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  1. Hardware Review: MICO Phone Interface Shield For Arduino

    by , 03-06-2014 at 01:49 PM

    What is it?

    The MICO Shield is an Arduino add-on module which allows the Arduino to interface with a mobile phone.

    The Verdict:

    Provided you have a compatible Arduino device, the MICO shield can pull any vehicle closer to the connected car lifestyle with the power of a cell phone.



    Most hardware DIYers have tinkered with or at least heard about the open source I/O powerhouse that is the Arduino. I've personally spent hours upon hours finding different methods to power on an LED from different Adruino add-ons, called "shields". The MICO shield just might be my favorite of the bunch as I feel its features can most likely be used with an Arduino installed in my vehicle.

    As cute a name as MICO is, it really stands for Mobile Interactive voice response and COntrol. The premise is rather simple, connect the MICO shield to a cell phone headphone jack and MICO can answer any calls received. The real power in the MICO comes from what you can do with that call. MICO serves as an virtual operator to any number of functions.


    MICO can tell you the temperature in the vehicle from its built-in thermosensor. MICO can read from a voltmeter connected to the Arduino and let callers know how much juice is left in the battery. MICO can be programmed to make a call when the car is located outside a geofence. MICO can also do, as shown here, where an Arduino-novice like me created a sketch to make MICO trigger my remote starter.


    Installation of the MICO shield could not be easier. It simply plugs into the headphone jack of a cell phone. MICO answers calls in two different methods. The first method listens to the audio jack for ringing signal and answers after a configurable number of rings. There are two sets of jumpers on the device to allow MICO to listen in regardless of mic polarity. The second option depends on the cell phones ability to auto-answer, an option that is available on a great number of phones today. That being said, its important to know if your phone supports these methods to ensure compatibility. MICO also has an optional 2nd headphone jack which can be used to listen to what MICO is saying for testing purposes. The 2nd headphone jack does not however pass caller audio through.


    MICO uses the Arduino SDK for its programming, so it's easy to adapt its features to your build. There's even handy example sketches to help get you started. To get much use out of this shield, you'll need to have a micro SD card, as the audible responses that MICO uses must be declared and saved as RAW audio files. MICO PCB is directly compatible with the Arduino Uno device, but sadly directly connect with the beefier Arduino Mega.




    The Positive:

    • High quality add-on which allows arduino/cell phone interfacing
    • Compatible with most phones today
    • Uses Arduino SDK for programming ease and comes with helpful examples
    • Easy to create audible prompts for use and SD Card use allows for large variety of options



    The Negative:

    • Not (yet) compatible with Arduino MEGA
    • Small number of phones will be incompatible


    The Verdict:

    Provided you have a compatible Arduino device, the MICO shield can pull any vehicle closer to the connected car lifestyle with the power of a cell phone.

    The MICO shield for Adruino is available through the mp3Car store.

    Check back soon for a video of the MICO device in action, as well as more blogs showing how the Arduino line of devices can be used to supercharge the connected car experience.



    The MICO shield for Adruino is available through the mp3Car store.

    Check back soon for a video of the MICO device in action, as well as more blogs showing how the Arduino line of devices can be used to supercharge the connected car experience.
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    Product Reviews
  2. Hardware Review: Xenarc 700CSH 7" Capacitive Touchscreen Monitor

    by , 12-09-2013 at 02:37 PM

    What is it?

    The Xenarc 700CSH is a 7 Inch display with a capacitive touchscreen input.

    The Verdict:

    Yes and yes! The Xenarc 700CSH's capacitive touchscreen sets it apart from other displays in the segment. The clear and precise overlay allows the quality of the monitors display to shine through any glare. The 700CSH proves that Xenarc has been watching, as it addresses most of the long-standing shortcomings of small display screens.



    What’s in the box?

    The Xenarc box comes with the touchscreen monitor, VESA mount, wall and car chargers, input cabling which includes HDMI/VGA/Composite video connections, a HDMI -> DVI adapter, full-function remote, instruction manual, and a cable locking clasp.


    For a quick video of the unboxing for the 700CSH please click here.

    Description:

    Another year brings a another offering in the series of Xenarc 7 Inch monitors. The 700 series has seen its' share of small changes over the last few years, but nothing on the scale of the new 700CSH. This monitor shares the same physical dimensions as the older models, but offers so much more in the form of a beautiful capacitive touchscreen overlay.


