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Intelligent Machines

Hundreds of Portuguese Buses and Taxis Are Also Wi-Fi Routers

Routers on 600 buses and taxis allow free Internet access and collect data for city planners.

Cellular coverage is spotty and expensive in many places around the world.

A massive mobile Wi-Fi network that could be a model for many cities was launched in the city of Porto, Portugal, this fall. Buses and taxis are equipped with routers that serve as mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for tens of thousands of riders. The routers also collect data from the vehicles—and from sensors on trash bins around the city—and relay it back to city offices to help with civic planning.

More than 600 buses and taxis are part of the network, which is now serving 70,000 people a month and absorbing between 50 and 80 percent of wireless traffic from users who otherwise would have had to use the cellular network. Built by a startup called Veniam, spun out of the University of Porto, it is the largest and most sophisticated vehicle-based network in the world, the company says.

In addition to supplying Internet access, the Porto network is being used to collect sensor data. When buses and taxis hit a sharp bump that might be due to a pothole, the suspension sensors detect this and relay the information to City Hall to help identify where roads need repairs. Waste containers equipped with sensors use the network to relay whether they are full, so they can be picked up at the most efficient times.

The company recently got $4.9 million in venture funding and set up its headquarters in Mountain View, California. Founder Joao Barros, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Porto, says it plans to expand service to other cities.

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