Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins has called on the Government to draw up a strategic action plan to increase research and development in the field of intelligent transport systems and services, associated with the EU-owned Galileo satellite. The satellite, which uses highly advanced navigation technology, is seen as a key step towards the creation of thousands of high-end jobs across the EU.
Mr Higgins believes that many projects and developments will be created as a result of a fully operational Galileo. It presents an enormous opportunity for high-end jobs in research and development, and has a wide range of uses that are perfectly suited to Ireland's IT and services industry.
“A fully operational Galileo provides endless potential for Irish industry. In road and rail transport, for example, it will help alleviate congestion, ensure more accurate information for passengers, and cut the number of road collisions. Although transport is the example most frequently used to demonstrate the Galileo's capabilities, it can also benefit satellite radio navigation in fisheries and agriculture, finance, building and public works, as well as having enormous potential for search and rescue operations.
“For me, one of the most noteworthy areas of benefit is the satellite's ability to aid those with disabilities. For example, it can provide personal navigation assistance for people with impaired vision. It can also provide assistance to Alzheimer's sufferers through the provision of a personal digital assistant (PDA ). Programmed with information about their habits and regular destinations, this can help them stay integrated in their environment and cope with recurring problems. It can also help with route-planning for people using mobility aids such as wheelchairs. Satellite technology can decipher the most accessible way of getting around cities and towns across the globe, with dedicated route planners.”
It is estimated that by 2025 the global satellite navigation market will be worth €400 billion with the market for products and services growing at an annual rate of 25 per cent. “We need to act fast. I believe that we need to put in place a strategy to ensure that Irish companies are making the most of the opportunities afforded to them and that foreign companies are brought to Ireland to carry out R&D. There are significant amounts of EU money available for R&D under the seventh Framework Programme which need to be exploited,” he said.
Mr Higgins emphasised the need to create a market within Ireland for this technology. At the moment Ireland is one of only eight EU states without a national ITS network or organisation and is joined by the likes of Cyprus, Malta, Luxembourg, Romania, and the Baltic nations.
“In order to show that we are aware of the ITS market possibilities, we should be developing pilot projects in Ireland and increasing the amount of money we spend in the area. Unfortunately, the Department of Transport, where there is huge potential, is completely underfunded and has failed to realise the potential involved. For example we are stalling on the implementation of first generation developments. We have massive overspends on integrated ticketing which has been around for many years in cities across the world. We do not yet have real-time information for our bus networks. Our road infrastructure has only the most basic technological devices in use. This is happening in Ireland when other members of the EU are developing and implementing second and third generation technology, which will mean Ireland is left behind. Minister Dempsey recently summed up the Government's attitude when he stated we are technology takers not technology makers when I asked him about related developments in eCall, a first generation ITS device.
“If this Government is serious about developing a smart economy then it should be more proactive in developing technology. If the correct conditions are put in place, we can create thousands of jobs, while saving the economy money by eliminating or reducing various problems altogether.”
Concluding, Mr Higgins said: “I personally hope that investment will be targeted at high potential areas such as esafety and disability/mobility issues. The European Commission believes that if ITS' full potential is realised 5,000 lives could be saved on our roads across the EU.”