Irish company Mapflow has entered the second phase of a project for the European Space Agency that could ultimately see satellites track trucks on European roads.

The company, which develops software used to process and manipulate cartographic data, is moving into the next phase of a project led by the European Space Agency (ESA) which aims to track lorries and other large trucks on European roads so that tolls can be charged based on how far a truck has travelled. Satellite positioning position systems, in the from of a “black box” on each truck, would be used in the proposed system, as well as extensive mapping data.

While phase one of the project consisted mainly of technical consultation with the ESA and other participating parties, phase two will see Mapflow begin a full technical feasibility study, which should be completed by the end of this year. Depending on the results of the study, Mapflow could become an integral partner in developing and rolling out the new system.

Harvey Appelbe, chief technology officer and one of the founders of Mapflow, said that when the project moves into its final phases, the company would look to encourage the ESA to begin trials in Ireland, where heavy-goods trucks would be tracked by satellite and tolls would be charged based on the distance travelled and which roads were used.

It is thought that the satellite tolling system may eventually use Galileo, the ESA satellite-based global navigation system, comparable to the GPS and the GLONASS systems run from the United States. Galileo is set to be fully operational in 2008, although initial launches are scheduled to begin as soon as next year.

Appelbe said that Mapflow, which was set up in 1997 as the IRIS Group and now employs more than 20 people, has already benefited financially from its work with the ESA, but he added that the project could be even more lucrative as it heads toward actual development and implementation.

Apart from the ESA, the Mapflow CTO said that the insurance industry might also be interested in the project, since it would allow insurers to begin charging commercial customers on a “pay for use” model. Norwich Union in the UK, for example, announced details earlier this year of its plans for a pilot scheme along these lines covering 5,000 vehicles. Meanwhile in Germany, plans to install new electronic toll collection facilities on autobahns — a scheme that includes satellite GPS elements — were put into motion last month after the EU dropped objections.

For its part, Mapflow has already brought in cash from similar moves, including a contract it completed in April which saw the company build a Web-based application for Amatics, which rolled out a GPS truck tracking service for 6,000 vehicles owned by the UK’s Transco PLC.

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