Car 54, Is That You?

The government is getting behind Wi-Fi for automobiles--and not because it wants to make sure you can IM your friends while zipping along the freeway. The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Transportation are supporting new technology that will allow cars and roadside devices to talk to each other in the interest of safety and traffic management. Technically termed the Vehicle-Infrastructure Integration initiative, the project could lead to a range of developments, including traffic signals that could sense backups and change the timing of lights, and roadside posts that could automatically collect tolls from cars driving by. Cars caught in a traffic jam might be able to automatically send warnings to vehicles approaching the congestion, and emergency vehicles could change traffic signals as they approached intersections.

It all sounds like the world of George Jetson, but it may not be that far off. The FCC has set aside the radio frequencies necessary, and the DOT is lining up the luxury automakers and wireless companies that could roll out pilots. "There's going to be a massive infrastructure installation in the U.S. later this decade," says Dan Benjamin, an analyst with ABI Research in Oyster Bay, N.Y. He expects the Feds to foot most of the bill, at least initially.

But once cars are talking to posts and posts are talking to other cars, can the marketplace be far behind? The FCC says there's enough bandwidth to allow some commercial use, too, so streaming entertainment, or even on-the-go shopping, isn't out of the question. Civil libertarians, take note: neither is the ability to track individual cars.

Car 54, Is That You? | News