UC Profs See Car Traffic as Basis of a Mobile Internet

Computer scientists at UCLA are working on a project to use moving cars as nodes in a network to create literally a mobile mobile network.

"We have all of these computer devices as integrated systems inside our cars," said UCLA Computer science professor Mario Gerla, who, with researcher Giovanni Pau, is testing the idea. "It's time to extend that concept."

A team led by Gerla at UCLA Engineering's Network Research Lab is looking at using cars to form a communications network based on the principles of a mobile ad-hoc networking platform, or MANET.

The MANET will allow cars moving 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.

Access to the Internet or to a cellular phone system now requires that a tower or other stationary access point be within range. The mobile network bypasses this 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.

Benefits of this type of network include giving drivers access to real-time information about collisions, changes in traffic patterns, or nearby hazards. The technology could also provide life-saving communications between emergency personnel.

Currently, the California Department of Transportation is working with Gerla's team to develop the vehicle sensors that detect highway problems--such as large potholes--and the mobile network that would transmit the information instantly.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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