João Barros, the founder of startup company Veniam based in Silicon Valley, seeks to convert every vehicle on the planet into a free Wi-Fi hotspot. Vehicles would be fitted with a Wi-Fi hotspot powered by the vehicle's battery, which would then allow anyone to connect to the Internet.
Veniam, which originated in Porto, Portugal, wants to accomplish this by equipping buses, taxis and other vehicles with on-board units with multinetwork capabilities that can connect vehicle-to-vehicle as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure communication using Wi-Fi and cellular.
In Porto, they've already fitted a fleet of garbage trucks with the devices, helping to decrease the amount of garbage collections made, reducing costs for the city.
"We placed little sensors with Wi-Fi across different garbage containers that can tell you if the garbage containers are full or not, and the vehicles ask the containers as they pass by if they are full," Barros said. "They store this information and they send it to the cloud in such a way that the garbage collection trucks now only need to go to those containers that actually are full and need to be emptied."
The Wi-Fi devices attached to these vehicles use sensors that gather information about garbage collection, speed and acceleration. Then that data is stored in the cloud where it can help cities improve other factors such as infrastructure and public transportation for commuters and tourists.
But the basic idea is to have the project funded by cites that want to grant more Internet access to locations where the infrastructure does not allow for a traditional type of connection to the internet. The service would be free, without a requirement for any log-in info or personal details.
So far, there are only 608 vehicles connected according to a deli counter-style ticker on Veniam's official website. Many more vehicles would need to take a lot more deli counter tickets to even come close to Veniam's ambitious goal of connecting every moving vehicle on the planet, a number that reaches around a billion.
But it is a great goal. Utopian, even. Barros, on the official Veniam site, calls it an "Internet of moving things", a play on the phrase "Internet of Things" made popular by companies at events like CES, where everything from smart watches to dog collars to toothbrushes can connect to the Internet. Baross eventually wants the company to move on to other moving technologies.
"In the future you are going to have drones, robots, all sorts of devices, wearables, that are moving with people," Barros explained. "The other area where I think Veniam can be relay transformative is in reducing the digital divide and providing more people with Internet access. ... You look at Google thinking about using balloons, you see Facebook with drones, but I would say that vehicles are closer to Earth. ... If every vehicle becomes a hotspot and with a mesh network we can build a really reliable wireless infrastructure that can even survive in places where you don't have power or in situations where you have a catastrophe, because the vehicles have large batteries so they continue to be operating even if the power grid is down."
Veniam's plan raises a couple questions, however. How secure will customers feel without log-ins? Would two cities be able to connect Wi-Fi networks together? For instance, would you be able to stay connected during a trip from Philadelphia to Trenton? And where does the billing go? What about competing ISPs within cities? Lastly, how would you deal with the sure-to-be-inevitable congestion issues?