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New tech could be powering VoIP calls, internet, and radio in cars of the future

The idea of a mobile internet connection in your car is an attractive one.  With the majority of Americans hooked to the internet, the idea of the extra web time is highly appealing.  While it might dangerously tempting to driver, the concept has many safe applications.  From passengers enjoying surfing the net or VoIP  to internet streamed television or radio, there's a world of opportunity.  Even the drivers could benefit from something new to do while waiting in the parking lot at their local grocery store.

To help achieve this vision, an alliance between the University of Massachusetts, Microsoft and the University of Washington have cooked up a new technology they're call Vi-Fi (Vehicle Wi-Fi).  The system aims to provide users with on-the-go internet access more cheaply than existing cellular broadband systems.  And it uses some advanced technology to do it.

The key to Microsoft's new system is a steady signal.  In Wi-Fi networks, as you travel overland, each signal station (base station) only broadcasts so far, so you have to hop between stations.  During these transitions, known as "hard handoffs", the signal strength typically drops.  At best this makes car Wi-Fi unpleasant, and at worst it makes it unworkable.

Ratul Mahajan, a Microsoft researcher working on the project, explains, "Today's Wi-Fi handoff protocols are incredibly fragile in outdoor environments and mobile environments artificially limited to talking to only one access point, or only one base station at a time, even though there may be other base stations (in the area)."

The key to Microsoft's system is found in the last half of his comment -- the use of multiple base stations.  In the new system the station, which can send and receive signals from more than on base station, the strongest strength gets designated the "anchor" system, but other systems are also used as "auxiliary" systems.  A complex algorithm calculates the probability of a packet not reaching the main station.  If the probability is high enough, the auxiliary stations try to forward it to the main station.

Researchers with Microsoft, UW and Massachusetts believe they are the first to suggest such a solution, which may finally make vehicle Wi-Fi workable.  They ran a test deployment on Microsoft's campus in Washington and found the system eliminated nearly all the problems of network hopping.  This allowed for seamless connections with software applications and internet phone calls.

The research was presented this week in Seattle to the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Data Communications.  Mr. Mahajan did deliver an important distinction --  he doesn't want drivers abusing the Wi-Fi in a way that might distract them.

The lead author on the research paper was Aruna Balasubramanian, a computer science graduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.  Assisting her in the research were professors Brian Neil Levine and Arun Venkataramani of the University of Massachusetts, and John Zahorjan of the UW. 

Microsoft is planning a follow up test on a bigger scale on the area surrounding its campus.

With the future of municipal Wi-Fi networks recently take a turn for the better, the infrastructure for car Wi-Fi is starting to fall into place.  Now if Microsoft and its partners can continue to successfully improve upon their designs, internet may have found one more new home.

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Doesn't matter
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 8:35:06 AM , Rating: 5
No matter how much you do, people are still going to be idiots. So where now we've got people texting and checking their email on phones while driving, soon we'll have people actively surfing the web, watching Youtube, and updating their Myspace page as they drive.

RE: Doesn't matter
By audiomaniaca on 8/27/08, Rating: -1
RE: Doesn't matter
By Homerboy on 8/27/2008 9:09:17 AM , Rating: 2
right. Cuz they could NEVER rear-end you could they?

RE: Doesn't matter
By MrBlastman on 8/27/2008 9:20:54 AM , Rating: 4
You forgot a couple of things. ;) A true "multitasker" would be talking on their phone, surfing the web, watching youtube, updating myspace/facebook, playing with their GPS, looking for something in the front seat and applying makeup/shaving using the visor mirror all at the same time.

Oh, and they'd do this while steering with their knee.

If all this stuff in their life is really too important to stop while they are driving somewhere, they should hire a chauffer, since obviously their lives are more important than everyone else on the road.

Just the other day my wife and I were on the highway and she exclaimed: "That lady is reading a book while driving!"... at 70+ mph. :(

RE: Doesn't matter
By AnnihilatorX on 8/27/2008 9:37:51 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe the book is a highway code (road safety manual in UK, don't know the equivalence in the US) :)

RE: Doesn't matter
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 10:19:29 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah back when I was driving 150 miles a day, I saw all manner of idiots. The best was a lady who was tailgating me at 80 mph with the sunvisor down doing her makeup. When she finished she honked her horn at me to move out of the way.

