For a very long time in human history a good map was worth more than golden treasures. Sometimes it was worth a Kingdom. And we’re talking about highly un-detailed maps, full of blank spots inscribed with evocative warnings like: “Hic sunt leones” - “Here be lions”.
It took almost a century to find the money and the necessary intelligence to send Ferdinand Magellan on his first and last voyage around the globe, from 1519 to 1522. The expedition took off with 5 ships and 270 men. A lone ship with a crew of 18 got back.
If you had a map the only way to know your position on it, after 1760, was to use a sextant, observing “celestial objects and using a mechanical chronometer to determine universal time. Position fixes were computed by hand and were based on tables of the celestial positions of the stars, the Sun and the Moon. The accuracy of celestial navigation was about 4 km, and there was no means of achieving a position fix in overcast conditions” (Link).
In the 1940’s the first radio navigation system, called LORAN, was implemented. It worked by sending timed radio pulses from broadcast stations at known fixed locations on the Earth's surface and by measuring their rebound differences. Accuracies were in the 2-7 km spectrum.
Several experiments were made in the 60’s and 70’s by the American military to use satellites for this purpose. That led to the birth of the now widespread GPS in 1978. The United States government created the system, maintains it, and makes it freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver. However, the US government can selectively deny access to the system.
A monopoly that is about to be gone for good thanks to Galileo, the €5 billion global navigation satellite system (GNSS) currently being created by the European Union (EU) through the European Space Agency (ESA) and the European GNSS Agency (GSA), headquartered in Prague in the Czech Republic, with operations centres in Munich, Germany and Fucino, Italy.
Good news for all the logistics community: recent studies, conducted by Rx Networks and the GSA, prove that Galileo, when used in addition to GPS and/or GLONASS (the Russian equivalent of GPS), significantly improves accuracy in challenging environments as urban canyons or indoor spaces.
This increased accuracy will have a potentially huge impact on both first/last-mile (with better route optimisations and vehicles control) and warehousing (where being able to fastly locate the right object is paramount): sectors that are rapidly expanding, together with customers’ expectations about receiving parcels in the right place and at the right time.