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Future of Car Computing:

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  • Future of Car Computing:

    I have a background in building custom car computers dating back to 2000. I have a career working as a Senior IT analyst for a fortune 250 company with a B.A. in computer science. In the early days of car computers (2000-2003) I, like many, envisioned x86 PC's installed in vehicles that could store large collections of audio, act as a navigator, complete verbal commands, play movies and have internet connection all while surviving rugged vehicle environments. Today even OEM head units (Ford Sync, x86 running on 7 Embedded) do just that and are relatively inexpensive. We even have the luxury of an open source operating system, Android, that is built specifically for mobile devices to tinker with. This article, describes my vision of what I believe and my current focus for building next gen vehicle computers.
    An Automaker CEO once joked when asked the question about why technology in vehicles moved much slower when compared to the technology sector, “Imagine a blue screen of death while merging onto the highway” he said to his crowd. At the time Microsoft was churning out new operating systems every other year and Intel was doubling processer speeds yearly. I joke that if Automakers matched the technology industries pace we would all be driving V8’s that get 150 MPG! Joking aside the Automaker was onto something. I believe what the GM CEO said actually made sense. GM and other automakers build a product meant to last decades while computers and technology change every other year, sometimes eliminating older technologies within a decade! We all have or have seen vehicles that still use older technologies, Tape deck anyone? How about those with brand new fancy Android phones that cannot connect to your new car audio system because it has an iPod jack!
    I believe the industries have actually taken pages out of each other’s playbooks. Automakers are being pressured to implement new technologies faster while the computing industries have slowed down. Look at the time gap between Windows XP and Vista or even intel’s Core 2 to i5? As you develop your hobbyist CarPc the automakers may very well implement an OEM computer that does exactly what you’ve been working on the past few years!
    The future car computer should be static. By that I mean we shouldn’t need to pull out our cars headunit or computer to upgrade it to the new functionality that didn’t exist a few years back. We shouldn’t have to install the latest operating systems to utilize new technologies. I believe the next gen car computers should have the ability to adapt without the need to update.
    How is this possible with technologies we have now? The building blocks are here my friends! I think that we can build vehicle systems that utilize wireless communication platforms (3g,4g,lte,wifi, zigbee or Bluetooth) that are ultimately enhanced by mobile devices we bring into vehicles such as smart phones or tablet computers. These vehicle computer systems remain connected to the automotive environment (speakers, doors, touch screens, microphones, starter, windows, doors) and simply interpret new tech. from our mobile devices which most likely will contain the latest and greatest technologies as we refresh then every other year. An example of the next gen automotive computer system in action would be: An iphone remains in the pocket the next gen carpc uses the iphone to its advantage by allowing a user to stream Pandora, mp3’s or other media from the phones internet connection or internal flash drive all over the cars audio system using a A2DP BT connection between CarPC and iPhone. The car might be a 1995 Chevy S10 with AM/FM radio. The car computer, simply transmits the streamed audio using an FM transmitter that can also decode RDS text to the radio showing song name on the stock radio. In the same vehicle, the car pc could lock the little truck when it’s parked in your driveway after 7PM.
    With internet access almost anywhere, even while driving and processors in smart phones as powerful as desktops with which we upgrade frequently. Vehicle computers should become more of an intelligent platform aware of its technological surroundings waiting to exploit new technologies without needing upgrades.

  • #2
    I disagree with your last paragraph. The problem is not that the embedded OS and software are the limiting factor. There are lots of car computers running XP, which is over 10 years old, and it still works in the car environment just fine. The problem is that the hardware changes. Your dream of using the 3g,4g,LTE,WiFi, Bluetooth and other protocols is that even 5 years ago, there was no 4G, Bluetooth was on a full version lower and the WiFi spec for N was still being argued over. Therefore, even if you came up with a platform that the underlying OS didn't have to be changed, you would still have to pull the system to update the radio's for 5g, Bluetooth v5 and the new WiFi 802.11agbxdr spec. Also, you can't, as a consumer, use the 3G, 4G, LTE bands, so that really just leaves the 2.4Ghz and the 5 Ghz bands, and then you are back to swapping out radios just like the B->A->G->N path. The problem is also power. If I have to take my device out of my pocket to plug it into the car, why not securely run the data over the higher speed interface than take a chance of someone listening to my car-mobile data and possibly eavesdropping or altering the data in the air.

    we shouldn’t need to pull out our cars headunit or computer to upgrade it to the new functionality that didn’t exist a few years back

    When you figure out how to design a system that will use future technology that will not have to be upgraded, let me know.....