RE: Doesn't matter
By Schrag4 on 8/27/2008 1:48:20 PM , Rating: 2
Once on a road trip we passed a lady on the interstate who was balancing her checkbook against her steering wheel. Not balancing to keep it from falling, balancing as in intently reading, doing the math, writing numbers down (not watching the road).


RE: Doesn't matter
By kkwst2 on 8/27/2008 1:57:37 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, and they'd do this while steering with their knee.

Well, how about they do all this while the automated car drives them around. Like it or not, the real solution to all this is to take control away from the driver and give it to the computers. It will be orders of magnitude safer.

Vehicle Wifi could probably be a small part of this solution. Sonar/radar type local navigation combined with GPS and wifi connections will likely form the basis for complete computer-controlled vehicle navigation. I think we're talking a couple decades away before this begins in earnest, but it's coming.

Considering that auto accidents are by far the biggest source of morbidity and mortality among most age groups, it will not come soon enough. I predict a >90% reduction in auto-related mortality once these systems become widespread. Likely won't be widespread in my lifetime, though, considering how long after initiation it would take to get all the legacy vehicles off the road and how resistant people are to change/giving up control.

RE: Doesn't matter
By MrBlastman on 8/27/2008 2:15:57 PM , Rating: 2
I'm for this solution and have been for years. I hope it will happen - but - I think it should be limited to major thoroughfares and highways rather than surface streets.

The second you enter a ramp to the freeway it should activate and navigate you into the flow of traffic to your next exit point, where it will then exit you from the highway back onto surface streets. It would be a fair compromise but would help.

It won't solve running red lights and other driver caused problems but it will at least make the high speed portions of the road more controlled.

In reality, unless this system is coupled with a grid-power-transfer array (think bumper cars with that pole touching a power grid to power thte car), I think we will see a greater shift towards public transportation over the next 100 or so years.

RE: Doesn't matter
By Schrag4 on 8/27/2008 2:58:00 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget some loud tones and/or electric shocks to wake you up once you get to your destination - or an automatic call to 911 if that doesn't work.

RE: Doesn't matter
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 3:46:52 PM , Rating: 2
Screw that. I want to drive. I trust myself far more than a computer to drive me safely somewhere. I'm not turning my life over to a computer on the highway at high speed because others are idiots.

If you want to have an automated car lane fine. But for those of us who don't suck at driving and paying attention, I plan to keep control of my life to myself.

RE: Doesn't matter
By kkwst2 on 8/27/2008 6:01:16 PM , Rating: 2
I thought you would be the one to answer that way. Perhaps it has to do with your user name.

I guess the fundamental question is going to be whether driving is a fundamental right. I think public policy has answered no to that question.

I also get some pleasure from driving and think I "don't suck". However, I think in the big picture we all suck at paying attention, just some more than others. Also, you can "not suck" all you want, but if another idiot comes at you from your blind side at 120mph, there's nothing you can do. A dedicated computer can absolutely get you there more safely, especially at high speeds.

Perhaps like the other poster said, it could potentially be limited to major highways, but I think eventually we'll have 100% guidance.

But for those of us who don't suck at driving and paying attention, I plan to keep control of my life to myself.

Unless you're really young, I don't think you'll have to worry about that happening while you're still on solid foods, but it will likely happen, regardless of whether you want it. Do you have kids? I'm guessing you'll protest much less when you have teenagers out on the road and realize what a nightmare it is.

RE: Doesn't matter
By Schrag4 on 8/28/2008 9:33:30 AM , Rating: 2
Perhaps such a system could just take over if it thinks a collision is imminent. So in the example of the crazy driver on the mountain road, both cars' computers would realize that they're going to collide and so both would slow down automatically, and the crazy driver's car would force him or her into the correct lane.

I don't think such a system could prevent all accidents, but it could probably prevent most, while minimizing injuries in ones that still happen.

In order to take the correct action, some super-computer would have to coordinate everything (otherwise both cars might change lanes, which would result in a head on collision in a different lane). We could call the computer the Vehicle Injury Circumvention Initiative, or V.I.C.I. (ok, ok, I couldn't think of a K word)

RE: Doesn't matter
By maverick85wd on 8/27/2008 5:17:34 PM , Rating: 2
Just the other day my wife and I were on the highway and she exclaimed: "That lady is reading a book while driving!"... at 70+ mph. :(

Darwinism hard at work... just sucks when they take out someone who ISN'T a complete idiot with them

RE: Doesn't matter
By AnnihilatorX on 8/27/2008 9:43:30 AM , Rating: 2
That's very unlikely unless voice recognition system is significantly improved. The lack of keyboard in car, and potentially noisy enviornment, make this more suited for passenger entertainment than for driver's. I doubt a car manufacturer would be as silly to incorporate full size keyboard on the driving wheel.

