Rapid Access International, Inc.
Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar (a for-profit, membership-based, car sharing company providing automobile rental to its members, billable by the hour or day), believes that the future of cars, electricity, and the Internet are all on the same path. She believes that we can turn the existing electricity grid here in the United States into a Smart Grid that will grow more important each year and encompass multiple technologies including electric vehicles.
The electrical system in the United States has the capability to carry more than just electrical power. Current studies are being done on how to harness this extra capability to provide additional resources such as internet access and communications. According to Wikipedia, “Broadband over power lines (BPL), also known as power-line Internet or powerband, is the use of PLC technology to provide broadband Internet access through ordinary power lines. A computer (or any other device) would need only to plug a BPL "modem" into any outlet in an equipped building to have high-speed Internet access. International Broadband Electric Communications or IBEC and other companies currently offer BPL service to several electric cooperatives.”  The main advantage to BPL is that access to the Internet would be as simple as plugging in a device to an electrical outlet.
U.S. President Barak Obama has approved a stimulus bill that includes $7.2 billion for broadband technologies, $4.5 billion for the smart grid, and up to $5 billion for transportation technology. There is also a Transportation Reauthorization bill that is being introduced into Congress, and at $300 billion, it is second only to education when it comes to federal discretionary spending. The United States is ready to make a huge investment in these areas.
Robin Chase believes that the smart grid must be an information network that will utilize open Internet protocols and standards. Ms. Chase also sees automobiles as another network device, one that, like the smart grid, should be open and net-based. “Cars are network nodes,” she says. “They have GPS and Bluetooth and toll-both transponders, and we’re all on our cell phones and lots of cars have OnStar support services.” Currently, automakers are working on smart cars that will communicate with us, with one another and with the road. These cars can connect to the Internet through a new idea called: Mesh networking.
Mesh networking is a type of networking wherein each node in the network may act as an independent router, regardless of whether it is connected to another network or not. It allows for continuous connections and reconfiguration around broken or blocked paths by “hopping” from node to node until the destination is reached. The idea is to develop a smart electrical grid that uses Internet protocols and puts a mesh network device in every structure that has an electric meter. If car manufacturers were to install Internet-based platforms and add a mesh router, a nationwide mesh cloud will form, linking vehicles that can connect with one another and with the rest of the network. This would provide a system that would prevent over-building to handle peak demand and letting capacity go unused, would provide an infrastructure that would provide exactly what is needed, when it is needed, with minimum waste and maximum efficiency.
The main challenge is that Wireless Mesh Networks (WMNs) are extremely complex. It is relatively easy to design and build a line of products that will form a WMN and will forward packets to and from the destinations. However, it is very difficult to achieve optimum (or near-optimum) levels and still being able to ensure security. Additional challenges include range and capacity, supporting and optimizing multi-hop routing, guaranteeing security and fairness amongst all the network nodes, and implementing self-management and self-healing features with minimal outside intervention.
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