Wi-Fi on the Autobahn?

By Tim Gray

December 22, 2004

The German government encourages carmakers to create a network on wheels.

The German government hopes Wi-Fi will pave the way for safer and less congested roads, but first it is looking for a little help from the automobile industry.

The country has awarded several car manufacturers grants to create a car-to-car wireless data network that could conceivably evolve into the world's first automobile Internet. The idea is to link vehicles with each other in order to pass on information about traffic, bad weather, accidents and other hazards.

BMW, Audi, Daimler Chrysler, Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat have all received funding from Network on Wheels (NOW), a project run by the University of Mannheim and Karlsruhe Technical University, and partially funded by the German Ministry for Education and Research.

NOW is expected to be a major contributor to the already established European Car-2-Car Communication Consortium (C2C CC), which consists of several of Europe's largest carmakers, as well as Siemens, NEC Deutschland and the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communications, according to C2C CC Administrator Karl-Oskar Proskawetz.

"This type of cooperation is important," Proskawetz said. "Especially for standardization purposes there has to be cooperation between government and non-government agencies."

The idea is to use 802.11a and IPv6 wireless technologies to create ad hoc wireless networks between vehicles. Information then could be relayed between travelers, improving safety and efficiency of travel, he said. At the same time, the technology would be used in developing new on-board information services and applications.

The C2C consortium must first discover what works based on wireless LAN components, said Proskawetz, then move to establish a European standard for wireless car-to-car communications.

Continent-wide standards are an important aspect of the program, given the frequency that Europeans cross borders in their vehicles, Proskawetz said.

"We are looking for ways to link temporarily link vehicles with others, from all over, for the purposes of sharing information," he said, adding that the program would not be efficient if a continental model was not developed.

The C2C Communication Consortium is a non-profit organization that recently extended its charter to 2006. Proskawetz said it is likely the group will need even longer before any product could be brought to market.

"There is much still to do," he said.



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