Motorola Mesh Helps Drivers

By Naomi Graychase

August 29, 2005

Currently helping race car divers, the Motodrive mesh could someday help every commuter on the road.

In professional racing circles, a few seconds can mean the difference between first—and everyone else. Among the new weapons in the arsenals of pit crews and drivers are wireless mesh technologies, including Motorola’s wireless digital voice two-way radio gear and Motodrive architecture, which helped the GM Corvette Racing Team place both first and second in the GT1 class at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race earlier this summer.

"You’re talking about 2,800 miles in 24 hours,” says Rick Rotondo, Director of Marketing in Motorola’s Mesh Networking Group. “What’s interesting about this particular race is that the Corvette team came in first and second [in their class], and the margin they won by—it was about one pit stop. The mesh technology allowed them to monitor the car a little better—tire wear, gas consumption—so that they could eliminate one pit stop in those 24 hours. It all adds up incrementally to winning and not winning.”

The GM Corvette Team disappointed a large contingent of British spectators—the largest group of foreigners on hand for the French event—by defeating the Austin Powers-esque Aston Martins to earn the win.

The partnership between GM and Motorola is not only about winning races, but also about trying out avant-garde technologies that could impact the way cars move on highways back home. Car manufacturers not only sponsor racing teams for the thrill (and potentially good PR), they also use their race cars as platforms to evaluate potential improvements for passenger vehicles.

According to the US Department of Transportation (DOT), between 1982 and 2002, annual delay time during peak traffic periods more than doubled from 16 hours to 46 hours. In 2002, it was estimated that the cost of wasted fuel in traffic jams totaled 5.6 billion gallons. With gas currently over $2.50 a gallon at the pump (and a national fetish with gas-guzzling sport utility and military-grade transport vehicles), a technology that could reduce the cost of commutes—as well as make them shorter and safer—seems long overdue.

“What I think is also interesting,” says Rotondo, “is that you have the VII (Vehicle Integration Infrastructure). It’s an initiative that the industry and the DOT are trying out to create a technology to create an intelligent highway. They are looking at the intelligent highway for a whole bunch of things: safety; collision avoidance; collision detection; standard things like navigation, routing, and congestion mitigation; getting real time information. There’s the also ‘info-tainment’ aspects, where you want the cars to be able to talk to roadside access points to get entertainment and news.”

Motodrive  is a roadside network architecture that leverages Motorola's Mesh technology. It assembles off-the-shelf technologies and components to serve as a surrogate for DSRC (Dedicated Short Range Communications). VII is the DOT’s program for exploring vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-roadside communications, which can improve safety and traffic data collection as well as a number of other applications.

“At a high level, Motodrive  uses mesh and its architecture to deliver solutions that reduce accidents and congestion,” says Lee Calloway of Motorola.

Mesh networks are perfect for race (and also traffic) conditions because, unlike Wi-Fi, which dissipates around 30 mph, the system can continue to function smoothly at speeds approaching 200 mph. The technology that was used by Corvette at Le Mans not only allowed the team to send enhanced video feeds and diagnostics from the cars to the pit crew, the cars could also communicate with each other.

“This ad hoc network has implications in the intelligent highway,” says Rotondo. “A major part is the cars talking to each other—cars talking to cars behind and ahead of them. With our technology’s built-in position location, the cars know where they are relative to where the other mesh-enabled cars are. If a car ahead of me has a tire blow out, its tire pressure system senses that, and the ABS system and dynamic stability control system measure braking—whether the car is swerving left or right—all of that is built in. If it can be communicated to my car’s ABS and dynamic stability control, my car can automatically take collision avoidance measures faster than a driver can react…if even one out of every ten cars on the road had this capability, it would dramatically reduce collisions and the cost of highway accidents.”

For this Le Mans championship deployment, Motorola fitted out the race cars with vehicle-mounted modems which were connected to the telemetry system of the race cars, along with onboard video cameras to enable real-time telemetry.

“They have very sophisticated artificially intelligent software that takes a look at all of these parameters,” says Rotondo. “Things like individual tire rotation speed, the temperature of the tires, engine temperature, oil pressure, RPMs, fuel consumption. This information allows the pit crew to make changes to the car—like shifting fuel from one tank to the other—or telling the driver to change the spoiler pitch on the fly. If they can squeeze one more lap out of a pit stop, it can mean the difference between winning and losing.”

GM and Motorola will continue to deploy mesh networks and Motodrive at other tracks to refine and enhance the system, with an eventual possible future goal of deploying it across entire cities or highways.

“One of the beauties of the mesh system, it’s a very flexible architecture, a very flexible radio. We can scale it from a couple of cars at a racetrack and half a dozen infrastructure units to literally hundreds and hundreds of units across the city,” says Rotondo.

GM and Motorola are not the only ones deploying mesh networks at raceways. Strix Systems’ Access/One Network is being deployed by International Speedway Corporation (ISC) at all 12 of its motorsports facilities including Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500.



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