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Roadcasting Rules

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Roadcasting, he cool software that lets you create ad-hoc networks while in a car has caught the attention of blogsphere yesterday. Think of it as pirate radio-meets-smart mobs at 60 miles per hour. The software can easily be used to create hyper local networks, and with enough support from open source community, and peripheral makers could turn every man, woman and child into a walking broadcast network.

How about a tiny piece of software that installs on your wifi enabled Siemens SX 66 Windows Moble phone and starts broadcasting on the go? Or what if a peripheral makers like iBoom come up with a wi-fi gizmo that can broadcast tunes right from an iPod. Broadcom and TI, both have certainly made embedded WiFi chipsets with lowpower requirments common place. All you need is some imagination … and programing skills. A million Howard Sterns?

(Can you hear the collective groans from Washington, Hollywood and New York?) Long tail amplified! I caught up with Jordan Kanarek and Whitney Hess and did an iChat interview with the two-fifth of the five person team behind Roadcasting project. Here are excerpts from that little late night chat….

Folks introduce yourself?
JK: I’m Jordan Kanarek.
WH: I’m Whitney Hess.

What is Roadcasting and who came up with the idea?
WH: Roadcasting lets you broadcast music to the cars around you on the road, and gives you a way to quickly and easily find the music broadcast by other drivers that you most likely want to hear
JK: It’s a new way of thinking about distributing music based heavily around personalization and ad-hoc networking. The idea came out of a master’s thesis team at CMU.

Is it distributing or listening, or more a social listening experience?
JK: A social listening experience is a good way to put it we operated under the assumption that digital music on iPods, etc takes away some of the communal aspects of traditional radio while adding a lot to the mix…

That is true. iPod is personalization sans sharing. This is evolving that concept to the next level … What prompted that thesis?
JK: We saw radio as the one form of media that has largely avoided interactivity over the years the Human Computer Interaction Institute — we talked to many people before beginning to design

So where is the project right now? Is it ready for prime time?
JK: We have a demo that works on local IP multicast network we need it to be open.
WH: It was intended to be developed as an in-dash device in a car in conjunction with traditional broadcast radio but could work just as well on PDAs, WiFi, iPods, etc.

In other words, I could create a playlist on my iPod and plug it into some sort of say wi-fi device and I will have instant broadcast network?
JK: That’s one idea we looked at..
WH: But we designed the interface and system to account for multiple levels of user interaction … we wanted it to be a plug-and-play system, literally … as you begin listening to music, the system gets a sense of what your musical interests are, and over time it can more and more accurately recommend stations/songs that it knows you’re bound to enjoy.
JK: Transmission could be done over a variety of protocols the longer the range, the better.

So you could use podcasts to create your own NPR as you drive down highway 101?
WH: Yep and instead of National radio, it would be the ultimate form of local radio.

Imagine when cars start following you because you have a great playlist and selection of podcasts… that is going to create havoc on traffic!
JK: Hahaha
WH: Users won’t know what car it’s coming from we did build in quite a bit of anonymity, we found that was important to potential users, no one wanted the possibility of being followed.
JK: unless the DJ gets on air and announces his license plate.

Oh…. just when I was thinking I could finally have some people chasing me at high speeds.
JK: hahaha!
WH: It’s probably not as fun as it sounds

Can this be used for creating community networks?

WH: Our biggest goal was to great community … so yes. We talked a lot about underserved niches in an environment that is often filled with boredom and stress.

Sort of like my music being broadcast to folks in my condo complex?
WH: hopefully not your condo

What range have you tested it?
WH: We tested it on an 802.11b wireless network.
JK: Which was totally stock.

About 500 feet or so?

JK: We had some serious walls, but probably
WH: It was intended to utilize a wireless technology being developed by the client that we were working with one can imagine those ranges increasing with time. On our website ( we mention that it was intended to broadcast up to 30 miles.

What are the legal ramifications? Did you folks study this?
JK: Well legality is to be determined by others similarly to iTunes sharing in which you can listen to other people’s music without — legally — stealing it.
WH: We think it has substantial non-infringing use, but that’s pretty much the thought we’ve given to legality to this point we placed several calls to BMI to no avail. According to the BMI website, any device that allows the transmission of privately owned music needs to pay a licensing fee like a health club or music store, for instance.
JK: It does raise many interesting questions, however.

