The German government is funding a project into a new car-to-car wireless standard. The idea is to use 802.11a and b wireless technologies to form ad hoc wireless networks between cars that relate information about traffic jams and road conditions to one another and so improve road safety and efficiency.

Germany's research ministry has agreed to help fund a three-year research project into the project, called Network on Wheels (NOW), which succeeds an earlier government-funded project called FleetNet. It will be a major source of input into the European Car-2-Car Communication Consortium (C2C CC), which is made up of several of Europe's largest car markers, according to Andreas Kaatz, project manager at the German Aerospace Center, which is coordinating the project.

The consortium, comprising BMW, DaimlerChrysler, Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat, aims to establish a European standard for wireless car-to-car communications. As well as increasing road traffic safety and efficiency, at the same time, the technology will be used in developing new on-board information services and applications.

But before the consortium members can agree to standards, they need to know what works, which will the focus of NOW. Researchers will develop and test various components of car-to-car communications systems using the IEEE 802.11a and b wireless standards and IPv6, in addition to other standards and protocols, according to Kaatz. In these networks, cars serve as both senders and receivers as well locators to collect and route information about road conditions, traffic jams and more.

The idea is that as soon as two or more vehicles are within radio communications range, they connect automatically and establish an ad hoc network. Because the range of a WLAN link is limited to a few hundred meters, every vehicle also serves as a router, allowing messages to be sent via a multi-hop process to vehicles farther away. The routing algorithm is based on the position of the vehicles and is able to handle the typically fast changes of ad hoc networks.

"For instance, information about a traffic jam in your lane could be forwarded to cars in the opposite lane, to be passed back to cars behind you so drivers are warned quickly of congestion ahead," Kaatz said. "The trick is to develop sophisticated location algorithms."

The car maker consortium hopes to have prototypes by the middle of next year and specifications by the end of 2006, according to the group's website.