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Mesh networks and the beginning of borg

Published in Gadgets, Geolocation, GeoRSS, Mobile, Open-Source, Technology, Travel  |  8 Comments

Last night I got to attend a talk given by Robin Chase, Founder and Former CEO of Zipcar. Her talk was titled “Sustainable Transportation and Accessibility Research & Transformation”, where she discussed how to decrease the impact of transportation on the environment and also using new transportation paradigms (such as shared car ownership) as a vehicle for bringing out mesh networks.

Mesh networks are simple: everything is a sensor and can connect to other sensors. She referred to it as “Ad Hoc Wireless networking”, but I think that confuses the issue, because then people start thinking it just means WiFi everywhere.

What it really means is that all of these sensors and network devices can talk to one another, gather, share, and use information. For example, if every car was a member of the mesh network, they would all share traffic information, road conditions, and driver destination, perhaps. Then your in-dash display would update real-time traffic ahead of you as each of these cars shared their data. Also, you may be able to get internet down the line as you all shared a common network system.

Other examples that have popped up in the past include finding potential mates/friends around you by a profile you broadcast, or tracking birds with RFID.

Of course, now that you have all this data, how do you share it? Robin says she envisions all of this being built on open-source technologies, to allow for “innovation” (aka ‘good hacking’). Open standards like GeoRSS could also be used to begin disseminating all of this data as it streams in and share it between devices. See the notes on Mikel’s XTech talk for more inspiration along those lines.

If the devices are cheap (< $100), open-design, and run on open-software, this is a great future. If, however, it is run by proprietary, expensive technology, and closed standards, then you'll have a future where you get fast connections in your Ford car from other Ford cars, but no connection to all those BMW's or Toyotas on the road.

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  1. katie says:

    May 22nd, 2006 at 10:41 am (#)

    That sounds very much along the lines of the near-future world Vernor Vinge sets up in Rainbows End. (Substituting high-tech contact lenses with high-definition display capabilities for ‘in-dash displays’.)

  2. Will says:

    May 23rd, 2006 at 3:58 pm (#)

    This isn’t just another post about that Audrey thing of yours, right?

    Here in NoVA, the county government embraced Zipcar and Flexcar by providing spaces at Metro stations and ‘strongly recommending’ their inclusion in site plans for new development. They make sense here because there’s a supportable density, alternative routes, and a technically literate population. I think they are a great system, but then I also own 2.5 cars…

    Elsewhere… not so sure.

    Which goes toward these other uses — what level of interaction is required? what population can use this? how does this improve my life? Sure I live in a high traffic area, but when traffic jams are both predictable and difficult to avoid (there are only six bridge crossings of the Potomac from Alexandria to Great Falls), the benefits are harder to see.

    Now if the Porpoise (RIP) had a system where they would prepare a beer as I approached the bar, that would be worth buying.

    The larger point is that technologists (or programmers) should think about how we live/work/travel and how their system can integrate or extend an existing practice or gesture without requiring us to learn something completely new. I’m a fan of answering ‘why?’ rather than ‘why not?’ in these cases.

    Favorite example is EZ-Pass. Brilliant, convenient, easily explained. Deducts the toll price via car-mounted RFID (or something similar) at speed. Automatically deducts from an account or credit card, requires a single non-interactive piece of hardware and no user interaction after installation. Order, Velcro to your windshield and be done.

    Which makes this announcement interesting.

  3. Listics - Frank Paynter’s Voice and Vision… » Open Source Radio… says:

    September 9th, 2006 at 11:06 am (#)

    […] You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Leave aReply […]

  4. Listics - Frank Paynter’s Voice and Vision… » Open Source Wireless Mesh Networking says:

    September 10th, 2006 at 11:41 am (#)

    […] But more important than the purposeful social networking product she’s building, she has a vision for integrating wireless into transportation systems using “open source mesh.” Since radio geeks are a picky bunch, I’d like to nail down the definition of “open source radio” or whatever she means. Andrew Turner has blogged a little about it here. In our conversation Robin went deeper into a discussion of toll based funding of highway infrastructure that charges variable rates by time-of-day, congestion based rates, and so forth. Is the use of “open source” just a marketing marker? Or does it refer to application level stuff like GeoRSS, or what? […]

  5. Ray says:

    December 30th, 2006 at 9:42 pm (#)

    I think this would be great for determining the traffic ahead of you if it was used on emergency vehicles. I think it may be a problem to worry about, since it is wireless is security, because someone is always trying to crack other people’s hardwork and to disturb how this would operate.

    GPS Advanced Vehicle Tracking

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