LandCruiser hotspots

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Grey nomads like LanCruiser hotspot
The hotspots attached to LandCruisers would connect to other hotpots to bridge the blackspot gap

For grey nomads, travelling in the remote Outback  where there is no mobile phone signal can be a nerve- wracking experience.

Even the best-prepared adventurer can find themselves in unexpected and uncomfortable positions in which emergency help is needed. Now, it seems, those terrible communication blackspots may not be as terrible as they once were.

Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi has teamed up with Flinders University and Toyota to trial new mobile hotspot technology that could deliver emergency communications via Toyota LandCruisers. Here’s the gist of it. A device which combines Wi-Fi, UHF and Delay Tolerant Networking technology is fitted to the ’Cruisers, transforming them into mobile hotspots with a 25 kilometre range. Any travellers using a phone with Wi-Fi can connect to the new LandCruiser Emergency Network.

The hotspot would then seek out any other LandCruiser hotspots within range and pass the emergency beacon along to them. With enough properly equipped LandCruisers, the message would travel up the chain until it finally reached emergency first responders.

Although this project is still very much in its infancy, Toyota is reportedly exploring ways to install the devices in all new LandCruisers, while older vehicles that frequent the Outback will also be able to buy them separately. The Flinders University team is currently piloting the technology with 10 LandCruisers in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

However, while there are already ambitious-sounding plans to roll out the emergency system Australia-wide and perhaps worldwide, Paul Gardner-Stephen from Flinders University warns that the technology is still in a prototype phase. “It’s a bit like the Death Star in the Return of the Jedi,” he says. “The big gun works, but if you open the wrong door you might find the vacuum of space on the other side.”

With so far to go until all of the technical issues are resolved, it is probably wise to have a degree of scepticism about when – and if – the system will ever roll out into full production. This is particularly so, given that it was actually an advertising agency – which boasts Toyota as one of its clients – that got the ball rolling in the first place.

While LandCruisers may be well represented on Outback tracks, it is still not clear why the new devices would not work equally well in other 4WDs. Suspicions of marketing strategies notwithstanding, this is an interesting concept and, given the involvement of respected scientists from Flinders University, clearly does have the potential to make a difference … and maybe save lives.

Watch this space.

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