How long did it take you guys to develop the software?
JK: Jim Garretson, our technical lead, worked full time for about 4 months. It still needs some work, but that’s hopefully where the open source community will jump in.
WH: Jordan, would you say the java app took about 4 of the 7 months? In parallel with design development and testing we will definitely pass that on, he’ll surely appreciate it.

Thanks guys… good luck!

18 Responses to “Roadcasting Rules”

  1. On the collaborative filtering, this sounds very like but with a prettier face.

    What annoyed me was the lack of detail about the networking and transmission. 30 miles using *what* technology?

    This stuff would be so much easier with always-on, ubiquitous, high speed internet access. If GPRS/3G was flat rate and fast, we’d be doing this now. Meanwhile trying to keep a WiFi network going between cars is hard. And virtually impossible without some coordination. And iTrip broadcasting is do-able it’s the same old broadcast model, even if it is democratised.

    So let’s not get too excited about RoadCasting. It’s both too hard with current technology and a re-hash of already existing work elsewhere on other platforms.

  2. Radio stations target a certain audience. How can you know your audience profile (to target them in the first place), when all you get are the cars around you. Man, I am in a hurry to reach office.. I dont care about 10 different people trying to ‘roadcast’ at the same time. All I need is news/weather/traffic conditions. I dont think so the idea is going to fly..

  3. Bob G.

    number 8 — i think the idea is that you don’t have to listen to your own personal station for it to exist. when you aren’t attending to it can automatically select best matches for the listening audience

  4. I fail to see why this is exciting. I get more excited about planning to put a 5-10W FM transmitter in the BMW so I can broadcast my iPod out on a decent FM station to give people a real alternative when stuck in rush hour traffic. Now where is my eyepatch and parrot and pegleg…

  5. Call me a cynic or whatever, but what purpose does this roadcasting serve exactly? I read the article, but quite didnt get it. If everyone broadcasts, who listens?

    Yes, its the amazing power of the network, content creation at the individual level, blah blah.. but isnt this stretching it a bit too far. Hasnt the radio been ‘roadcasting’ since eternity?

  6. You are essentially recognizing the power of the network. And we have seen it having an impact in many areas of technology. Where would we be today if we did not have the progress made by the open source movement?

  7. TimBomb

    Robot: I would read the site before making those claims. Looks like ots of intense ad-hoc, collaborative filtering going on here.

    “This profile is not a static snapshot of musical tastes, but rather an ever-changing profile that enables the system to make accurate guesses about the music that a listener enjoys hearing.”

    ” Because the system understands what each Listener likes and is looking for, Roadcasting stations can be organized according to a listener’s preference. Stations are organized by the aggregate categories that they fall into. These categories will appear in order of preference, and the stations in each category will appear in order of preference.”

    “Broadcasters and Listeners move between levels of involvement based on the amount of attention they can give to the service. This allows broadcasters and listeners to tailor their interactions depending on their driving situation. For instance, a driver who is on city streets and is talking on a cell phone probably will interact with Roadcasting less frequently than a commuter stuck in heavy traffic. The seamless shifts between modes will ensure that safety is always the number one priority.”

  8. RobotDeathSquad

    JK: It’s a new way of thinking about distributing music based heavily around personalization and ad-hoc networking. The idea came out of a master’s thesis team at CMU.

    Uh, that’s some kind of funny right there. I’ve had a bumper sticker on my car with “Tune to 89.5” on it (the frequency I always keep my iTrip at) for like 2 years now. I’m certainly not claiming to have invented “Roadcasting”, maybe you are saying you came up wtih the term in a thesis paper, but certainly you can’t claim to have invented something so simple as that. I’m sure someone had an iTrip and an iPod and thought the same as myself (and yourself) long before I did. No, you guys are talking about something a bit more complicated than an iPod and iTrip(or whatever), but it’s essentially the same idea.

  9. Geez, unless you’re actively trailing someone, what are the odds you (the listener) will remain in range of your new favorite roadcaster before the song ends?

    I want these guys instead to work on an idea I’ve had. :-) Enable simpe voice messages from your car to those nearby. Kind of like CB, but with just one channel (or one default channel). Why? Consider these real-life examples:
    – Hey, stop tailgating, huh?
    – Look out, cop ahead!
    – Your left tail light is out!
    – Now you’re looking fine behind that wheel!
    – Hey, do you think I’m wearing pants? Guess!
    Oops, perhaps one too many. But you get me idea…