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Power Networking Transportation

The Grid, Our Cars, and the Net 222

Wired is running a piece on the big idea of Robin Chase — the founder of Zipcar — that we need to build our smart power grid on open standards and include cars as nodes in a mesh network. "'Today in Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers and tanks and airplanes are running around using mesh networks,' said Chase. 'It works, it's secure, it's robust. If a node or device disappears, the network just reroutes the data.' And, perhaps most important, it's in motion. ... Build a smart electrical grid that uses Internet protocols and puts a mesh network device in every structure that has an electric meter. Sweep out the half dozen networks in our cars and replace them with an open, Internet-based platform. Add a mesh router. A nationwide mesh cloud will form, linking vehicles that can connect with one another and with the rest of the network. It's cooperative gain gone national, gone mobile, gone open."
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The Grid, Our Cars, and the Net

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  • great idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by u4ya ( 1248548 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @08:35PM (#27892799) Homepage
    no longer will we be slaves to the ISPs!
  • Too much to lose (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shogun ( 657 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @08:44PM (#27892841)

    Big ISPs and phone companies have too much to lose to allow this to ever happen.

    It would be too hard to be tapped by various 3 letter government agencies so they wouldn't like it either.

  • Sure, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by g-to-the-o-to-the-g ( 705721 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @08:46PM (#27892851) Homepage Journal
    Maybe instead of continuing to focus on the dinosaur that is the automobile, more effort should be put into building very a efficient mass transit infrastructure. Just a thought.
  • Forget cars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 09, 2009 @08:47PM (#27892857)
    What we need is to have it integrated into our phones and that we can tether to so:
    a) consumers choose phones with over phones without
    b) we can use it even outside the car and
    c) it's not connected to cars (better to stop the car rebellion right there, tyvm).
  • by Zero_DgZ ( 1047348 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @08:53PM (#27892903)

    I vote thanks but no thanks on this. Despite whatever wild-eyed claims about "openness" or "oneness" or whatever other hippie bullshit the brainchilds of this are spouting, there is absolutely NO information of any kind that is appropriate for my vehicle to be broadcasting. I'm sure the police and Federal government would absolutely LOVE to have a way to track the location of every vehicle in the country, not to mention who owns it and who they're talking to via their built in net cellphone at the time. Integrating this with the idea of a vehicle is a hilariously bad idea, because the instant it comes about there will be DOT, Federal, and State laws with a laundry list of mandates about how "open" this system will be allowed to be to be "roadworthy," and I guarantee you not a single one of these mandates will be in your best interest.


    If we're going to do the mesh network thing, I'd rather have it in a portable device like a phone or PDA that doesn't give the government a billion inroads to regulate, legislate, and subvert it, and one that I can chose not to buy, to turn off, or to leave at home.

  • One thing of note (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:00PM (#27892937) Journal
    I can't say I completely understand the article. It seems either she, or the person who wrote the article, is confusing mesh networking with power distribution. The article doesn't make clear how the two fit together (maybe someone else who understood can explain better). It talks about wireless networking at the same time it talks about plugging things in. Those two don't seem to fit well together (yeah, I know, some companies are developing wireless electric device chargers, but it's a totally different concept).

    One thing that interested me in the article was this quote, " the Obama Administration allocated $4.5 billion in the stimulus bill for smart grid R&D." So we're getting some kind of smarter grid anyway, at least some research into it.
  • Re:great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:07PM (#27892967) Homepage

    Slashdot's packets are going to get to you via 300,000 WiFi hops?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:12PM (#27892989)

    remember that the FBI can turn on the voice mic (and for sure the GPS and maybe the camera by now) of any phone - even if that phone doesn't appear to be on

    That's not true. I've worked on a phone, and when it's off, it's off. (Besides, if you're worried, take the battery out.)

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gb506 ( 738638 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:12PM (#27892991) Homepage

    Regarding the US: Mass transit is fine for many but certainly not all people living in urban areas, a lot fewer people who live in the suburbs, and almost nobody who lives in rural areas. The nearest grocery store to my house is 18 miles away. Mass transit would be an extremely inefficient method of transport out here. Either you'd have to eat a really, really big cost-per-ride bill while providing some semblance of decent and frequent service, or you'd have to provide really, really poor, infrequent, PITA service for a more reasonable expenditure.

    It'd probably be different if we had population density/distributions similar to Europe, but we don't.

    Cars will remain with us for a long time.

  • by convolvatron ( 176505 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:28PM (#27893069)

    15 years ago when i looked at the literature there were substantial problems with the efficiency of the selected routes, route convergence and message overhead. these things got much worse as the rate of change in the peer graph goes up.

    have things gotten that much better?

  • by Zero_DgZ ( 1047348 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:33PM (#27893085)

    Not to rain on YOUR parade, but you should read and comprehend my entire post before trying to nitpick.

    You can turn your cell phone off, you can leave it at home, or you can chose not to have one. Try doing that with a mesh networking "black box" that's buried somewhere within your car's computer system and the DOT has mandated is illegal to disable or remove (if the future-car-to-be even works without it). If this weird vision of the future comes to be you may just want to invest in a bicycle.