    The community here at mp3Car.com has long searched for a install monitor which attempts to draw us closer to the visual fidelity of today's smartphones and tablets. Like Xenarc, each competing brand attempted to fulfill the needs of the community with features like high-brightness displays and a greater set of available inputs, but each of the monitors were limited by the resistive touchscreen overlays. Resistive touchscreens will often mute the color of the underlying screen and disperse surface lighting in a manner which at times makes it dangerous to use while driving an automobile in the daytime. Capacitive touchscreen technology allows for more of the screen's natural tones to come through and focuses oncoming light rather than disperse it. The difference comparing the Xenarc 700CSH with a resistive model is truly night and day. Check out the following example showing the 700CSH when compared to last year's Xenarc. Both pictures were taken during similar lighting.


    The improvements to the 700CSH didn't just stop at the touchscreen however. The display has received a bump up in native resolution. Instead of the 800x600 resolution we've come to expect, Xenarc has increased the 700CSH to 1024x600. The end result is a gorgeous display that does away with some of the pixilation seen on other models. It's still no Galaxy S4 or retina display, but the lines between have definitely been blurred. Car PC purists fear not, the 700CSH can still display between 800x480 and 1920x1080, PC willing. The brightness rating of 500nits and the contrast ratio of 400:1 are carryovers from prior models, but, because of the touchscreen, offer more bang for their buck.


    Xenarc has carried over all of the luxury features from prior models. You can still expect to get things like auto-switching to a composite input, auto power-on, and auto-brightness via the on-board photosensor. The menu system of the 700CSH is more expansion, offering more control than older models. Options like audio-over-HDMI and input switching control are welcomed additions. The included remote is actually usable, as it allows for full operation of the device rather than a subset of functions. Xenarc advertises that the touchscreen will still operate even if a fingerprint or scratch protector overlay is used. Fingerprints almost seem more of an issue with this touchscreen, but I personally feel like it'd be a shame to do anything to alter the display quality.



    The Positive:

    • The best display quality for the segment, bar none
    • Includes cable management options
    • Rock solid build quality
    • Fully functional remote included



    The Negative:

    • Bezel is larger than competitors


    The Verdict:

    Yes and yes! The Xenarc 700CSH's capacitive touchscreen sets it apart from other displays in the segment. The clear and precise overlay allows the quality of the monitors display to shine through any glare. The 700CSH proves that Xenarc has been watching, as it addresses most of the long-standing shortcomings of small display screens.

    Stay tuned for more photos, disassembly videos, pricing information, and availability on the Xenarc 700CSH

  3. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Apps That Rock!

    by , 08-15-2013 at 02:33 PM

    No matter what operating system you choose to control your automotive infotainment, software plays a heavy role in how the driver controls the solution. With Android, most every knows about the popular Google applications like Voice, Maps, and the Music, but someone venturing to install android as the heart of their car computer may not realize the power of the Google Play store in creating a terrific Android-Powered experience. The purpose of this post is to recognize some of the software products that provide functions to an automotive setup. So without further delay...


    Car Home Ultra


    I've mentioned this piece of software in prior posts, but it deserves recognition as a valued car Android software centerpiece. Car Home Ultra is a terrific solution for someone looking to access a host of android applications in a touch-friendly manner. Designed similarly to the Windows-based front ends we've all grown to love, Car Home Ultra may be the current best option to those looking for that experience. The buttons are large and touch friendly, allowing for 5 screens of 3x3 application launch buttons which can be customized to your liking. The colors can all be uniquely altered to match driver preference, and items like Speed, Weather, and Time/Date are all handy. Car Home Ultra can even be set to replace the Home launcher in Android. You can set the software to load on boot and use it exclusively to manage your android functions.

    Tablet Talk


    The would be hands-free solution for the ODROID. Short of creating a hands-free call link, Tablet Talk can do it all. The application must be installed on both your ODROID, and Android smart phone, but once the Bluetooth connection is made your Android car computer can send, receive, and manage your SMS messages. Users can select ringtones, receive text pop-up screens, and reply to texts via on-screen keyboard or voice. Tablet Talk will also ring for incoming calls, display incoming call prompts, and mute audio playback during a call. Keep in mind that with the ODROID, it can not play your caller through the audio system, based on lack of Bluetooth HFP profile support, but the app is still great!

