAAS) and the Japanese are working on a similar system called Multi-Functional Satellite Augmentation System (MFAS).