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Wi-Fi catches up with Indy 500 racers

Red Bull Cheever Racing Team and Cisco adapt Wi-Fi gear for cars traveling in excess of 230mph. Photo: Indy 500 goes Wi-Fi

Cisco Systems wireless gear is going to the races.

When Alex Barron and Patrick Carpentier--members of the Red Bull Cheever Racing team--zoom around the racetrack Sunday at the Indianapolis 500, they will use Cisco wireless IP gear to feed information back to engineers in their pit crew. The gear will detail everything from engine temperature to velocity to tire pressure.

"The Cisco Wi-Fi solution has dramatically improved the amount of information we can get out of a race car," said Eddie Cheever, a Formula One racing veteran and owner of the Red Bull Cheever team. "And it's also allowed us to reorganize our method of communicating, so we can get access to and analyze information much faster."

Barron's and Carpentier's cars will each be outfitted with hardened, vibration- and heat-resistant Cisco Mobile Access Routers, which will transmit 180 channels of data from the car's telemetry sensory systems over a local area Wi-Fi network set up throughout the racing arena. Voice and video signals from inside the car will also be transmitted wirelessly, so that the pit crew can communicate directly with the drivers. Using custom software running on laptops, the pit crews will analyze the data and decide what they need to do to the cars at each pit stop.

The Wi-Fi solution is a big improvement over the radio frequency systems the team used before, because the older system didn't have enough bandwidth to transmit all the necessary data and signals weren't able to be transmitted from all points on the track, Cheever said.

Pit crews will also use wireless IP phones to communicate directly and in real-time with one other and the engineers analyzing the data.

Cheever is one of the biggest names in Formula One racing, well known not only for his impressive record of building successful racing teams but also for being an innovator in racing technology. For more than a year now, his team has worked with Cisco to develop Wi-Fi gear specifically for Formula One racing.

The team has already used the new equipment in other races, but this will be the first time it will be used at the Indy 500, the biggest event in racing.

Cheever said he plans to commercialize the solution he has co-developed with Cisco, selling it to other racing teams. He also believes that the enhancements to the Cisco gear could easily be adapted for other uses, such as public safety.

As for whether Cisco's technology will help Red Bull Cheever win more races, Cheever said that's hard to say.

"There are still 31 other cars out there," he said. "The Wi-Fi gear doesn't give the engine more power or our drivers more speed, but it makes for a safer environment because we can communicate and analyze information much more quickly."