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For those who started using the internet after 2003, the sound of connecting to a dial-up internet connection seems like a joke. “You really had to listen to that screeching every time?” they say. For them, the thought that you would have to be literally plugged into a phone line to get online is absurd. But according to Engineering and Public Policy and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Jon Peha, in the not too distant future, a major part of their every day lives may soon be just as obsolete.

No wifi symbol

Source: College of Engineering

It's this.


“At least in your major cities,” Peha says, “where the traffic is densely packed together, we are looking to use connected vehicle systems as an entirely new approach to providing internet access. We have telephone companies, cable companies, and cellular companies, and now we have this. The cars themselves are the internet.”

Over the last few years, Peha and his student Alexandre Ligo have been working in Portugal testing different models for a connected vehicle network that can provide internet access for users on the go. The trial’s nearly 900 networked vehicles act as a constantly-moving set of routers, receiving information from the internet and dispersing it among the network. Passengers in public busses and other vehicles will have their WiFi access provided by this new technology, known as Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC).

The trial in Portugal shows that it’s possible. Now, the CMU team has moved on to the difficult task of determining whether it’s viable. Questions of when and where it will be cost effective to implement and what regulatory changes would need to be made to allow for it will ultimately determine whether or not DSRC technology ever becomes widely used as a means of internet access.

The cars themselves are the internet.

John Peha, Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering & Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

“We predict that in a few years, this will be more cost-effective than cellular in very dense cities like Boston and Chicago,” says Peha. “If you have a lot of cars densely packed, they create a very efficient network. The more cars that have the technology installed and the more data each person uses—a number that’s been doubling every year or two—the more cost effective internet over DSRC will become.”

The team will use data gathered from the trial in complex simulation software they have developed. This software will provide an engineering-economic model of costs and revenues to determine how and when this technology makes sense to implement. This holistic, interdisciplinary approach—combining technology, business, and policy—is what makes Peha’s approach so revolutionary.


But the subject of connected vehicles is plagued by questions of safety. While Peha is optimistic about future DSRC implementation, he admits there are valid security concerns, which the team will also investigate.

“The technology may, if we’re not careful, allow me to track your car’s location at all times, in the same way that my current cellular service provider can track my location now,” he says. “But we regulate those companies so that they won’t misuse the privilege. This could translate to new technology. It’s an interesting set of issues that we will have to deal with at a regulatory level.”

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