Driving on the Information Super Highway

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Driving on the Information Super Highway

This past May, Avis began offering wireless Internet access in cars that it rents at locations in San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Newark. In the next few months, the company plans to expand that service to seven other major cities.1

The service, which costs $10.95 a day, functions with any device that supports Wi-Fi Internet service. Every passenger in the car can access it simultaneously. It requires no special software or hardware, and works just like an ordinary Internet hotspot.

The key to this new capability is a technology developed by a company called Autonet. It connects by way of high-speed mobile phone networks, which are now available on 95 percent of the roads in the U.S. A small device plugs into the car’s cigarette lighter, while a small antenna box goes into the trunk. Once activated, it produces an 802.11g wireless signal within a 30-foot radius, which includes the inside of the car and a small area around it.

The technological breakthrough that made this possible is a system for translating all the various mobile phone signals so that the connection will work, no matter what network the vehicle is passing through. Later this year, the device is expected to be for sale for around $400 plus a monthly charge for service that is estimated to be competitive with conventional broadband cable charges.

According to PC World,2 Ford and Microsoft have unveiled an in-car communications and entertainment system, as well. Under the trade name “Sync” and based on the “Microsoft Auto” operating system, it will be optional in a dozen Ford models in 2008 and available for the entire 2009 lineup of vehicles.

Sync will give drivers complete hands-free control of a wide range of digital services, including phone, audio, and video. Up to a dozen phones can work at once through the system’s Bluetooth connection. Sync will work with iPods as well.

Future versions of Sync will incorporate Wi-Fi, which will allow motorists to download e-mail while driving through a Net cloud and then have the system read the messages aloud. Drivers will be able to answer e-mails by dictating a response.

But this is just the beginning of the sweeping technological changes that are expected to overtake cars and redefine the way we use them and think of them in the next few years. Entertainment will be only a small portion of this revolution. According to Eetimes.com,3 cars will soon be able to communicate with one another to navigate and avoid collisions as well.

This revolution in personal transportation is expected to be sustained by increasingly powerful electronics, new Internet protocols, and the forward progress of Moore’s Law, which will allow computers to control every aspect of an automobile’s functioning cost-effectively...

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