SpaceX has said that it is developing a “mobile” version of its Starlink satellite-based Internet service for larger vehicles like RVs, boats, and airplanes and is currently in talks with some airlines to provide in-flight Internet service but says that the service won’t be suitable for smaller vehicles. However, that hasn’t stopped one Californian driver from trying it out by mounting a dish that looked a lot like a Starlink terminal to the hood of his vehicle, according to a recent California Highway Patrol report.
According to a Facebook post made by the California Highway Patrol of Antelope Valley, the exchange between the officer and the driver went something like this:
“Sir I stopped you today for that visual obstruction on your hood. Does it not block your view while driving?”
“Only when I make right turns.”
The vehicle was apparently a red Toyota Prius, which implies that, for once, it wasn’t a complete Elon Musk and Tesla fanboy pulling an attention-seeking stunt. Previous incidents involving Tesla vehicles include at least two separate cases of a Californian Tesla vehicle owner riding in the back seat of a driverless Tesla vehicle with the Autopilot engaged.
In fact, the driver told the California Highway Patrol that he uses the dish to pull Wi-Fi for a business that he runs out of his Prius, although he apparently didn’t give the officer very many details about what that business might have entailed.
SpaceX currently has more than 1,800 satellites in orbit with more being launched frequently. Elon Musk has recently admitted that the company is taking a loss on developing Starlink and building terminals for customers, although he has said that he plans to get the cost of the terminals down. SpaceX currently spends $1,000 per customer to manufacture the equipment and sells the “Starlink Kit” for $499 apiece. The “Starlink Kit” includes the user terminal, a mount, a Wi-Fi router, and a power supply. The terminal can be mounted to a house’s rooftop for an additional cost.
Demand for Starlink is already strong, according to Elon Musk. He recently tweeted that the company reached the “strategically significant milestone” of 69,420 beta users connected to Starlink at the same time. Starlink already has more than 500,000 reservations for service when it comes out of the “Better than Nothing Beta.” In regions that have previously limited to slow, non-existent, or unaffordable Internet service, a service like Starlink’s might truly be “better than nothing,” considering that some customers have recorded excellent service in harsh winter conditions. (In the Arizonan summer? Apparently, not so much. Tesla does say that it’s working on improvements so that its terminals can withstand the summer heat, though.)
SpaceX anticipates that Starlink will reach the capacity for global coverage in September. In some cases, this may pose a challenge, largely due to technological and regulatory obstacles. Regulators in only 12 countries have approved Starlink to operate within their respective countries and only the United States and UK currently have deals with SpaceX to develop broadband Internet services for rural and low-income areas. Russia took the completely opposite attitude, saying that it will fine people who use Starlink within its borders.
So it will still be a long time before it becomes normal for a satellite Internet dish to be mounted to the hood of a vehicle even if SpaceX starts manufacturing terminals that would be suitable for the purpose. Tesla might even have breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t one of its vehicles, considering that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are still quite a way from being ready to operate without input from a driver. As is typical for Elon Musk’s companies, SpaceX has not responded to a request for comment related to the satellite Internet terminal mounted to a hood of a Toyota Prius.