Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 387 - 399)



  Q387  Chairman: Could I welcome our final panel for this morning, Liz Duthie, divisional manager for the Galileo Programme Division of the Department of Transport, Patrick McDougal, the vice-president of business development at Inmarsat, and Neil Ackroyd, the director of data collection and management at Ordnance Survey. I thank you all very much indeed for coming this morning. Could I start with you, Elizabeth. What are the main ways in which the Government intends to use satellite navigation?

  Ms Duthie: The ways in which the Government will use satellite navigation have been identified in general. Obviously there are lots of potential transport applications in all modes of transport and there are other applications like inland surveying and in tracking people/things/whatever. These applications are all potential at the moment because we do not know the exact details of the signals and so on. We do not know how complicated and difficult it will be to use some of the special services of Galileo. Obviously for the open signal there will be a lot of uses, including commercial uses. Within government, we are bringing people together from different departments who are likely to have uses for the signal—for Galileo and for GNSS generally. I am talking about what we call the cross-cutting issues which will need to be sorted out before government can make best use of the potential.

  Q388  Chairman: Who is coordinating all that?

  Ms Duthie: We coordinate that in the department.

  Q389  Chairman: The Department of Transport is coordinating that and how is that communicated to industry and how is that communicated to academia?

  Ms Duthie: The communication to industry is mostly done through BNSC because BNSC has the responsibility for the space industry and we work closely with them. We also keep in close contact with the knowledge transfer network on position and timing. For instance, we might attend their seminars, we have discussions with them about the road map for the use of Galileo, and we talk to people like Ordnance Survey and Inmarsat and other providers or users about what is needed to smooth the ground for Galileo.

  Q390  Chairman: Neil, are you happy with the way in which the Government is approaching the use of Galileo and the huge potential benefits there are both for your organisation and elsewhere? Are you fully plugged in?

  Mr Ackroyd: Yes. In a number of ways the knowledge transfer network that Liz mentioned was a very useful organisation. It brings together all parts of the downstream activity groups, from big utility companies to the network providers, to small SMEs, to large upstream organisations such as Logica and EADS and people like that. That is a very dynamic group and communicates very well. On the application side, many of the applications are already out there and working well within the current infrastructure but really have not yet migrated to, I guess, safety critical or business critical applications because of availability problems in urban areas, for example. The utility is clear. I guess really now it is a case of waiting, as Liz has said, for the signals, so that the receivers and the architects can build the technology that will deliver the applications.

  Q391  Chairman: Could I come back to you, Elizabeth. In terms of road user charging, which is something we have heard a great deal about, when is the Government going to make a decision on that? When is your department going to make a decision? This year?

  Ms Duthie: The Government will make a decision when it has the evidence on which to base that decision. Within the last six months, the department announced that there will be trials of the technology. There are 10 pilot schemes, from recollection, and if you like I can send you some more information about those. The question is how you get a system which is as simple as possible and puts as few burdens as possible in terms of cost and complexity and so on.

  Q392  Chairman: So there is no firm date in fact.

  Ms Duthie: There is no firm date as far as I know.

  Q393  Dr Spink: Is there sufficient satellite cover up there at the moment for this country to make a system, if all the other systems were engineered correctly, feasible at the moment? Or do we need more satellite capacity up there?

  Ms Duthie: The answer to that must be in the experience of Germany, where there is a lorry tolling scheme. That is a mixed scheme which includes GPS and, I think, microwave. At the moment the Germans have gone for a mixed system. Other European partners are also looking at systems which I think involve mixed technology.

  Q394  Dr Spink: So there is not sufficient satellite capacity up there at the moment to make broadcasting work in this country.

  Ms Duthie: It depends exactly what degree of assurance and integrity you want from the system and whether you want to augment the use of satellite technology with some other technology.

  Q395  Chairman: Patrick, could I ask you two things. First of all, how plugged in is the private sector to the Government's plans in terms of the use of Galileo and other satellite systems? Secondly, in terms of private companies, how would Galileo benefit the private companies operating within this space field? How important is it to you? I am a bit depressed, to be honest, listening to all the problems that might exist. I thought Galileo was going to be the answer to all our problems.

  Mr McDougal: The private sector, certainly Inmarsat, is very well versed in what both the UK Government and European governments are planning and imagining the uses of Galileo for. Some of them are more mature than others but there is a lot of activity at both the transport level and at other levels to generate these kind of applications. I do not think there is a lack of understanding of that. To answer the second question, the difficulty right now is not knowing what the private sector would call the business model—exactly how we are going to earn that profit that we need to make the investments we are making now. For Inmarsat we accept that lack of certainty because that is the nature of this beast. It is a long-term set of applications for which the exact business model is uncertain but for which the potential is huge and is completely accepted by all this.

  Q396  Chairman: Is this because we are not developing the technologies fast enough?

  Mr McDougal: No.

  Q397  Chairman: Is this about R&D within the private sector?

  Ms Duthie: No, I do not think so. I really think the path to success here for both the private and the public sector is, as quickly as possible, to get this thing built and out there. Only then, when we turn to our downstream colleagues, our service providers or application providers, will we see the level of development that we will need. We have no doubt that the potential is there but the only way to get there rather than studying it endlessly or doing more R&D is to get it out there.

  Q398  Chairman: Neil, would you agree with that?

  Mr Ackroyd: Absolutely. The whole reason that the GPS signal took off the way it did was because the signals were operational in the early Eighties. It is as simple as that. The manufactures then learned how to use those signals and learned how to use them in ways that the designers had not anticipated.

  Q399  Chairman: The answer is to get on with it.

  Mr Ackroyd: Absolutely, get it up there.

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