Now Even the Australian Outback Gets Connected

It’s a Mesh Network Made of Land Cruisers

People in developed countries tend to take Internet access for granted. It seems universal. But it’s not. There are still vast stretches of the world that are barren of connectivity. There are interesting and imaginative projects underway to cover many of these blind spots. For example, Google is testing providing coverage to far corners using balloons and Facebook with drones.

In Australia, still one of the least densely populated countries on earth, there’s an area about as large as the European Union that lacks cellular coverage. When encountering an emergency situation in this outback territory, such isolation can prove deadly as the terrain is some of the harshest in the world. But this might soon change. A partnership between advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota and Flinders University of Australia aims to create something called the LandCruiser Emergency Network.

Mike Spirkovski, executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Australia, says “There’s a huge problem with communication in the outback with people either breaking down or getting lost.”

The LandCruiser Emergency Network is being tested in the outback to determine its viability and consistency for emergency services. The effort is aimed at bringing a mesh-like network to the territory by turning the massive fleet of existing Toyota Land Cruisers into mobile communication hot spots using Wi-Fi, ultra high frequency, and delay-tolerant networking. Land Cruisers are ubiquitous in this part of Australia.

A small capsule-like device attaches to the vehicle’s windshield and provides a signal range of about 15 miles. These hot spots could help lost travellers connect via Wi-Fi. Once any one Land Cruiser receives an emergency beacon, the emergency system would seek out other similarly equipped Land Cruisers and pass along the message until it reaches first-responders.

The programme is currently being implemented only on Toyota Land Cruisers; Toyota claims that the Land Cruiser has a 90 percent market share in the outback and almost 500,000 are registered in Australia. The project started with 10 Land Cruisers in the Flinders Ranges mountain range in Southern Australia, but as the team continues to develop the system and iron out the wrinkles, Toyota is considering including the network equipment on all new Land Cruisers. If the project reaches fruition as envisioned, creating dynamic networks via a mesh architecture, emergency services would be within reach even in the most remote areas.

There are interesting ambitions behind the LandCruiser Network. The original intentions are certainly commendable, but the concept could be taken further, recognising that there’s more than one way to create mobile networks.