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  1. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build Part 1

    by , 06-05-2013 at 01:49 PM


    The Crossroads...

    Somewhere, far too long ago to remember, I realized that a “practical” Windows-based car PC platform with all the bells and whistles may perhaps be an unreasonable goal. Now that my seemingly powerful-enough hardware is becoming more and more unreliable (and outdated), I find myself smack dab in the middle of crossroads pertaining to the future of my automotive infotainment platform. On one hand, I’ve got years and thousands of hours invested into attempting to create the perfect Windows automotive ecosystem. The other hand sees a more efficient platform brewing in Android, with updates and supporters that are seemingly blurring the lines between “on the go” and “in the car” applications.



    Old (Not So?) Faithful


    Perhaps I should have prefaced this blog with the fact that I am not a user of the “common” Windows car PC. My current Zotac/Intel dual-core car PC features include the following capabilities:

    - GPS Hardware with live tracking
    - Tire Pressure Monitoring
    - SpaceNavigator Control
    - Parking Sensor Interface
    - Rear Backup Camera
    - Fusion Brain with a host of various Sensors
    - XM/HD Radio
    - Custom Bluetooth Phone Hardware
    - Bluetooth ODX MX
    - USB Array Microphone for hands-free communications
    - A total of 21 USB devices, spread over 3 self-powered USB hubs


    All this hardware and more is being delicately managed by my choice of front end software. For the most part, the system as a whole works. But there are times where resume for system sleep doesn’t occur so smoothly, HD Radio fails to initialize, or the system draws so much voltage at rest that it completely drains an auxiliary power cell.


    The New Kid On The Block



    Now, based on the details of the Windows system, one might surmise that the run of the mill android tablet install might come short of fulfilling my demands. Raspberry Pi seemed initially intriguing, but falls short on true horsepower. In short, I need an Android board that can haul the load without compromise, all while sipping power. Enter the ODROID-X2, a 1.7ghz quad-core Android development board, complete with 2ghz RAM and a 64GB eMMC module. Essentially, this is the same Exynos4412 chip that powers the international variant of the Samsung Galaxy S3. It’s safe to say this device should meet my demands at a mere 5 volts and be powered by a Mini-Box DC/DC Power Converter.


    So the challenge as I so dramatically impose on myself, is to build a complete and total Android-based car PC platform to replace my current system and all of its capabilities. Join me as I get to know the development board, power up the system for bench testing, attempt the in-vehicle installation, and configure all necessary software along the way. Ultimately, the project may finally solve my longing desire to reliability integrate all of my madness into a modern automobile. Success or failure, every few days comes a new adventure. Check back next time for a new hardware component overview.

  2. Hardware Review: Car/Droid Double Din All In One Car Multimedia System

    by , 12-14-2011 at 02:10 PM

    What is it?

    The Bybyte Car/Droid is a fully featured double DIN multimedia system with a detachable 6.5" Android Tablet.

    The Verdict:

    As a whole, the Bybyte Car/Droid is a feature packed multimedia system giving you the bits of the best things a car PC has to offer. The device harnesses the power of a standard head unit with the power of Android, and sprinkles in a little iPod connectivity on the side. When viewed separately, the double DIN head unit still manages to incorporate most of what the device was made to do, while the Android tablet is crippled by its hardware limitations.



    What’s in the box?

    The Car/Droid comes jammed packed with every cable needed to connect the system to your vehicles audio wiring harness and other support devices. Included is the double DIN radio, the detachable Android tablet with case, a separate 12v power brick for the tablet, external GPS, a proprietary iPod connector, radio wiring harness, and a host of cables for optional accessories like rear DVD and rear camera support. An instruction manual is generously included, but strangely omits information regarding the head unit.


    Description:

    A double DIN radio, created to house an Android tablet with the backing of the popular Android Market. What's not to love about it? The idea behind the Bybyte Car/Droid is quite clear up front. The device can be used simply to play music, allow hands free phone usage in the car, or allow the kids to watch a DVD through a rear screen (not included). Bring the tablet with you, and do all of this, as well as just about anything that an Android device can do. Stream Pandora, listen to Sirius, or perhaps play a game. When factoring all this with the idea that you can easily connect your iPod device and control its music playback all through the 6.5" touchscreen the tablet provides, it seems that the creators of the Car/Droid have considered everything. Heck, you can even easily connect your built in steering wheel controls to the Car/Droid and configure their usage right from the tablet's interface.


    Sounds like everything that anyone that doesn't want to hack into a dash would desire from a multimedia vehicle system. The Car/Droid is technically just that, but beyond the surface is where you could find the device is not the dream system that non-hobbyist yearn for.


    Let's start with the good. The "Car" portion of the Car/Droid device is rather satisfying in itself. While not particularly modern looking or stylish, you do get a head unit that is absolutely jam packed with available features. In fact, the only features that the head unit does not allow for is the use of the included GPS receiver, and the rear camera connection. Because there is no touchscreen, and save for the small VFD on the face, no screen at all, you could hardly use or control a navigation system. The head unit will obviously allow CD playback, but will also accept a DVD and feed it to a rear screen, or you can connect a TV antenna and feed that through to a rear screen. You can accept phone calls with the device and speak through the built-in mic port (that surprising works well), and will even accept a micro-SD card for auxiliary playback.


