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Mesh networks have a wide variety of uses, although so far they have been limited mainly to niche sectors. They are used in home security, where they detect movement and relay information back to a central computer, and in supermarkets, where some companies use them to monitor refrigerator energy usage and temperature. They’ve also been deployed in hospitals to network medical equipment and information systems, and they’re used to keep the portable computers in police cruisers hooked into departmental networks. 

The roadcasting software has been released into the open source community, which means anyone – even GM’s competitors – can try to find commercial uses for roadcasting. And the project members – all of whom graduated and have jobs – are enthusiastic about the response the project has received so far.

“It’s been great,” says Whitney Hess, one of the project’s leaders. “We’re all looking at ways to improve the [software], but we’re most excited to see what the open-source community does with our ideas.”

And, as with any digital music-sharing technology, licensing rights are also an issue. The project developers are fairly confident that they’re operating within the current law.

“As far as licensing, we called BMI several times,” says Hess. “I’m under the impression that if our sponsor were to employ this for commercial use, there’d be a BMI fee.”

BMI is one of two licensing organizations which, in part, collects and pays out royalty fees to songwriters, composers, and music publishers.

A spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America, the trade organization for the major record labels, declined to comment on copyright issues raised by roadcasting.

To be sure, amateur radio enthusiasts shouldn’t look for roadcasting plug-ins as an option on 2006 models; however, developers are already getting excited about potential uses.

“We based our project on the assumption that the mesh networking protocols would be no later than 2010,” says Megan Shia, another project manager.

As mesh networks continue to develop, more applications like roadcasting should become a reality. Jason Hill, CEO of JLH Labs, a mesh-networking company based in Capistrano, CA (and a 2003 Technology Review 100 Bold Young Innovator for his efforts in this field), says roadcasting exploits the potential of these networks.

“The mesh network sector is on the brink,” Hill says. “Two years ago, it was more in the experimental [stage]. But thanks to the rigorous engineering work, the networks are about ready to be deployed. And automobiles absolutely lend themselves to mesh networks.”

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