There is a new trend concerning the small network in that the car will have its own IP-based network with a link to the Internet. This has been brought about by manufacturers making WiFi “edge” routers with a 3G wireless link on the Internet side for installation in vehicles. Similarly vehicle builders like BMW, Chrysler and Peugeot are using this feature as a product differentiator in some of their vehicle models.
But what use are these devices?
Primarily these devices provide Internet access to passengers in minivans, limos and the like; and some bus fleets are taking this further for provision of Internet access to their premium routes. Some people may also think that these routers may have the same appeal as the “component-look” car stereo systems of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; where they only appealed to young men who were customising cars and vans in order to impress others.
What could they offer
Like the typical home Internet-edge router, all of these routers offer Ethernet and WiFi for the local network connection, which means that car devices can be directly connected to these Internet gateways. This can lead to online applications being made available to integrated or aftermarket-installed equipment which is being considered as sophisticated as a typical personal computer.
Ethernet port on the car stereo
A car stereo system could have an Ethernet port and support the same kind of network media services as some of the in-home entertainment systems offer. One application could be Internet radio functionality, where the set could have access to the Frontier Platform, Reciva or vTuner Internet-radio directories; and be able to pull in Internet radio from around the globe. An idea that may come to mind is the concept of young men “cruising” along Chapel Street in South Yarra; Campbell Parade in Bondi; Surfers Paradise or other “show-off” streets in Australia or coastal USA with the dance grooves from Heart London’s “Club Classics” program thumping out of the “subs and splits” in their souped-up machines during a special UK long weekend. Another function would be to support the “visual radio” platform that is part of most mobile-phone FM-radio implementations.
Another more interesting application is an in-car DLNA media network. The 3G WiFi router could work as a WiFi client when, in the presence of the home network, cause syncing of content between the home DLNA media network’s server and a hard disk built in to the car stereo. This allows for newly-added music content from the home network and up-to-date podcasts to be available in the car.
Similarly, there could be the ability to play content held on a DLNA-capable WiFi-enabled mobile phone or portable media player through the car speakers. As well, a small NAS like the Thecus N0204 miniNAS which I have mentioned about in this blog could be shoehorned to work from a car’s power supply and become a DLNA-enabled media storage unit for the car.
This functionality can be extended to the back seat in the form of access to newer video content from the home network or access to online video content to the back screens. As well, the vehicle’s music system could work as a DLNA media server for use in providing media at secondary locations like holiday homes or worksites. This would be in conjunction with a DLNA-compliant media player connected by a WiFi segment between the vehicle and the building’s network.
Ethernet connection for navigation systems
The “sat-nav” systems can benefit from Ethernet connectivity for integrated units or WiFi connectivity for portable navigation devices. This could allow for these systems to have up-to-date information about new points of interest as well as another link for receiving real-time traffic information.
The IP feed can work very strongly with real-time information being received from the wireless Internet in order to provide updated traffic information and / or real-time service information for garages, restaurants, motels and the like. This will then allow drivers to make better decisions about their journeys such as alternate runs or use of services. It could cater for “social recommendation” functionality for the roadside services so one can go to where the food’s known to be good for example.
Support for IP-driven vehicle telemetry
The vehicle could have an Internet-based direct link to the garage that the owner has a working relationship with, or to the fleet-management service in the case of a vehicle that is part of an organisation-owned fleet. This link can allow access to historical diagnostic information about the vehicle thus allowing for informed decisions concerning what repair work needs to be taken or whether the vehicle should be pensioned off.
Similarly, there could be the ability to implement vehicle / driver surveillance techniques which can be of benefit to parents of teenage drivers or organisations who need to keep in step with workplace safety or professional-driver regulations.
In some cases like public and community transportation, it may be desireable to have IP-based closed-circuit TV surveillance that streams the vision “back to base” instead of or as well as recording it to a local hard disk. This will also please the police force where officers are in a “first-response” situation and need “many eyes and many brains working together” on an emergency situation.
Electric vehicles (including hybrid-electric vehicles)
These vehicles will typically benefit from network and Internet connectivity in order to permit flexible power management situations like optimised battery charging or vehicle-to-grid setups. They will also benefit from the above-mentioned IP-driven vehicle telemetry so that the user or preferred mechanic knows if the battery is not holding its charge in the same way that it used to, thus knowing when to have it replaced.
What needs to be done
I would prefer the in-vehicle network to be capable of working as its own network with a 3G or similar-technology WWAN as proposed by the vehicle builders in their implementation or as a member of user-selected WiFi LANs in a client / access-point (WDS) role. This can be determined by a list of “preferred” SSID / WPA(2)-PSK combinations held local to the vehicle.
The “Ethernet behind the dash” concept of using Category 5 Ethernet to create a wired LAN amongst in-vehicle subsystems has to be researched, This includes how Category 5 Ethernet can handle the problems associated with an automotive electrical system which is known to be very noisy or prone to surges and spikes such as while the vehicle’s engine is being started.
Once the concept of the automotive local area network is researched properly, there is the ability to use it as a simple data conduit across vehicle systems for all data-transfer applications, not just for Internet surfing by passengers.