Car crashes and traffic jams could be avoided if vehicles were linked by Wireless Mesh Networks (WMNs), according to industry boffins.

When in transit, if cars were connected by a communication web of radio nodes, real-time information could be sent to drivers, making them aware of situations ahead.

Some cars can already tap into the mobile wireless network to access navigation information, or connect to emergency services, but more car manufactures and wireless companies are looking into WMNs that could allow cars to connect to each other.

Dan Rabinovitsj, senior vice president of the networking business unit of Qualcomm Atheros, a leading provider of wireless and wired technologies, discussed the next generation of wireless technologies at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Rabinovitsj said he is not sure when the idea could become available, but spoke about the automatic system of linking cars together in the ‘future’, and described how drivers would enter the highway and then mesh with several other vehicles around them.

“You’re essentially making sure you’re not just keeping a proper distance from the front and back, which a number of vehicles do today, but literally in 360 degrees. And of course passing along messages – there’s a policeman up ahead, there’s an accident up ahead, or there’s a stoplight. All of these things are starting to intersect,” Rabinovitsj said.

Ongoing research

Many car manufacturers, such as Ford, are also investing heavily in research regarding WMNs.

At the CES, the Ford Developer Program was launched, making the new SYNC AppLink available for the creation of smartphone apps. It lets a driver load an app on a smartphone, then control it through the car’s voice command and dashboard buttons.

Coinciding with Ford’s other announcement that its OpenXC research platform is out of beta, Ford says it is now turning its attention to the growing trend in hardware hacking, by transforming vehicles into an ‘experimental development environment’.

While AppLink is available in Ford vehicles now, OpenXC is focused on the future as an open-source hardware and software platform, developed by Ford Research and Innovation, to unleash the power of the open-source hacker community to explore what can be done with vehicle data.

Ford’s vice president and chief technical officer, Paul Mascarenas, said: “By connecting cars and trucks to wireless networks, and giving unheard-of access to vehicle data, entirely new application categories and hardware modules can be explored – safety, energy efficiency, sharing, health; the list goes on.”

The hardware module, which is connected to a smartphone or tablet on which apps can be written to consume and use these data, provides real-time access to parameters like the vehicle sensors, GPS receiver and vehicle speed.

Limitations

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), an American organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage caused from crashes on the nation’s roads, says that crash avoidance technologies are needed, but they can face limitations.

The IIHS says in addition to whether drivers understand and respond appropriately to the technology-generated information, warning systems could prove problematic if, for example, sensors fail to register lane markings in areas that are not well marked or may be affected by difficult weather conditions – such as snow.

Will new WMN devices in cars be beneficial or breed an era of lazy technology  reliant drivers?

[Image via microsoft]