European car manufacturers to research wireless technology

Germany's research ministry has agreed to help fund a three-year research project aimed at developing a car-to-car communications...

Germany's research ministry has agreed to help fund a three-year research project aimed at developing a car-to-car communications system based on wireless Lan (WLan) technology.

The project, Network on Wheels (Now), succeeds an earlier government-funded project called FleetNet.

It will be a major source of input into the European Car-2-Car Communication Consortium (C2C CC), which is made up of several of the Continent's largest car makers, according to Andreas Kaatz, project manager at the German Aerospace Center, which is co-ordinating the project on behalf of the research ministry.

The industry consortium, consisting of Germany's BMW, DaimlerChrysler and Volkswagen, France's Renault and Italy's Fiat, aims to establish a European standard for wireless car-to-car communications. With the help of this technology, the auto industry plans to increase road traffic safety and efficiency while, at the same time, developing new on-board information services and applications.

But before the consortium members can agree to standards, they need to know what works. That's the focus of Now which includes not only the three German car makers in the C2C industry consortium but also Siemens, NEC Deutschland and the Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communications.

Researchers in the Now project will develop and test various components of car-to-car communications systems in "ad hoc" networks, using the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11a and b wireless transmission standards and the next-generation IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6) communications protocol, in addition to other standards and protocols, according to Kaatz.

In these networks, cars serve as both senders and receivers as well locators to collect and route information about road conditions, traffic jams and more, he said.

The system will work when two or more vehicles are within radio communications range. They connect automatically and establish an ad hoc network. Because the range of a WLan link is limited to a few hundred metres, every vehicle also serves as a router, allowing messages to be sent via a multihop process to vehicles farther away. The routing algorithm is based on the position of the vehicles and is able to handle the typically fast changes of ad hoc networks.

"For instance, information about a traffic jam in your lane could be forwarded to cars in the opposite lane, to be passed back to cars behind you so drivers are warned quickly of congestion ahead," Kaatz said. "The trick is to develop sophisticated location algorithms."

The car maker consortium hopes to have prototypes by the middle of next year and specifications by the end of 2006, according to the group's website (

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

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