Even if you don't have a GPS satellite navigation receiver, that's likely to change in the next year or so. One of the little snippets that got mentioned in an aside at the Intel Developer Forum was that the price of GPS chips is dropping dramatically and the incremental cost of adding location services to any gadget is likely to be in the tens of dollars soon. Meanwhile, the quality of the service is constantly improving -- a set of extra satellites designed to monitor the existing system and broadcast correction signals is already in place and being tested. The improvement's called WAAS in the US, the European segment's called EGNOS and it'll let you know where you are to within five metres when it goes live towards the middle of the decade.
But then the story gets rather more ugly. Europe sees EGNOS as the first stage towards a completely independent navigation system called Galileo that'll run alongside GPS -- which, since it's controlled by the American military, is perhaps not something you'd like to be entirely reliant upon. The Americans are getting remarkably sniffy about this -- and a memo leaked today shows that they're lobbying at the highest levels to get the project canned. The frequencies Galileo wants to use will interfere with future American GPS plans, the system will be used by terrorists, the satellites will subvert the GPS system and teach it socialism -- well, that last one wasn't in the memo. But the Yanks aren't happy, and they're not going to back down.
Which all promises to be a remarkably interesting argument. You may have missed it in the noise post September 11, but the Americans have said that their official policy is to control space: if they don't want something to happen up there, then it won't. This unilateral hijacking of what you or I might think of something entirely beyond the scope of imperialism seems a long way from the spirit of 'For All Mankind'. I seem to remember last time one country tried to control both sides of the Atlantic things went quite wonky for it -- perhaps those European constitutional discussions should include a document starting "We the people..."
Anyone for tea?