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Car PC with Integrated 7" LCD and Griffin Powermate Volume Knob

A Carputer, AutoPC or 'CarPC/MDT', is a general purpose computing platform installed in a vehicle. Until 2006, no OEM or major aftermarket supplier offered or supported carputer-class installations, limiting the installed base to the hobbyist, enthusiast and entrepreneur communities. In use as early as 2000, the term generally refers to contemporaneous personal computers retrofitted in a production model car.

Home made Carputer systems are usually built from traditional desktop components, particularly the increasingly compact small form factor systems and ITX systems. The first commercially available aftermarket Carputer systems involved two main components: a monitor in the dashboard and a PC in the trunk. There are now all-in-one systems that can directly replace the factory radio in a car, without any separate components.

Laptops also serve a useful role as Carputer system components, but laptops are harder to integrate cleanly into the car. The major problem developers face is the software that is to be installed. For instance, as of 2007 GPS navigation is a common OEM equippable option and roughly equates to a laptop running GPS software[1].


[edit] Machine

The machine consists of the motherboard, processor, memory and data storage method. Data storage typically consists of a hard drive or solid state flash memory. If a hardrive is used, care must be taken to provide protection from bumps and vibration. For this reason notebook hardrives should be used. Small form factor and low power consumption typically require the use of a micro-atx, or mini-itx board.

[edit] Screen

Most carputers currently use TFT LCD screens as their displays. TFT displays have become cheaper in the recent years, which makes them a good choice for a carputer screen. Early TFT displays had low resolution, high cost and used composite video inputs. They also lacked the touchscreen feature. Before TFT screens became mainstream, LCD character displays and even small CRT TV screens were used. Most modern screens are equipped with touchscreen, providing an easy way of controlling the carputer. The most common modern-day screen used is the 7 inch VGA touch screen.[2].

[edit] Interface Hardware

In addition to the touchscreen display unit, many other options exist to interact with a Carputer in a manner that does not distract the driver from the most important task - keeping the car on the road. Alternatives for control devices involve the use of either IR or RF connected remote controls, or even keyboards and game controllers .

[edit] Interface Software

Interface software is what drives a Carputer system's hardware. The interface is very important because of the nature of the Carputer system. Typical use of a Carputer is while the vehicle is in motion. A well executed interface allows the user to concentrate on driving, rather than being distracted while looking at a screen in the vehicle's dash.

In the case of interface software running on windows the interface software overlays the normal desktop/dock with itself. Within other operating systems, the interface software is the desktop rather than just an overlay like in the case of nGhost on Linux. Nearly all interface solutions offer the flexibility of customization both at the graphical interface level (aka "skinning") and at the application functionality level (via plugins, etc).

Available interface software (referred to as a "front end") varies depending on which operating system is utilized. Most interface software applications are available for the Windows operating system. However, there are interface software solutions available for Macintosh and Linux as well. There are many freeware solutions available as shareware software that can only be used on a pay-for basis. Popular front ends are: Centrafuse, MediaCar, Media Engine, MediaPortal, Freeway, Road Runner, and nGhost.

[edit] Other devices

Other devices that can be connected to a carputer include wireless network cards, GPS devices, Bluetooth, MP3 players, XM radio and Digital TV cards. In 2005, users were beginning to experiment with Heads Up Display options, although these are typically custom built rather than mass produced. Bluetooth devices can be used in the Carputer environment to wirelessly connect to GPS devices, mobile phones, or keyboards used to manage and maintain the system.

[edit] Power

Typical computer power supplies use AC (Alternating Current), which is the household standard. A car battery provides 12 V DC, which must be adapted to power the carputer by either using either an invertor or a DC-DC power supply. One exception is a laptop, which can sometimes be powered directly from the 12V supply, or using an adapter.

An inverter, provides standard household current so that normal power supplies can be used. The disadvantage of this is efficiency. An inverter consumes more power and exudes more waste heat than an equivalent DC-DC power supply. A DC-DC power supply replaces the original computer power supply and it is powered from the 12V car voltage.

A relay can be used in pair with the inverter, since most of the inverter in the market today does not have auto on or off functionality. Relay can be use to remote start the inverter, so that the inverter will not draw the battery.

A power source of cigarette lighter is one of the most convenient sources which you can use as a remote wire for relay, because it carries a constant 12V. It is also the most convenient way to retreat power for the applications such as in-dash monitor, external radio component, or laptop with the cigarette lighter adaptor.