I am sure law will come into force prohibiting drivers to use internet as they have for prohibiting use of mobile phones if the need arises.

RE: Doesn't matter
By DeepBlue1975 on 8/27/2008 2:23:30 PM , Rating: 2
And when that happens, they'll start filing suits against car manufacturers for making unsafe cars.

Win-win situation: lawyers win, idiots win, technology wins (we'll end up having auto-piloted cars because of increasing driving stupidity)... And then idiot people will feel confident about having lots of enhanced idiot sons, who will push idiot proof things further because they'll be better idiots that are able to render any idiot proof thing, broken and misused.

Instruction manual writers will have more work as well, they'll have to state things like "When you drive your car, remember that turning the steering wheel left, will make your car turn left, not right.". Complex schematics about pedal positions are not out of the question, either.

RE: Doesn't matter
By General Disturbance on 8/28/2008 12:03:19 PM , Rating: 2
I dislike people too.

RE: Doesn't matter
By althaz on 8/29/2008 1:29:14 AM , Rating: 2
Tabbed browsing, baby. Do all that at once.

RE: Doesn't matter
By gligli2 on 8/31/2008 7:50:32 AM , Rating: 2
Of course it matters, depends on what people will do with such technology.

Future uses
By Chillin1248 on 8/27/2008 9:27:47 AM , Rating: 4
What I am really looking foward to is a system that connects all cars together.

One use is real time traffic reporting by showing how many cars and the speed they are traveling vs. average speeds on said road. Another use is while coming around a bend on a mountain road I would be able to "see" the other car on my HUD windscreen behind the bend as to adjust my speed/turn.

But the best use would be a system where drivers report where they see a police cruiser taking the speed on the side of the road. :)


RE: Future uses
By MrBlastman on 8/27/2008 9:32:09 AM , Rating: 4
If the cars were all connected, you'd already have a ticket as the cop would know your speed before he saw you. ;)

Otherwise it is a neat idea that I've thought about for a long time. The hud concept of seeing a car around a hill would be excellent. It would also help people avoid suicidal drivers that are driving in the wrong direction with their lights off trying to hit someone. A friend of mine lost his parents to someone like that. :-|

RE: Future uses
By Chillin1248 on 8/27/2008 9:41:43 AM , Rating: 1
Anonymous ID's as well as just showing the average speed for the vehicles on the said road as well as "crowding" i.e.- traffic jams. No need for individual ID's... Though this may be a conflict with the HUD.

But yeah I would love the HUD idea. I am tired of maniacs thinking they are driving all alone on a mountain road and thus making extremely wide turns at high speed where they intrude into my lane.


RE: Future uses
By acer905 on 8/27/2008 12:28:51 PM , Rating: 1
I've been waiting for the day that i read that the police have secretly pressured the auto manufacturers to install a transmitter on every car that transmits the speed of the car, and the VIN so that the cops could just sit there on the side of the freeway, recording everything about the people that pass... and just send out the tickets later...

RE: Future uses
By silversound on 8/27/2008 12:46:07 PM , Rating: 1
In car internet? WIFI?
Maybe for European high class brands like MB, BMW, PORSCHE, FERRARI... A showoff feature

Not really practical from microsoft coz whos gonna surf internet while driving? Its just a car, take us to places only. Its not a entertainment system...

By then we will all have iphone like cellphones to surf internet, GPS and even pay bills through phones!

RE: Future uses
By bobsmith1492 on 8/27/2008 12:55:30 PM , Rating: 2
Read the article?

The passengers can surf while being chauffeured, watch streaming video, anyone can use a VOIP phone, streaming radio stations can play... it would be very useful on road trips.

Also cell phones are pretty much crap for surfing the internet - sometimes you just need a keyboard.

