A plan to network enable your car

For years I’ve been thinking about a peer to peer wireless mesh technology for automobiles. In the past two weeks I’ve seen two tradepaper articles about wireless technologies for cars and I have yet to see this hit the mainstream “geek press” eg. Slashdot which has been somewhat surprising.

On November 14 Network World published an article entitled “U.S. pitches wireless highway safety plan” which discussed the US DoT plan called the VII project. The Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) prject aims to reduce highway fatilities and improve congestion problems by transmitting warnings and road condition data to drivers and automobile computer systems via a 5.9 GHz short range (984 foot) wireless connection as you pass “Roadside Units” (RSUs). Data is gathered from your onboard computer and combined with GPS data, the data collection and transmittal is to be anonymous. You can read more about the proposed system on the concept of operations page.

One week later Network World published a second article entitled “GM to roll out intelligent car alternative” discussing the GM V2V plan based on the existing GM OnStar technology in combination with 802.11a/802.11p networking technology. GM already has a demonstration fleet with this technology. One advantage of this technology over the DoT VII project is that these devices are designed to talk directly to one another in addition to talking to roadside units (RSUs) so you can get more data in a more timely manner. One example of this advantage is that the V2V device will let you know if someone is in your blind spot by blinking a small LED on your mirror. This would be unsupported by the VII program which only periodically exchanges data. Some data would also be availible even when you are not on a road equipped with RSUs which is a stong benefit during initial deployment.

Overall I’m impressed with the decision by GM to do direct vehicle to vehicle communications along with communications to RSU. I think there is the potential to get much more valuable data much more quickly using a direct vehicle to vehicle mesh network than solely with RSUs. The RSUs are still an important piece of this though because they can track aggregate data for the roadway and provide statistics about the road itself (eg. temperature, etc) to the vehicles. I applaud the DoT for recognizing that getting widespread adoption will be much easier by committing to keeping data anonymous, this is one of the reasons I’m much happier about these proposals than Mark Gibb’s RFID tracking proposal. The one thing I would hope for is that GM would encourage and assist other automakers in creating a standard for vehicle to vehicle communications to encure interoperability of these systems between brands.

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