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Turning cars into wireless network nodes

Everyday, our cars are using more computing technology, primarily for safety reasons. So why not turning them into computer nodes of a mobile network? This is what UCLA engineers are working on. According to them, this would just need the relatively low-cost addition of sensors to the vehicle's roof and bumpers. They say their mobile ad-hoc networking platform (MANET) would allow 'moving vehicles within a range of 100 to 300 meters of each other to connect and create a network of cars.' Of course, not every driver would like to be part of this network because of privacy concerns. This is why 'the first mobile networks will be implemented in emergency response vehicles such as police cars, ambulances and hazardous materials response units.'
Written by Roland Piquepaille, Inactive on

Everyday, our cars are using more computing technology, primarily for safety reasons. So why not turning them into computer nodes of a mobile network? This is what UCLA engineers are working on. According to them, this would just need the relatively low-cost addition of sensors to the vehicle's roof and bumpers. They say their mobile ad-hoc networking platform (MANET) would allow 'moving vehicles within a range of 100 to 300 meters of each other to connect and create a network of cars.' Of course, not every driver would like to be part of this network because of privacy concerns. This is why 'the first mobile networks will be implemented in emergency response vehicles such as police cars, ambulances and hazardous materials response units.' Update (June 5, 2007): One of the researchers, Giovanni Pau, informed me that they built a brand new site for the activities on Vehicular networks, so be sure to visit it.

Vehicular Sensor Networks

You can see above how vehicular sensor networks (VSNs) can be built on top of Vehicular Ad-hoc Networks (VANET) by equipping vehicles with onboard sensing devices. (Credit: Network Research Lab at UCLA) You'll find more details by looking at the MobEyes research project home page. This is one of the projects handled by the Network Research Lab at UCLA Computer Science Department, where computer science professor Mario Gerla and researcher Giovanni Pau are trying to turn your cars into wireless networking nodes.

As Gerla said, "We have all of these computer devices as integrated systems inside our cars. It's time to extend that concept. Computers are already being installed in many vehicles, and wireless capability will soon follow, so a mobile network deployment would only require the relatively low-cost addition of sensors to the vehicle's roof and bumpers and configuring the computer with new 'mobile' applications."

Pau added that the UCLA's team was using existing technologies. "We use standard radio protocols such as Digital Short Range Communication, or DSRC, combined with wireless LAN technology to create networks between vehicles equipped with onboard sensing devices. These devices can gather safety-related information, as well as other complex multimedia data, such as video. The most essential aspect of this network is that it is not subject to memory, processing, storage and energy limitations like traditional sensor networks. It relies on the resources of the vehicle itself, along with those vehicles around it."

Turning a car into a wireless network node might be easy to do, but what would be the benefits? According to the researchers, they are broad. Here are some of them.

  • Day-to-day driving could be safer and more convenient;
  • Drivers would have access to information about dangers within or near their mobile network, such as the presence of smoke from a forest fire;
  • More importantly, the technology could also provide life-saving communications between emergency personnel.

The team has already built "a vehicular testbed to explore these issues and to study car-to-car networking experiments under various traffic conditions and mobility situations. With a successful field test already completed, Gerla's team has further plans to develop a UCLA Campus Vehicle Testbed, or C-VeT, through a wireless testbed environment called WHYNET."

For more information, you can read a technical paper published by IEEE Wireless Communications, "MobEyes: Smart Mobs for Urban Monitoring with a Vehicular Sensor Network" (Vol. 13, No. 5, Pages 52-57, October 2006). Here are two links to the abstract and to the full text of this paper (PDF format, 6 pages, 187 KB).

So when will see these network on wheels? According to Gerla, it could take five years because of two main reasons. First, car makers would need to add another piece of technology in the vehicles they build. And second, some of us might not like the idea of our cars transmitting information about where we are in real time.

Sources: UCLA News, May 29, 2007; and various websites

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