    On the rear of the head unit, you'll find connections for all of the optional accessories, as well as your standard looking wiring harness for your speaker and power connections. There's also a fan which keeps the unit cool under the wildest of temperatures ensuring you have all features regardless of the weather conditions. The creators of the Car/Droid were wise in considering the mounting depth of the device and making sure the wiring will not interfere with installations in cramped DIN openings.


    The face of the head unit is sprawled out with control buttons for all of the media device options. You get six presets for radio, and can control Radio/TV/DVD/Audio with the same sets of buttons. Again, the device doesn't look as fancy as most aftermarket radios out today, but it at least has all of the controls needed without having to do too much hand surfing. Below the tablet dock mount are the volume and mute buttons, a source/power button, a host of buttons for some of the advanced features like phone and "pad" mode (more on this later), as well as the built-mic and IR receiver for the included remote control.


    The obvious key feature of the Car/Droid is the Android tablet dock, and plugging the tablet into the dock is done without fuss. Once docked, the Android tablet instantly displays your main menu in a touch friendly interface that I will call "radio" mode. Here you have options to change instantly between sources like Music, Radio, iPod, and Phone. While the main menu works well with the head unit to present you with whatever source you want, here is also where the first problem is presented. The Android tablet, at its best, displays a 800x480 resolution. To us car PC users, this is pretty standard, but the "radio" mode of the device does a very poor job of utilizing that resolution to its fullest. The main menu, and each screen under this mode uses colors and gradients you could easily find something manufactured by ColecoVision in the 80's. It's obvious that more work should have been done in the interface design of this mode.


    The alternative mode is "pad". Pressing the pad button on the head unit instantly transforms your tablet into a standard Android-style tablet. You get Android 2.1.x with the "Droid" portion of the Car/Droid device. To this date, the latest publicly released build of android is in the 2.3 range, so the Android tablet which comes with the Car/Droid is a few years out of date on the software side. Aside from the touchscreen friendly Home, Menu, and Back buttons which always display in the notification area on the tablet, it appears to be a "vanilla" Android experience. Still though, with Android comes the power of Android applications. With the Android market, you can download a host of applications which enhance the tablet's ability to act as a vehicle multimedia system. Google Maps can use the head unit's external GPS for navigation (internet is still required however). You can get better music applications, download Facebook, and most anything else you'd want to do while driving in a car. Because of the version of Android available to the tablet, some pretty large enhancements are not allowed. You can not use the popular Google Music streaming service, you can not get Adobe Flash. Good luck flinging your angry bird around.


    The top of the tablet has buttons for Android functions Power, Menu, and Back, as well as the button which releases the device from the head unit. The side of tablet has connections for power, USB, USB-Host, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and strangely enough an HDMI output. It's odd to see an HDMI output on a device which such small resolution. A plus of the tablet is that it too has a micro SD port for external storage. It also charges while docked into the head unit.


    Despite the appeal of the head unit, the centerpiece for the Car/Droid is the tablet and it's touchscreen. Sadly, you're restricted far too much by the tablets specifications to actually enjoy using it anywhere other than the car. For starters, you are limited by a restrictive touchscreen, which is particularly hit-or-miss when it comes to presses and debilitated when scrolling. It is also extremely reflective to sunlight or other light sources.

    The other specifications for the tablet aren't as impressive either for the most part. Inside you get a 720mhz processor, 256MB of RAM, and 8GB of internal storage, most of which is occupied by Android and pre-installed applications. Also of note, the battery life of the unit I tested was very poor. In fact, in the amount of time needed to post this review the battery meter went from 90% to 40% with minimal use. While the tablet is removable and this is a pro, i'm afraid you won't get much use from it outside of the car.


    The Positive:

    • Device capable of doing everything a All-In-One is made to do
    • Detachable screen ensures portability and security
    • Offers a very good hands-free phone experience
    • Head unit automatically controls and powers tablet when docked
    • Tablet can use the GPS connected to head unit while docked
    • Head Unit is feature rich and can do most of what the device does without the tablet installed.
    • SD Card ports on tablet and head unit allow for abundance of storage options
    • Simple iPod hookup and control


    The Negative:

    • Tablet is running outdated version of Android and is not upgradeable
    • Tablet specs limit the effectiveness of the Android experience in the car
    • Included controlling application uses poor resolution and poor graphic interface
    • Tablet as tested had a poor battery and is not replaceable
    • Low resolution and sunlight readability


    The Verdict:

    As a whole, the Bybyte Car/Droid is a feature packed multimedia system giving you the bits of the best things a car PC has to offer. The device harnesses the power of a standard head unit with the power of android, and sprinkles in a little iPod connectivity on the side. When viewed as separately, the double DIN head unit still manages to incorporate most of what the device was made to do, while the android tablet is crippled by it's own hardware limitations.

    For more pictures on the device, please check out my album.

  3. Parrot's New Asteroid Android Head Unit - CES 2011

    by , 01-09-2011 at 12:29 PM

    Embed this video


    Parrot electronics showcases their new Asteroid single din head unit running the Android operating system using an ARM 9 processor at roughly 500 MHz. Music, Bluetooth, Navigation, USB connectivity, an integrated amplifier all fit in a form factor less than 5" deep. Best of all, the unit will be open for community application development.

    Updated 01-09-2011 at 12:37 PM by Jensen2000

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