[edit] Audio Equipment

Computers do not have an amplifier built in, therefore in a car setup one must be installed. Any standard car audio amplifier can be used. As such, other equipment can also be installed: Subwoofers, crossovers, multiple speakers, and others. Signal processing and equalising can also be done by the carputer's software.

[edit] Basic features

  • Play music from CDs, hard drive (MP3s, other compressed files) or external device (USB/PCI FM radio receiver, etc)
  • Play video from DVDs, VCDs or from the hard drive (Note: Hard drives are sensitive to vibration, so driving with your Carputer turned on may shorten the life of the hard drive unless the hard drive is shock-proofed. Because laptop (2.5") hard drives are designed for such a portable device, they are generally more tolerant of shock and are an ideal choice over desktop (3.5") hard drives. Laptop hard drives are designed to endure the stress of moving and extreme conditions, unlike that of a desktop hard drive which is usually used as a stationary device, rarely if ever moved. Solid State Drive (SSD) can be used, as it has no moving parts (low energy consumption and heat production) and can withstand more vibration than Hard Disk Drives.
  • GPS: Provide location tracking, route planning/navigation, etc.
  • Satellite radio through external receivers. (Both Sirius and XM available)
  • AM/FM Radio (There are radio tuners that can be integrated and controlled by software)
  • Digital or Analog TV with the use of a hybrid receiver.
  • Ease of operation through touchscreen display
  • Internet browsing through an eligible cell phone or wireless 802.11 connections
  • Hands free cell phone control via software with Bluetooth
  • Mobile office
  • Other external application support


[edit] Intermediate features

  • Display video from car mounted camera for backing up. (infrared cameras are available for backing up at night)
  • Record video from a webcam/mini-dv camera and store it to the carputer for later perusal. (good for recording close calls on the freeway - setup a rolling buffer which stores the last X minutes on button press)
  • Connect with your cars OBD-II interface and display real-time data on all diagnostic information available. (RPM/Temps/Speedo/etc.) Pull error codes immediately. Never wonder what a check-engine light is for again.
  • Wardriving: Using your 802.11b or g wireless connection and GPS, locate and log locations of wireless routers.
  • Play video games. Alternately include an actual gaming system in the car.
  • Download traffic/weather information from internet. (use home WIFI or connect through mobile phone)
  • Connect to a mobile phone or other device using Bluetooth (useful for voice and data comms and synchronizing with PDAs, etc.)
  • Interfacing with factory steering wheel buttons or equivalent.
  • Provide night vision capability with infrared cameras.
  • Wireless synchronization of files between desktop and carputer
  • Use broadband internet phone options with cellular data card

[edit] Internet connection

In the year 2013, every new car built in Europe will be equipped with internet connection, says a study from market researcher Invensity (Wiesbaden, Germany)[3] .

[edit] Advanced features

  • Process video from car in real-time using image recognition software. Capture license plates and store in database with GPS location.
  • Using your GPS receiver, store logs of locations vs speed and time of day. This could be uploaded to a collaborative site for predicting travel times vs time of day. (very useful in areas where freeway congestion is variable)
  • Provide realtime tracking of vehicle location.

[edit] Advantages

  • Car computers can provide functions that a stereo system does not, such as internet connectivity.
  • No longer have to change CDs with a stereo. Rip all CDs to MP3's and store on the CarPC's hard drive
  • Add navigation to your vehicle
  • Utilize your CarPC screen even more by adding a backup camera to it
  • Internet connectivity available on the road

[edit] Disadvantages

  • Higher current draw from the car battery compared to a car stereo
  • Longer start-up time compared to traditional stereo systems
  • Many hard drives can fail in a car environment (SSDs can be used in place of a hard disk drive to improve reliability, but cost more per gigabyte)
  • A brightly lit screen can be distracting at night although most complete solutions have a dim light feature
  • May receive a ticket in some states/provinces if playing a video, such as a movie, with the vehicle in motion and the primary display in the driver's field of view; regardless if the driver was intentionally trying to watch it or not.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Books about CarPCs

  • Build Your Own Car PC, Ed McGraw-Hill
  • Car PC Hacks, Ed O'Reilly
  • Geek My Ride: Build the Ultimate Tech Rod, Ed John Wiley & Sons
  • Car Hacks & Mods For Dummies, Ed Wiley Publishing
  • 50 Awesome Auto Projects for the Evil Genius, Ed McGraHill & Tab Electronics
  • Car Stereo Cookbook, Ed Tab Electronics
  • How to Design and Install High-Performance Car Stereo, Ed SA Design

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