Taking It to the Streets: UCLA Scientists Seek to Turn Cars Into a Mobile Communications Network
It's no secret Americans love their cars, and modern computer systems have enhanced vehicle performance and safety. For computer science professor Mario Gerla and researcher Giovanni Pau at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the next step is to take that digital processing power and push it outward even further — by using cars as computer nodes in a mobile network on wheels.
Computers already have made their way out from under the hood and into the passenger space with systems such as GPS navigation and services that can unlock a car by satellite. And wireless LAN capability will soon be installed by car manufacturers to make driving safer.
"We have all of these computer devices as integrated systems inside our cars," Gerla said. "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."
The team at UCLA Engineering's Network Research Lab, led by Gerla, is looking at reinventing cars and networks based on the principles of a wireless, mobile ad-hoc networking platform, or MANET. The MANET platform allows moving vehicles within a range of 100 to 300 meters of each other to connect and, car by car, create a network with a wide range. As cars fall out of range and drop out of the network, other node-equipped cars can join in to receive or send signals.
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,"
Currently, gaining access to the Internet or to a cellular phone system requires that a tower or other stationary access point be within range. The mobile network bypasses this set up by connecting vehicles to one another until, eventually, everyone is connected to everyone else and a mobile Internet is created. Access to the fixed Internet can then be obtained indirectly, through any of the mobile Internet vehicles.
While similar to a wireless local area network (WLAN), a mobile network has to perform tasks far more complicated than connecting one wireless computer to another — it must be able to distinguish between multiple moving vehicles (nodes), determine the signal strength emanating from each one, gauge its speed, who might have priority, such as a police car or fire engine, and what kind of data is being exchanged, like voice, data or video — all at the same time.
The benefits of
this type of network are broad, Gerla said. Day-to-day
driving could be safer and more convenient — on crowded freeways in
Drivers would have access to information about dangers within or near their mobile network, such as the presence of smoke from a forest fire or radiation from a dirty bomb. Just one vehicle would need to be equipped with the detection device in order for other vehicles in the network to be aware of the threat. The network also could list escape routes to drivers in the event of a terrorist attack.
Importantly, the technology could also provide life-saving communications between emergency personnel. During Hurricane Katrina and the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, communication infrastructures were destroyed and first responders were unable to communicate. A mobile vehicle network could provide an essential lifeline for emergency personnel and others to stay connected when all other networks fail.
The benefits of a mobile network are already being explored by the California Department of Transportation in conjunction with Gerla's team. Gerla and Pau are working with CalTrans to develop both the vehicle sensors that detect highway problems — such as large potholes — and the mobile network that would transmit this information instantly. With immediate access to roadway information, CalTrans officials would be better equipped to make decisions about where and in what priority to make repairs, saving crews time and energy and saving taxpayers money.
Building a collaborative, ubiquitous network out of new cars, however, is not an easy task, Gerla said. Consumers will need to play a major role in the development of car-to-car networks, and there is one major hurdle facing widespread adoption: privacy concerns surrounding turning a car into part of a larger network. Not every driver will want to share the status or contents of their system, no matter how benign the data may be.
For this reason, it is expected that the first mobile networks will be implemented in emergency response vehicles such as police cars, ambulances and hazardous materials response units.
also will require the cooperation of car manufacturers. Efforts have already
begun in this arena, with Connected Vehicle Trade Association in the
"Consumer demand will ultimately drive rapid adoption past the point of concern over privacy," Gerla said. "If I had to make a guess, I would expect networked cars to appear on the market in about five years. Ultimately, the advantages far outweigh the concerns."
For more information on UCLA Engineering's Network Research Lab, visit http://netlab.cs.ucla.edu/cgi-bin/usemod10/wiki.cgi.
Established in 1945, the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science offers 28 academic and professional degree programs, including an interdepartmental graduate degree program in biomedical engineering. Ranked among the top 10 engineering schools at public universities nationwide, the school is home to seven multimillion-dollar interdisciplinary research centers in space exploration, wireless sensor systems, nanotechnology, nanomanufacturing and nanoelectronics, all funded by federal and private agencies. For more information, visit www.engineer.ucla.edu.