    My point wasn't that Mesh Networks Are Bad, M'kay, but that building a huge one in a form that will specifically enable shady government types to meddle with it is a spectacularly bad idea.

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:36PM (#27893099) Homepage
    We've already had our "in America, living patterns and mass transit mostly don't work out that great" discussion this week. What new points are we possibly going to be able to bring up this time?
  • by Datamonstar ( 845886 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:42PM (#27893131)
    ... will plugging my car into this "mesh" gain me? I don't see a reason for this. It's excessive and prone to more problems than we already have (I guess. I don't even understand exactly what problem she's trying to solve so as to properly determine that). I don't see the automobile in the same light that she does. Just let my car be a car and be powered by my power, Mrs. Xzibit.
  • Re:Forget cars (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zencyde ( 850968 ) <> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:50PM (#27893187)
    But what about battery life? Or do you propose we wait until carbon nanotubes fix the Universe?
  • Re:Nope (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gb506 ( 738638 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @09:59PM (#27893227) Homepage

    My point isn't that mass transit should be ignored, or that we shouldn't look at doing it in a more effective way where it makes sense, but that wide scale mass transit that has as a stated goal of replacing the automobile in most circumstances, even in rural America, would not be advisable. There are about 303 people per square mile in France (non-euro territories not included), compared to 33 people per square mile in the US (excluding Alaska's area). I've excluded the no-mans-land of Alaska from this equation, but even if you excluded all of the areas where nobody lives in America, you'd still have a significant density difference between France and the US. The issue is not the same here as it is there by a large margin.

    The other things is, I was in Pittsburgh in the early 90's during the Port Authority strike - no busses or trains ran in Pittsburgh for a week or more. What I recall is that people found ways to get wherever they needed to go, the air was SIGNIFICANTLY clearer and cleaner without all of the diesel belching busses on the road, and even though everyone had to get to work by private vehicle, traffic moved BETTER, because the slow-assed busses weren't clogging traffic up at every intersection in the city during rush hour.

  • by Ron Bennett ( 14590 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:00PM (#27893231) Homepage

    Folks who write articles about smart grid communicating with cars, etc bring to mind foolish talk of internet toasters and networked refrigerators.

    The current electrical grid (speaking of USA; PJM region in particular) is very reliable as it is. Grid operators already have the ability to shape production; with millions of users, usage patterns are easy to spot and plan for ahead of time.

    In my view, smart grid and smart meters are simply a way to control people's usage and charging them more; residential electric bills will likely become very complicated.

    All this talk about people charging their cars at night and then selling it back during the day for extra credit is nonsense, because when millions of people are charging at night, it's easily conceivable that nightly usage could be just as high as during the day.

    In respect to cars communicating with other cars - why? It's obvious that most people will charge their cars as often as possible, even if told not to, in particular, at night so they are sure to have enough charge to get to get the kids to school, get to work, etc.

    The internet is another means of communication - it's not going magically solve energy issues nor change human nature.

    In my view, a better approach than a so-called smart grid is developing / promoting more efficient energy production methods, in particular nuclear (solar, wind, etc are nice, but are lacking in energy density), along with encouraging people to produce some of their own energy for their needs, such as with solar panels on their roof.


  • by spikenerd ( 642677 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:18PM (#27893317)
    If a big monopoly starts pulling out their big guns, that should a good reason to people to seriously consider whether it is worth their time to support it. I'm glad that the great men responsible for the freedoms I now have didn't have your defeated attitude.
  • Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:20PM (#27893329)

    Having read TFA, it sounds to me a bit like confused meandering of someone trying to figure out how to use some of the stimulus billions for yet another social pet cause, but without the clear definition of what that cause is.

    My feelings exactly. It has lots of woo-woo words and ideas which seem magical and yet, I can't understand what the fundamental idea is exactly. --It almost sounds like she's suggesting that we use phone system-like switching technology to route power to individual homes and devices. Sounds bloody expensive to put into place. A high voltage router on every street corner, though I don't really see the advantage, unless each house is also generating electricity. Maybe I'm missing something.

    If the concept is viable, then it can be explained in baby terms, which clearly I need. I feel like one of those really thick studio execs guys like Kevin Smith make fun of. So either I'm really, really dumb, the idea needs work, or she needs a good translator to stand between her head and the audience.

    Those Zip Cars looks sort of cool, though I don't quite see the advantage. Do they have a team of service people running around each city maintaining the cars? It sounds like a de-centralized "Rent-a-Car", but while they don't have to rent a main lot, they still must have to maintain a garage and offices somewhere, and I bet they have to pay for all the individual parking spaces. Seems gimmicky, but again, maybe I'm just not seeing the big picture. (After all, I still refuse to use a cell phone over my trusty land line, so it's entirely possible that I'm missing the point.)


