If you haven't heard of North American Eagle, it's a program to break the existing land-based speed record of 763 miles per hour by reaching 800 mph, which is slightly faster than Mach 1 (768 mph).
There are a range of technologies incorporated into the NAE vehicle to make this crazy land speed possible, including those that provide communication between car and control center. This is where Tropos Networks comes into play.
The company announced Tuesday that its routers are being used in the latest NAE trial runs in the desert at Black Rock, Nevada, this week, where vehicle speeds exceed 500 miles per hour. Onboard the NAE vehicle during its high-speed test runs is a Tropos 4210 mobile mesh router that provides real-time communication and data monitoring.
While network connection at high speeds is not new, as Internet access on airplanes has been available for some time now, the main issue here is latency. The NAE vehicle is a very-fast-moving land-based testing object, and it's necessary that it has the capacity for true real-time communication.
To resolve this, Tropos system uses direct Wi-Fi links between the vehicle and ground stations to provide access to vehicle data with a delay of only one to three milliseconds. On the other hand, according to Tropos, the in-flight Wi-Fi services offered by airlines use Ku-band satellite links or cellular air-to-ground links, which have the round-trip latency of nearly a second. (This explains why I couldn't play online games on the flight between NYC and San Francisco.)
Other than the latency, the NAE vehicle is also an extreme environment. According to Steve Wallace, data acquisition engineer for NAE, the vehicle's environmental conditions can include blinding dust storms, temperatures reaching 115 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, extremely high vibration, constantly changing signal strength, and volatile power conditions. However, so far, the Tropos network has delivered the reliability that is critical for both data collection as well as for ensuring the safety of the driver.
There's a tremendous amount of data to be collected in real time--approximately 0.9 billion samples every five minutes, which must also be synchronized and managed to ensure integrity. The data communication that the Tropos system is responsible for during the test runs includes the synchronization of different computer systems, communication between the vehicle and command center, and data collection activities. All of this has to be done in real time within the distance of up to eight miles.
The data collected during trial runs is also essential for validating the stability of the vehicle design as it transitions through supersonic speed. The NAE team's vision is that eventually the technologies and processes used in program can be adapted for a wide range of applications. Example of these are high-speed railroads, the reduction of ground effects for aircraft takeoff and landing deceleration, the mitigation of shock waves as aircraft break the sound barrier, and various other military and space exploration applications.