All you need, to know your position and geographical orientation, is a smartphone. But what is the technology and infrastructure behind these services? In essence, there is a bunch of satellites flying along the precisely calculated paths around the earth. Imagine there is a sphere around every satellite. Knowing the distance from one satellite places you somewhere on the spherical surface centered around one satellite. Knowing the range from two satellites places you somewhere in the circular interception of the two spheres. If you are within reach of three or more satellites (and you are not flying around), your location is somewhere on the earth.
GPS (Global Positioning System) is the system owned and maintained by the US. The infrastructure consists of 33 satellites, control segment and user receiver (any device with GPS enabled chip). CPS was launched by the US Department of Defence in 1973 with the first satellite deployed in 1978.
We describe the typical setbacks connected with GPS in the chapter "Maps & Wayfinding". To sum up, the main problem is an insufficient precision, which is approximately 4 metres. The difference of 4 metres may be the difference between standing on the sidewalk or the road. The accuracy gets even worse in cities because the signal often reflects from surrounding buildings. This results in your position "bouncing" all over the place. In conclusion, GPS doesn't provide wayfinding that would be reliable enough, especially if you consider that the visually impaired people need to navigate almost exclusively in the urban areas.
Galileo is a €5 billion project currently being created by the European Union, European Space Agency and GSA. It is a newer, more accurate alternative to GPS. First satellite (GIOVE-A) was launched in 2005 (EOC) (EGNSSA, 2017a). The Early Operational Capability, which is available from 15 December 2016 already notedly increased the accuracy of navigating. As of December 2017, 22 of the planned 30 satellites are operational (EGNSSA, 2017b). The project is expected to reach the Operational Capacity (FOC) in 2019. Although there was the setback with a founding which delayed the project between 2012 and 2017, the project is expected to be finished in 2020, with 24 operational satellites and 6 spares.
Galileo will be accessible in several layers. The first layer is available to the public and provides accuracy within 1 metre. The second layer is restricted for commercial use and will provide accuracy up to 1 cm (FIG, 2017). The idea is not to switch from GPS to Galileo; it is instead the combination of two, what will enable the best performance. The double amount of the total satellites also allows the system to distinguish between reflected and direct signal, therefore, solve the problem of worse accuracy in cities.
We understand that insufficient GPS needs to be complemented by secondary interfaces, like Beacons, but we think that this is a temporary fix. We consider this step in development necessary because it provides designers with an opportunity to face important design decisions which should be resolved as soon as possible. With the Galileo system being finished in 2020, there won't be a need for any secondary interface. All the major companies already include Galileo enabled chips to their flagship smartphones. The current list of Galileo enabled devices is to be found at usegalileo.eu.
By mentioning these possible solutions, we intend to encourage designers to approach the problem of wayfinding for visually impaired people with the emphasis on building an efficient interface and the consequent interaction of the user and the interface. We think that designers should take responsibility for designing a service/ product/ interface that will incorporate Global Navigation Systems, rather than creating products from a scratch (gsa.europa.eu, 2017).