RE: Future uses
By inighthawki on 8/27/2008 2:37:23 PM , Rating: 3
It's true that it probably will come first in the high-class type vehicles, with people paying a nice sum of money to have such features; however, though it IS a car, and its original purpose WAS to get from a to b, this doesn't mean, in any way, that it cannot be something more. I personally have mixed feelings about this particular idea. Where it could potentially give us the technology to have some sort of HUD, speed monitors, etc to keep us more in touch on what is going on around us, there are also many setbacks, mainly

1) not everyone will have this, sop if there is some sort of HUD/monitoring system, you couldnt rely on it to show the status of ALL the cars around you, thus requiring you to do what's necessary anyway, unless it was regulated by the gov such that everyone was required to have it (which would cause tons and tons of problems both ethically and technically)

2)Drivers can easily be distracted with this technology. Though some may be smart and use it correctly, there are always those who would "browse the internet" and "try to read something" while driving, and accident rates would go up.

RE: Future uses
By mpjesse on 8/27/2008 2:04:43 PM , Rating: 2
You know that's a good point. I don't think it's an unreasonable assumption that law enforcement may try and use this "ViFi" system for speed enforcement. With red light cameras increasingly gaining acceptance across the U.S., WiFi might be used as law enforcement's next tool to hand out tickets. Of course, that's a long ways off. But don't think for a second that 10 years from now some mayor or police chief won't be thinking about it. Big brother is inevitable folks.

RE: Future uses
By AnnihilatorX on 8/27/2008 9:40:11 AM , Rating: 2
I doubt Wi-Fi can determine positional information by triangulation. To do something as you mentioned, each car would have to be equiped with GPS, which is accuracte but not accurate enough to be act like a radar.

RE: Future uses
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 10:20:55 AM , Rating: 2
I want the ability to send a message to the @sshole behind me tailgating me. Or the little old lady in front of me going 10-15 miles an hour under the speed limit.

RE: Future uses
By Smilin on 8/27/2008 10:57:15 AM , Rating: 5
What is your horn and middle finger broken?

RE: Future uses
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 12:19:12 PM , Rating: 2
I seem to always date girls who get pissed at me for doing that....means no nookie.

RE: Future uses
By MrBlastman on 8/27/2008 11:26:31 AM , Rating: 2
Do what my brother did and rig up a fluid line connected to your windshield wiper wash switch from your washer tank in the front of the car to the rear. He has it poking out just underneath his license plate and when he presses the button it sprays out whatever is in the tank onto the car behind him.

He's had... some fun with it :)

RE: Future uses
By Polynikes on 8/27/2008 12:58:07 PM , Rating: 2
That would be cool, however just simple internet access on long trips would be great, too.

Instead of in car wireless.......
By LCC2286 on 8/27/2008 11:14:59 AM , Rating: 2
I want that girl!! She's very cute ..... :)

RE: Instead of in car wireless.......
By Sulphademus on 8/27/2008 11:18:01 AM , Rating: 2
She looks like a cousin of mine!

RE: Instead of in car wireless.......
By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 12:20:12 PM , Rating: 2
*banjos start dueling*

By Sulphademus on 8/27/2008 12:28:08 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite.
+ Shes not blood related

- Shes underage

RE: Instead of in car wireless.......
By MrBlastman on 8/27/2008 11:36:11 AM , Rating: 2
She looks like my wife's best friend.

By FITCamaro on 8/27/2008 12:20:45 PM , Rating: 2
Three isn't a crowd you know. ;)

By DeepBlue1975 on 8/27/2008 3:48:10 PM , Rating: 2
Then why not asking your wife to set you up with her?

Oh wait... My wife's coming and I think she's got a blunt object in her hand and carries an expression of little friendliness...

I've gotta ge!#"$%!% ...


By yacoub on 8/27/2008 1:51:51 PM , Rating: 2
RE: hmmmm
By KentState on 8/27/2008 10:37:39 PM , Rating: 2
Until she smashes into you while talking on the phone, using he internet, putting on make-up, and playing with the radio.

By teohhanhui on 8/27/2008 9:32:52 AM , Rating: 2
Doesn't WiMAX already allow for such applications?

By cete on 8/28/2008 3:53:46 AM , Rating: 2
could it be setup such as if there is only one person in the car and the car's speed is over 10 mph, the internet would shutdown, at least on some ports (80 for instance so you can't browse). but in case you make a voip call, or listen to radio, it could be relatively safe, I guess.

also I wonder if the cars can act as wireless bridges, so a long line of vehicles can spread the area of vi-fi covering.

By gus6464 on 8/28/2008 10:56:49 PM , Rating: 2
Btw anyone notice that in the pic she is using a mac? Powerbook G4 to be exact.

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