    Tasker


    Anyone who has ever thought about automating an Android has probably heard about Tasker. There are many ways in which Tasker can come in handy when installing an ODROID in the car. While not the most touch-friendly application, Tasker can be used to automate tasks large and small. Want to dim your screen at a certain hour? Tasker can handle it with ease. Tasker can also tackle small tasks with the ODROID, such as reducing power consumption by underclocking the CPU when a Bluetooth phone is not connected. Tasker can lift heavy duty scenarios too with built in scripting support.

    MortPlayer Music


    I used to really love Google Music... until I tried to use it in a car. The interface is beyond chaotic to try to navigate, and if you're looking to play media from local storage like an external USB drive you better have a computer science degree. Enter MortPlayer Music. Built for touch from the ground up, MortPlayer can give you access to all of your music on local media in a clean and easy to use manner. MortPlayer does not rely on a database for music sorting, it relies on the user to have a folder structure in place to make the most out of the music library. MortPlayer has built in support for playlists, ID3, cover art, and more. It can also be heavily customized with themes, movable buttons, and color options.

    Other Android apps that rock include...
    Tunein Radio Worldwide radio stations at your fingertips. Nice touch interface.
    Torque Pro Incredible OBD-II/CAN all in one solution. Heavily customizable and Touch-friendly.
    Waze Crowd Sourcing navigation and live traffic information, Waze can many times serve as a free-replacement to Google Maps
    Beyond Podcast A great podcast downloader and manager allowing for streaming and offline support of your favorite shows
    PL2303GPS MockLocationProvider If you have a Prolific-based GPS device such as the BU-353, you need this app to make the device work with Android!
    Paragon Ntfs Mounter Users playing songs from external based storage will appreciate this app which will auto-mount USB media at boot or when its plugged in.

    Have an Android app you'd like to add, please do!

  4. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Road Test!

    by , 07-18-2013 at 01:24 PM




    Well, the first full week worth of road testing the ODROID-X2 is in the books. Overall I'm delighted with my windows car PC replacement. Key improvements over my previous install include the time from ignition to boot, access to all of my media needs via existing applications, and the system absolutely flies. I cant get over the speed of the ODROID-X2. Even comparing it to my collection of Android based tablets, it really does breeze through everything I want it to do. Whether navigating, watching YouTube, or playing an emulator, the system never misses a beat. Configuring the UltraCarHome application with all of my frequently used programs was also a snap. I've also managed to get some functionality out of the SpaceNavigator, allow me to access all button controls on screen and swipe between main menus in UltraCarHome. I'm sure that with more bench testing I'll unlock a greater set of functionality.

    As with most test scenarios however, I do have a couple of complaints with the install as it stands. The Anker external battery pack is not living up to my expectations. It appears the battery life is heavily effected by the ambient temperatures. Inside, the battery lasts for several days under a charge with no power usage mitigation. In the summer heat inside the vehicle, the battery barely manages to last 10 hours. Also, at 1.5A input maximum, it takes close to a full day to charge the battery, meaning my car will never truly charge the battery properly. The Anker portion of the project will be scraped for now.

    Another problem I am not so surprised with is touchscreen accuracy. The higher on the touchscreen I press, the more inaccurate the points become. It becomes burdensome in apps where the menu or other controls are on the top 75 pixels on the screen. I'll have to do more modifying of the kernel to attempt to correct this problem.

    The final gripe I have at this point is one that many tablet owners have come to somewhat expect. Despite the fact that my area has 4G LTE coverage, there are points where I wish the ODROID-X2 wasn't so heavily dependent on a network connection. Because the X2 doesn't have an internal battery, it needs internet access to correct time/date settings after a cold boot. Also, at times it takes upwards of 30 seconds for the X2 to scan and pick up my mobile hotspot connection. There have not been times where I've been left with buffering messages on the go, but I find myself waiting for that internet icon to display before I really feel like I can enjoy my X2.

    These small issues aside, I definitely still get excited when I can start my car and not see resume problems, BSODs, or configuration issues. The ODROID-X2 already feels closely integrated into the vehicle, and I'm definitely ready for more bench testing to continue to maximize its potential.
  5. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Touchscreen Setup

    by , 06-25-2013 at 06:50 PM

    A part of the thrill of using custom hardware is that eventually you will run across an obstacle. The resistive touchscreen that's used in the Lilliput and Xenarc monitors presented quite the thrill when connecting it to the ODROID-X2.

