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The car-friendly guide to fixing human-made greenhouse emissions.

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Google my car

Audi could get its Le Mans procedure certified to ISO9001. Develop car: Tick. Practice: Tick. Vin: Tick. Brag in press release: Tick. Crickey, they've won thirteen of the last sixteen 24 hours races at Le Mans. How boring is that!

With the 2014 Le Mans behind us I didn’t think I’d need to read another Audi press release till mid-2015. How wrong I was.

Audi has found a new box to tick off. And it’s a box that seriously needs ticking off.

It’s all about broadband on the go. Smartphones and tablets are about as awesome as anything anyone ever hooked up to a battery. But let’s face it. The nicest thing anyone’s ever been able to say about a rechargeable battery is that it’s damned annoying.

The big problem with battery-powered smartphone-tablet things is that we really want a shipload more bandwidth. Sure, they work pretty good. Sometimes. Some places. But there are plenty of times and places where today’s gizmos simply don't deliver bandwidth.

This problem results from a fundamental physical constraint. All else being equal, increasing a smartphone’s bandwidth means boosting its signal power. Sometimes, more grunt means more bandwidth. Other times, more punch can make the difference between no bandwidth and some. Trouble is, the more power a smartphone puts out, the quicker it drains its battery. Worse, teeny-tiny cellphone batteries can’t put out much power anyway.

Old-fashioned hand-held two-way radios (walkies-talkies) had the exact same problem: Crappy little batteries. We used to solve that problem with a car-mounted repeater. This would relay signals between walkie-talkies, and it could link them into the mobile two-way radio network. People seldom go far from their cars, and with a walkie-talkie, a mobile repeater, and a car-mounted two-way radio they were almost never out of touch.

This has to happen with smartphones and tablets. People want broadband everywhere. Cars can take us places where you need more than a piss-wee smartphone battery to get decent wireless broadband. Back in the ‘70s, a full gas tank held enough petrol to do as much work as you could get out of a tonne of nickel batteries. Which was why the car’s mobile two-way radio had way more punch than a walkie-talkie. Today’s cars carry enough gas to do the same amount of work as you’ll get from about a tonne of lithium-ion batteries. Which, with a clever antenna and the right kind of radio gear, is going to get coverage in places where smartphones and tablets won’t have a prayer.

Exactly how this will work out is anyone’s guess. Manufacturers are putting radios in cars, so cars can talk to each other. We don’t know if we'll be able to use those radios to link smartphones to the net. They are designed to do boring, Audi-like jobs. Like telling the car following you that you’ve slammed on your anchors. Or telling your car that there’s another car approaching an intersection just ahead, going way too fast to stop, so YOU better stop. Right now. Otherwise your airbag will slap that coffee right out of your hand and splash it all over your face.

Car manufacturers are also linking car dashboards with smartphones. A press release from Audi talks up Android Auto, an operating that converts a car into a smartphone with wheels. And why not? Some cars can already drive themselves in heavy traffic. They might as well have broadband. No-one can totally avoid an occasional trip to the skyscraper farm. Skyscraper farms seem to attract traffic jams like ants to mum’s home-made jam. Might as well get some work done, or at least, update our Facebook profiles, while our car auto-prowls the traffic jam.

It’s only a tiny extra step to connect the dashboard to a seriously grunty radio, capable of getting broadband in truly remote places. Perhaps it'll be the same radio that helps cars avoid crashes while we're surfing the net. Perhaps car manufacturers will add an extra radio, just to boost the car's bandwidth. If the car manufacturers don’t do it, radio manufacturers will. The car of the future will be a mobile internet-browsing mesh-networking multi-media cloud terminal.

So why didn’t I get excited when Audi announced its 2015 models will run Google’s Android smartphone operating system?

Well because Google has signed up dozens of auto-manufacturers. Audi isn't the only one looking at Android Auto.


Kevin Cudby is a Wellington-based Freelance Writer and Parametric Modelling Consultant who loves writing about cool new technology. Email him to discuss your requirements: hello {a}

Google my car

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