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War driving taken to a new level?

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The car of the future will evolve to become a "browser on wheels" with advanced vehicle entertainment, safety and even driving systems provided by computers.

That's the vision of Sun Microsystems, which hopes Jxta (its peer to peer technology) and Java running on embedded processors will position it as a key player in the IT side of the automotive industry.

Some of the elements to create a "Java" car are already in place and will become commonplace of top-of--the-range cars within three or four years, Jim Showalter, Sun Microsystems global business development manager for the automotive industry, told us.

The GM Saturn SUV is Web-enabled, and there is "considerable interest" from emergency services and commercial hire firms for the fleet management functions that intelligent vehicles could bring in, he said.

Web and microchip technologies can be applied to cars in four main areas: safety (through adaptive seat belts, driver alertness sensing and anti collision systems), performance (energy saving and advanced diagnostics), vehicle entertainment and telemetry (Sun sponsors McLaren and hopes to apply F1 technology to commercial cars).

Key to making this technology work will be wireless Internet connection, enabling access to navigation and concierge services, accessible through car displays transformed into a "portal".

Sensors could be embedded on highways to allow automated lane monitoring and make highways a "hands free" environment (which sounds slightly dangerous to us but Sun assures us the driver will always be in charge). A 17-mile stretch of highway in San Diego has already been outfitted in this way, ready for cars that will be the real life equivalent of KITT from Knightrider. Funky stuff.

But could war driving (the practice of hackers heading around a city looking to get access into vulnerable wireless networks) could be taken to the next level through this technology? The thought of a hacker taking control of a car on a highway doesn't bear thinking about. ®

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