Cisco Systems and NXP Semiconductor are venturing into the connected car space, each making a strategic investment of an undisclosed amount in Cohda Wireless, an Australian company that specializes in inter-vehicle networking.
Adelaide-based Cohda designs the radio systems and software that will allow cars to form ad hoc mesh networks while on the road. Cars within those networks will not only be able to communicate critical safety information such as their speed and heading and whether they’re braking or accelerating, but they will also be able to link up with roadside sensor nodes and eventually a larger cloud-based intelligence – all of which would gradually take over the act of driving our vehicles.
While that might sound a bit far-fetched, Andreas Mai, Cisco product management director for smart connected vehicles, said he expects that within two years today’s adaptive cruise control systems will develop partial autonomy, allowing drivers to merge onto a crowded highway, flip a switch and let their cars drive themselves until they reach their exits.
Those systems will depend largely on the increasingly sophisticated sensor arrays being installed in new vehicles, but as more cars sport car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure connectivity, they’ll begin sharing information rather than just observing their surroundings, Mai said. That will allows cars to “platoon,” grouping together in configurations that ensure every vehicle gets to its destination in the quickest, yet safest, manner possible. Automakers like Ford believe the technology to create these kinds of autonomous highway networks is ready. It’s just a question of cost and convincing a skeptical driving public.
Cisco and NXPs’ entrance into the autonomous vehicle market is particularly telling though because of their expertise in traditional networking and radio communications. Car-to-car networks are essentially gigantic meshes, which Cisco builds everyday. Meanwhile NXP’s forte is radio modules. The wireless links that will connect cars are based on the same Wi-Fi technologies that connect our laptops and tablets.
The investment in Cohda, though, will strengthen Cisco and NXPs’ respective portfolios, the companies said. Cisco will license Cohda’s software, while NXP will license Cohda’s firmware and IEEE 802.11p radio designs.