LandCruisers to become roving communications hotspots in the Australian Outback

Toyota LandCruisers, a popular vehicle in the Australian Outback, will become roaming communications hotspots to keep people in touch in case of emergencies

Over five million square kilometers (1.9 million sq mi) of the Australian Outback has no mobile signal, but it does have more than a few Toyota LandCruisers. A plan has now been hatched to take advantage of this fact, which would see vehicles kitted out with Wi-Fi, UHF and other technologies to form a roving network for emergency communications.

With snakes, fires, the heat and the isolation, the Outback can be a hazardous place, and lines of communication can literally mean the difference between life and death. The problem is, the area is so sparsely populated that rolling out new networks of towers and cables isn't always feasible. And that's where the LandCruisers come in.

The vehicles are extremely popular in the Outback, according to Toyota Australia's National Marketing Divisional Manager, Brad Cramb. "LandCruiser is synonymous with the Outback," he says. "We've, over years, earned up a market share that, in some areas, is over 90 percent."

It's with that in mind that Saatchi & Saatchi Australia, Flinders University and Toyota collaborated on the LandCruiser Emergency Network Project, which will see the ubiquitous vehicles fitted with a plug-and-play device that acts as a communications hotspot.

Using a mix of Wi-Fi, UHF and Delay Tolerant Networking (DTN) technology, each device has an impressive range of 25 km (15.5 miles), and can communicate with phones and other LandCruisers in that area, even without an external cellular connection.

With this network in place, people can connect their phone to a nearby LandCruiser via Wi-Fi, and send a message geotagged with their location. From there, the device in the vehicle will store the message as well as forward it to any other LandCruisers that pass within range. It continues along the chain like this until one of the nodes it's passed through gets within range of a base station, where emergency first responders will be alerted.

Dr. Paul Gardner-Stephen, the Project Engineer at Flinders University, explains how the system can also be used in real-time during a disaster. "In times of large-scale emergencies, such as fire or flood, this technology can create a network within the emergency zone, so that people can organize their disaster response."

It's a noble idea, but there is a slightly uncomfortable element of branding about it. Saatchi & Saatchi is an advertising company, after all, and it does seem like a carefully constructed campaign for Toyota. There's no mention yet of whether anything other than LandCruisers will be allowed to lend a hand, although obviously, the more vehicles fitted with the devices, the more effective the network will be. Regardless, the LandCruiser Emergency Network could play an important role in the lives of people living in remote areas.

Trials of the network began in the Flinders Ranges region in August 2015, and if all goes to plan, Saatchi & Saatchi, Toyota and Flinders University hope to eventually roll it out to other parts of Australia and the world.

"The idea of a network of communication between LandCruisers, out here in the Outback, it's going to save lives," says one local, in the video below.

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