The More Things Change, the More They Stay The Same (in Wireless)

Happy (nearly) Ides of November! Earlier this month I tendered my resignation at Freescale, the remnants of the old and formidable Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector. I’m in the process of moving on, and have my sights set on a startup in the wireless communications business. I spent the last week at the IEEE 802 meeting in Atlanta, getting an 802.15 Interest Group converted to a Study Group (100% success, vote was 49 yes/ 0 no/ 0 abstain; and the 802 Executive Committee gave unanimous approval). What’s it all about? Positive Train Control!

Ok, so what’s that and what does it have to do with radio?

If you’re a US resident and ride commuter rail, you might remember the horrific accident back in 2008 in Chatsworth CA where a westbound Metrolink train ran through a red signal and proceeded to collide with a Union Pacific freight train headed eastbound. 25 people died. The Metrolink train engineer/operator was busy texting his friends while his train ran the red light. Currently, there’s no broadly adopted, standardized method to wirelessly link that red signal with the Metrolink train so that running the red light would cause the Metrolink locomotive to stop, or better yet, to prevent the Metrolink locomotive from even being able to run the red light.

So that’s where Positive Train Control comes in. There’s already been a huge amount of work done to date to establish the systems that do the analysis of the real-time data and make decisions on what should happen, but the wireless link that runs from the trackside (wayside) equipment, like that red signal, to the locomotive, is still a mix of proprietary techniques and methods that may or may not be well vetted.

Enter the IEEE 802. This group is pretty famous for solid radio standards, and broad industry adoption of its standards. And it’s a perfect home for the establishment of a Task Group focused on developing the standard for that wireless link from the wayside equipment to the locomotive, and vice-versa. So stay tuned, there’s more exciting stuff to come along over the next few weeks and months as we move from a Study Group toward Task Group and the ultimate goal of creating a wireless standard that will save lives.

Yep, it’s a little different than what I was doing before, but at the same time it’s all wireless, and the need for standards has never been more important than it is for this effort.

Sincerely, Jon


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