The driverless car trend is making Japan and EU to connect their GPS systems

The Japanese government and the European Union plan to connect their global positioning systems to speed up the development of autonomous driving technology.

If all goes as planned, Japan’s Quasi-Zenith Satellite System and the EU’s Galileo will be linked as early as 2018. The link will be a common digital language that the systems will use to transmit information. This will allow driverless cars and autoparts developed for the Japanese market to be shipped and used outside Japan.

The Japanese government and the European Commission have launched discussions on integrating the systems. Among the companies taking part are Mitsubishi Electric, Hitachi Zosen and NTT Data of Japan as well as Thales, a big defense and electronics company from France.

The discussion group is to draft a specific plan by the end this year on integrating the two digital signals.

Global navigation satellite systems such as GPS pinpoint locations on the ground. Japan and the EU plan to use location information from these systems to run driverless vehicles.

Japan’s QZSS operates by adjusting information provided by GPS, an American global navigation satellite system, to improve accuracy down to a few centimeters. The satellite hovers almost directly above Japan so that it can cover nearly all of the country without being obstructed by mountains or tall buildings.

But since it is a stationary satellite, its signals have a limited reach outside Japan. Australia and Southeast Asia can be pinged. A representative of a major Japanese construction company has complained that “the QZSS is meaningless for [his company’s] overseas expansion if it can only be used in and around Japan.”

By contrast, Galileo is a network of 30 satellites covering the entire globe. But its accuracy is less reliable. The margin of error can be up to a meter, which is not suitable for use in mountains or areas crowded with high-rise buildings.

If combined, the two systems can be complementary, with the more accurate QZSS mainly covering the Asia-Pacific area and Galileo covering the rest of the world. This would cut the cost of global expansion at companies developing autonomous cars, farm machinery and construction machines.

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