NXP Semiconductors Wants Cars to Talk to Each Other

It might seem like something out of Terminator: Rise of the Machines, but in an effort to make the roads safer as well as more efficient to travel upon, NXP Semiconductors (NASDAQ: NXPI  ) is imagining a future where cars communicate not only with one another but with the road and environment around them.

Talk to me
Through a consortium of companies including car manufacturers like Honda and Audi, along with technology partners such as mapmaker TomTom, NEC, and TE Connectivity, as well as a number of universities and research institutes, NXP is looking to implement and deploy a wireless communications network between cars and the highway infrastructure around them.

For example, the technology would allow cars to communicate with one another and could  essentially "see" around corners to detect danger even before it was visible to the driver, or to warn of traffic jams or approaching emergency vehicles. 

Just last week the chip maker perhaps best known for its leadership in near-field communications signed a memorandum of understanding with one of the consortium partners, Cohda Wireless, to create a cooperative intelligent transportation system in Europe. In January, NXP and Cisco  (NASDAQ: CSCO  )  announced  a significant investment in Cohda Wireless to develop a similar system in the U.S. The Transportation Department has been running a test in Michigan since last August testing vehicle awareness in more than 2,800 cars.

The Internet of Things
According to Cisco, more devices, appliances, and even cattle are connecting to the Internet than people (farmers can track the health of their "networked cows" via technology developed by Dutch start-up Sparked). In fact, the Internet became an "Internet of Things" as far back as 2008 when there were more devices connected than people on the Earth. Cisco predicts some 25 billion devices will be connected by 2015, and 50 billion by 2020.

NXP and Cohda have developed a wireless communication system that will complement Cisco's "Internet of Things" infrastructure using Cohda's 802.11p technology. That's an amendment to the Wi-Fi LAN standard but designed specifically for automotive applications.

"Roadlink" will be the branded named of the new NXP and Cohda technology used for marketing a total car-to-X communication and security system for on-board units and road-side units in the intelligent transportation system of the future. Automotive-ready modules based on Roadlink are currently being developed by companies such as lesswire AG in Germany. The first C2X module from lesswire is expected to be available in 2015.

Cart before the horse?
Because it's a consortium that's developing the system, it will become a complete end-to-end solution right from the get-go and avoiding many of the chicken-or-egg scenarios that have plagued a number of technological advances, such as natural gas cars: Do you develop the refueling infrastructure first so that cars have a place to fill up, or do you make the cars first to prove there is demand to necessitate the expense to build the infrastructure?

Car-to-X has the potential to create vehicles that are more than simply passive receptacles through which information passes, but rather part of an active, holistic network where the very air around it is alive with information flowing back and forth. Maybe they should just call it SkyNet.

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