The current car radios present many inconveniences: crackling radio stations, signal loss in tunnels and difficult tuning to the correct frequency.
But recently, ESA and nine partners in the industry and service sectors have presented a new prototype at the Noordwijk Space Expo, in the Netherlands, of what would be the multimedia car radio of the future.
The new car radio functions like a satellite receiver for television channels. Instead of a large dish antenna on the car's roof, there is a special mobile antenna, flattened so that it can be integrated almost invisibly into the bodywork that picks up signals in the Ku frequency band employed by communications
The idea of integrating a satellite receiver in a car is not a novelty as in the US, more than 13 million drivers utilize the services of XM-radio and Sirius radio that broadcast to mobile satellite receivers. That is done via satellites, but enhanced by a rural network of transmitter pillars.
However, the new European multimedia system is much more advanced. Instead of new satellites and a web of ground-based transmitters which would require a huge investment, overpassing a billion Euro, the new system employs only the already existing communication satellites.
Moreover, the mobile multimedia system uses a cache memory (a hard disk or its solid-state equivalent). The received signals can be recorded (like in personal video recorders) and listened after a short time shift or much later. This ingenious technique surpasses the problem of signal loss in tunnels or obstructions disturbing the program.
This way, the driver is able to select a part of the broadcast to listen to, or pause a broadcast he/she is interested in as they stop to fuel.
The engineers were forced in their approach to develop an entirely new antenna that could be easily integrated in a car, as the large, fixed dish antennas designed to broadcast television signals via satellites were excluded for not being practical.
The project has taken three years of research, but the new technology possesses a great potential for the car industry and broadcasting.
Photo credit: BMW