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Car makers BMW, Audi, Daimler Chrysler, Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat have won a German government grant to help develop the basis for a standard method for car-to-car wireless data.

The money will be used by Network on Wheels (NOW), a project run out of the University of Mannheim with the participation of Karlsruhe Technical University. NOW is funded in part by the German 'Ministry for R&D'; the Car2Car Communication Consortium, a non-profit organisation founded by said vehicle manufacturers; Siemens; NEC; and the Fraunhofer Institute, itself better known as the home of the MP3 format.

NOW is focusing on 802.11 technology and IPv6 to develop "inter-vehicle communication based on ad hoc networking principles". Essentially, it's exploring ways that moving vehicles can automatically set up temporary links with other cars, bikes and trucks in the vicinity, and share traffic information.

With routing capabilities, the whole thing could become a huge 'automobile Internet', with vehicles warning each other - and their drivers - about slow-downs, bad weather, accidents and other road problems.

NOW's work will feed into the Consortium's effort to create Continuous Communications Air Interface for Long and Medium Range (CALM) - this vehicle-to-vehicle network. The Consortium is keen that a standard be defined for CALM-style networks, allowing manufacturers to differentiate without the risk of building (potentially dangerous) incompatibilities into the system. It sees CALM as a kind of automotive answer to the way GSM and GPRS came to be defined as Europe's mobile telephony standards.

It's all very clever, of course, and impressive from a technological standpoint. However, alongside the rewards there's a risk to personal liberties, as the potential is once again opened for government and law-enforcement agencies to track vehicle movement. Something we'll undoubtedly be forced to swallow on the grounds it allegedly makes terrorism less likely. Along with the ID cards, phone taps, satellite tracking, CCTV cameras et al that are supposedly keeping us safe.

CALM also ties into the European Commission's eSafety Programme, itself geared toward a 50 per cent reduction in road fatalities by 2010.

The Consortium plans to build its first prototype by mid-2005, with more advanced prototypes for field trials coming late Q1 2006. The final CALM specification is scheduled to arrive at the end of that year. ®

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