    Upon plugging in the USB connector the initial response is delightful. The touchscreen will automatically begin responding to touch. The problem lies in where those touches occur based on the position of your finger on the screen. The X and Y axes are reversed, leaving you with a touchscreen that cant really be used. Unfortunately, the solution isn't as easy as it would be in Windows, where a simple recalibration of the touchscreen would correct the issue. The driver that allows the touchscreen to operate on the ODROID-X2 is a part of the system kernel files, and the only real way to apply any fix is to recompile the OS with the modified kernel files.

    Luckily I have Googled enough to stumble on an easy to use guide to correct the issue and get the ODROID-X2 working in harmony with our standard touchscreen fare. This solution may work on other Android development boards, but obviously your source files will vary.

    I must note that I take NO credit for the solutions presented here. It's mostly a combination of information found at these two sources:

    http://forum.odroid.com/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=83
    https://groups.google.com/forum/#!to...86/uNo7a39-s3I



    Requirements
    -A computer running Ubuntu
    -Android SDK with ADB installed (I used this guide to set it up)
    -Download the Toolchain application for Ubuntu from here
    -Download the Android Beta 1.6 Kernel Sources from here

    Steps
    1. Open the Terminal application in Ubuntu and run the following command. You will need admin access as well as the admin password as these are root commands:
    Code:
    sudo apt-get install build-essential libqt4-dev xz
    2. If your Ubuntu is installed on a 64bit machine, you will need to run the following commands (if not, go to step 3)
    Code:
    sudo apt-get install package-name:i386
    sudo apt-get update
    sudo-apt-get install ia32-libs
    3.Run these commands to install and configure Toolchain:
    Code:
    tar -jxvf arm-2010q1.tar.xz
    cd arm-2010q1/bin
    export CROSS_COMPILE=`pwd`/arm-none-linux-gnueabi-
    4.Unpack the kernel sources. Run the following commands:
    Code:
    tar zxvf kernel_4412.tar.gz
    cd kernel_4412
    5.Configure Toolchain for your ODROID-X2 storage type.
    If using the eMMC module enter:
    Code:
    make ARCH=arm odroidx2_android_emmc_defconfig
    If using an SD card enter:
    Code:
    make ARCH=odroidx2_android_sdmmc_defconfig
    6.At this point you can minimize terminal, and navigate to the directory where your kernel sources were unzipped (should be in Home folder, a folder called kernel_4412). In this folder, navigate to the file kernel/drivers/hid/hid-input.c. Open this file with a text editor, as we will be modifying a small portion of the file with the corrected code.

    7.Find the hidinput_hid_event() function, and append the following code between the lines that read "input_event(input, EV_MSC, MSC_SCAN, usage->hid);" and "input_event(input, usage->type, usage->code, value);" . You can use the find/search capability to help locate these lines within the hidinput_hid_event() function:

    Code:
    -//+RDG: patch for eGalax touchscreen: swap X and Y, invert X
    direction
    -if (usage->type == EV_ABS)
    -{
    -        if (usage->hid == HID_GD_X) {
    -                usage->code = 1;        // vs 0 (X becomes Y)
    -                value = 4096 - value;
    -        } else if (usage->hid == HID_GD_Y) {
    -                usage->code = 0;        // vs 1 (Y becomes X)
    -        }
    -//printk("RDG: hidinput_hid_event: type = %d, code = %d, value = %d
    (hid = 0x%x)\n", usage->type, usage->code, value, usage->hid);
    -}
    -//-RDG
    (In the event you cant find this/don't want to be bothered with it, the modified version of the file is attached)



    8. Save and close the file and maximize your terminal window. Run the following command to build the modules:
    Code:
    make -j4 ARCH=arm zImage modules
    This step can take several minutes, so be patient.

    9. copy the modules to the ODROID-X2 by running this command:
    Code:
    adb remount
    for module in `find . -iname *.ko`; do adb push $module /system/lib/modules ; done
    10.Copy the kernel... we're almost there:
    Code:
    adb push arch/arm/boot/zImage /system/lib/modules
    11.Flash the kernel to complete the process!:
    Code:
    adb shell
    cd /system/lib/modules
    busybox dd conv=notrunc seek=2455 bs=512 if=zImage of=/dev/block/mmcblk0
    sync
    exit
    adb reboot
    This command reboots the ODROID and should fix the touchscreen axes!

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