  • Re:Sure, but (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) on Saturday May 09, 2009 @10:47PM (#27893455) Journal

    The dinosaur is not the automobile, it's the internal combustion engine. Battery-powered cars are the future. Furthermore, within 20 years we'll have the technology to make self-driving robotic electric cars, which will be both more convenient and more efficient than mass transit for short to medium length trips. Existing mass transit systems will become obsolete.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Saturday May 09, 2009 @11:32PM (#27893733)

    Mesh network or not there is still good reason for long wires and paid connectivity; 20 hops over the mesh would probably be a bit tiresome; 50 hops, with dropout, would suck.

    Also, a mesh network assumes enough nodes to form a mesh.

    This may work great for a town or city, but what about between towns and cities? In the US where there seems to be civilization every mile down the interstate, this may be doable, but if that low-density node goes gown, so does all connectivity.

    And what about connecting say, one Vancouver or Seattle mesh to Seoul, Taipei, Beijing, etc? There's insufficient nodes along any path to guarantee communications as reliable as it is right now.

    At best, we'll have MAN-sized mesh networks, connected via the same telecommunications lines because most people want to talk to people not across town, but across the world. Communications via mesh networks between towns/cities will just be too unreliable and a bottleneck...

  • Re:Agreed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dahamma ( 304068 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @12:10AM (#27893925)

    It has lots of woo-woo words and ideas which seem magical and yet, I can't understand what the fundamental idea is exactly.

    That is actually a great description of anything appearing in Wired...

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @08:01AM (#27895689) Journal

    Drive a smaller car. Drive one that's only 2 seats, and you have a car that is about half as wide and uses half the space.

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ashriel ( 1457949 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @08:05AM (#27895705)

    His point was that public transportation is useless for rural U.S., and that no amount of infrastructure re-organization will ameliorate the need for private vehicles in those areas.

    Public trans. is great for cities; we need more of it there, no doubt. I live in a city and work 8 miles from my home (in a neighboring city) - using the current bus system actually takes more time than walking there directly (2.5 hrs vs. 2 hrs), and I feel a little guilty about driving so short a distance.

    But the need for privately owned vehicles will never go away in the U.S. - at least not until our population exceeds some 2 billion or more people, and given that our birth rate has just recently fallen below the rate of replenishment (yay!), it'll be a good long time before that happens, if ever.

    We have a need, more than any other industrial nation (save maybe Australia), for clean and efficient cars. The fact that our auto industry is so very reluctant to supply them demands a paradigm shift. If I, as a layman, can design a 3 person vehicle that gets 180 miles to the gallon (of biodiesel) based on existing designs and current technology, what exactly is the holdup?

  • You can see the peaks in demand happen every day from internal power dispatching stuff. Systemwide, if you look at PJM LMP prices, for that ISO at least, you can get a good handle on where the peaks occur..

    I think really the big thing would not be so much a smart grid but one that can store electricity. If there was anything that humanity needed, it would be a better way to store and transport energy.

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Thanus ( 615133 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:47AM (#27897071)
    It's getting quite old to blame the world's problems on human nature not fitting into some Utopian dreams of what humanity should be, despite our overwhelming natural tendencies to the contrary. Stop spending your time complaining and come up with a solution to that compliments human nature and thus doesn't require causing people to resist and resent the movement. I'm all for discourse, but don't end your otherwise very insightful post blaming all the world's problems on "greedy human nature" and instead work towards a solution that utilizes that nature. That same human nature will help push people ever forward if there's an open incentive for them. Lets work towards developing worthy incentives to motivate all of those greedy instead.
  • Re:Sure, but (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @06:44PM (#27900185) Journal

    When I said robot cars would be more efficient I meant in total energy use of the system. The peak carrying capacity of a train is obviously going to be higher, but the train can only run at full capacity a small fraction of the time, on a small fraction of the total track length of the system. Outside of a city's downtown area, and even in downtown areas during non-peak times, light rail trains run at far below peak capacity which drags down the efficiency of the whole system. If you try to increase efficiency by reducing service then you make the system less useful and ridership goes down.

    Due to these realities of rail service, battery powered cars with regenerative braking will use less energy overall to transport the same people. As for gridlock problems, robot cars should be at least somewhat better at handling them than human-driven cars. They will respond more quickly allowing them to pack more closely together. Packs of them will accelerate/decelerate as a unit almost like a train. They won't commit minor traffic violations and they will get in fewer accidents than human drivers. They will have perfect knowledge of traffic conditions via wireless Internet, and so will be able to route around disruptions and collaboratively load-balance different routes. They will be able to travel on their own to find parking, so cities will remove street parking in favor of centralized garages and use the space for more lanes. Lanes may also be made narrower.

    When you start thinking about all the consequences self-driving robotic cars could have, it becomes apparent that as soon as they are available they are going to displace nearly all other forms of transporation.

  • Re:Sure, but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fl!ptop ( 902193 ) on Monday May 11, 2009 @08:12AM (#27904685) Journal

    If I, as a layman, can design a 3 person vehicle that gets 180 miles to the gallon (of biodiesel) based on existing designs and current technology, what exactly is the holdup?

    the holdup is supply-and-demand. even though you can build it, would anyone buy your eco-friendly biodiesel? i can think of only a few that might [], unless the gov't starts forcing people to buy them. in light of the recent detriot bailouts, that may very well happen.

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong