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Qinetiq drives towards wireless cars

The MoD spin-off, which is already working on wireless-enabled trains, has signed a multi-million pound deal extending its work on cars and lampposts
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

Defence technology company Qinetiq has signed a £6.2m contract to develop technology that could eventually lead to wireless-enabled cars.

The contract with UK wireless content delivery firm LastMile Communications extends a partnership signed last year, in which QinetiQ — which owns a 1.5 percent stake in LastMile — agreed to realise and produce prototypes using the wireless based technology.

Gabriel Vizzard, LastMile's marketing director, told ZDNet UK on Monday that the firms were "absolutely on-track" with their schedule and that LastMile was "happy with the progress that [it is] making".

The technology, known as W-Direct, will initially be trialled in lampposts. It operates at 60GHz, which gives more bandwidth than standard Wi-Fi. The idea is that each lamppost will contain a wireless node, which in turn will host "strategically placed content", to be picked up by any wirelessly-enabled passer-by.

These nodes could supply users with information on local hotels or restaurants, indicating the availability of tables or bedrooms, or whether they currently have any specials on, said Vizzard. The availability of nearby parking could be another application.

But information for passers-by is only the first stage, as applications have been suggested whereby the node could be used to pass on vital information for emergency services.

"A public safety vehicle may have a CCTV camera where the policeman stops and transmits the images wirelessly to a nearby node, so that if anything should happen to the officer [that information can be retrieved]," said Vizzard.

Eventually, the idea is to develop reliable technology that could be used to transmit information from vehicle to vehicle.

A spokesperson for Qinetiq described a scenario in which, after a car is involved in an accident and the airbag is deployed, "the system might be able to communicate the fact that there's been an accident to other vehicles in the vicinity".

Early trials will take place at the University of Abertay in Dundee. In conjunction with the university's School of Computing and Creative Technologies, Lastmile are setting up campus-wide nodes as "a place for students to pick up and deposit their coursework", according to Vizzard.

"We also have a GPRS modem in our device for user command and control, in case the device is being tampered with or it needs to be remotely bootstrapped and managed," Vizzard added.

Negotiations are underway with the Dundee city council to extend the scheme, and the university is working on a multiplayer game using the data structure for nodes on street corners.

Qinetiq's spokesperson pointed out that using "existing roadside furniture" such as lampposts eliminated the need to lay an expensive new infrastructure for the nodes. He said that while the MoD spin-off is developing the initial models, future production units would have to be mass-manufactured by another organisation.

The technology could potentially dovetail with the aim of Car2Car, a consortium established by car manufacturers such as Audi, BMW and Renault, to agree a brand-agnostic European industrial standard for "future communicating cars".

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