Services of the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) officially started on Nov. 1, according to a statement from Japan’s National Space Policy Secretariat, Cabinet Office.
Government and industry hope the turn-on will generate new services worth nearly 5 trillion yen ($44.4 billion) by 2025 as players like SoftBank Group, Mitsubishi Electric and Hitachi plan applications in automated driving, farming and more.
“Our lifestyles would be impossible without GPS,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at initialization ceremony marking the start of the service. The Michibiki satellite constellation, known officially as QZSS, would let Japan turn “a new page in history,” he continued.
The system keeps at least one of the current four Michibiki satellites over Japan at all times, offering an advantage over GPS-only services with a precise bird’s-eye view uninterrupted by mountains or tall buildings. With special receivers, the satellites can narrow margins of error to 10 centimeters.
The signal is free for anyone with a device capable of receiving the signal.
Japan’s cabinet and other government bodies have invested 120 billion yen in QZSS. Expectations are particularly strong for applications in the rapidly advancing field of automated driving, with some businesses estimating the market for positioning services in that field alone at roughly 500 billion yen.
QZSS offers lane-level positioning capability, is a key step towards auto autonomy.
Michibiki means guidance in Japanese. In his remarks, Abe said the satellite-based augmentation system (SBAS) “will guide us to Society 5.0, the society of the future. There are high hopes for the ever greater use of this satellite system in a wide range of fields. The government aims to expand the system to a seven-satellite constellation by FY2023, with the goal of achieving an even more stable positioning service.
“More than 10 years have passed since its conception. I am sure that taking on this challenge, the first of its kind in the world, must have required much hard work. I would like to express my utmost respect for the efforts of the engineers responsible for the development and all those involved with this project.
“To what degree will the ‘Michibiki’ change our lives? I hope to follow its progress with great excitement, together with you all.”