    • #3
      i would say i agree with about half of what you said.

      it seems the big thing that automakers are very leery of is those devices that people will be bringing into the vehicle-- not the fact that they get brought in, but the legality of how those devices interact with the car.
      while they can plan to get some of the current batch of devices working correctly, at this point, there is no promise that they can get the devices to work safely in-car later on down the road.

      the automakers do not want to put themselves in a position where they would get blamed for a problem-- like auto-drive cars-- while they are great in concept, this would mean that the automakers would be in charge of programming the cars to interact, and run on city streets. so when there is a accident, it is not the car owners fault, but the automakers-- as the car owner just "entered the destination and pressed go". i doubt many automakers would last long if they had to be in traffic court every week..

      i think i read somewhere that the average person keeps a car for something like 5-10 years.

      so that means that automakers, and electronics producers need to establish a very specific standard for allowing electronic devices in-car-- and even at the current slwer rate, that is still a ton of new devices hitting the market.

      this is where apple excels-- they have created their own very specific standard, and all their devices comply with that standard, so when you bring a apple device in to a apple-compatible car, it 'just works'.

      while it is i agree that individual electronics makers are slowing down a little, overall, i think the fast pace remains the same-- especially in the mobile devices category-- one company comes out with the new "best" phone, and 6 other companies scramble build a product to beat it.

      the other point is the way that we use mobile electronics in cars. many have started using their devices in-car more and more-- to the point that the governments have started trying to figure out a way to reduce problematic usage in cars-- like texting while driving.

      so not only would this standard need to be approved by all auto makers, and electronics producers, it would also need to be approved by the government..
      which brings up another point--at the rate that tech changes, about every 2-4 years, your car would probably need a firmware update to work with new devices, or comply with new standards/laws... i hate the idea that i would always be needing to bring it to the dealership for this..

      then the last point-- carpc's for the masses. this has been discussed some here, and personally, i don't feel that this is ever something that needs to be accomplished.

      the draw for many people to install a carpc is the level of customization that it offers. to offer carpc's to everyone means locking down functionality to prevent idiots like me from tinkering with everything-- which goes against the level of customization...
      My OLD 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse GT:
      "The Project That Never Ended, until it did"

      next project? subaru brz
      carpc undecided


      • #4
        Well, car manufactures do do some automation. Auto parking, cruise control, the new Mercedes(?) will detect that the vehicle in front of you allowed and disengage the cruise and apply the brakes without driver intervention. BMW has a prototype M3 with GPS integration that can "learn"a route and drive it with pin point accuracy at track speed. Automation in cars is growing. As a hobby, I think car computing is just that, a hobby.

        And don't get me started on Apple "developing" their own standards. They aren't standards, they are proprietary. Standard are developed by groups and everyone complys to them. Apple can't even comply with the USB power spec on the Ipad...


        • #5
          Since my first attempts at computer-car integration, I looked at aviation to use as a model of systems integration. The car industry is such a bad example of innovation, it was never a consideration.

          Decades later, experience has shown me that instead of trying to make my car be a shrine to M$ or Appl, improvements came in ways that I could truly appreciate the technological improvements:

          * better power systems
          * materials
          * "bulletproofing" my computer so rather than be an all-in one, its a robust controller of other systems.
          * making the vehicle more "robotic" than trying to duplicate my living room. This is where experimenting and groups like ours can help innovation, rather than rushing to go buy someone else's tech.

          One of the first questions I asked the group was, "why are you trying to hide the tech?" most people cited there, let's launch a major effort to improve security....instead of buying a viper security setup, lets see how we could make our vehicles theft-proof! and no, Im not talking electrifiying the cars ( I tried it once to horrible results), but something more manageable.

          The example above is one area that automation, computing, engineering and electronics can exploit to leap over the car manufacturers. The list could go on....( safety, is a big area that needs improvement).

          The future of car computing could use a few steps back, before going forward...
          The low budget model ! 2005 F-150
          • -Custom fiberglass console, CB,Interfaced OBDII
          • -In-dash multimedia w/ bluetooth
          • -Piconet PAN & Wifi Edge internet
          • -Advantech relay board, Pololu microcontrollers w/servos
          • -Embedded Axim palmtop w/backup GPS


          • #6
            I agree with some of what you said, SailLong. Yes, why hide the tech? Why the desperation for the OEM look? I don't agree with that. I'd rather see something like an aviation cockpit.

            However, I also agree that putting everything in plain view invites theft. And that's a problem.

            I also like the idea of automation, I'm trying to learn tasker app for Android and it's pretty amazing what it can do. There are some plugins that do something similar, like play a song according to gps coordinates, and what not, but not as powerful or integrated.

            What I feel there's a lot to be improved is in the integration dept. Yes, there's a plugin to check the cheapest gas prices and when you click on it, and it will send the address to your nav plugin. Good but that's one of the best examples of integration around. It would be great if it could remember your choices when you're back in the same area, if it could check your fuel level from the obd plugin (without you having to click on it), it could perhaps send you a text message/warning when it detects that even if the tank is at half full, fuel is priced significantly lower here and today then everywhere else, etc. This is the kind of integration I'd hope we would be seeing by now...However OBD is *mostly* used to display useless gauges (seving the same function as a visualization plugin, it's just a show really) and the GPS is used for turn by turn navigation. And that's it. But it could be so much more.
            Worklogs: 08 Sequoia Platinum Carputer (In Progress!)
            Skin: MetroSex on the Beach preview

            07 Infiniti Fx35 (done!) & 06 Infiniti M35 (gone...)


            • #7
              By law your OEM headunit can't even display DVDs while the vehicle is in motion- Who parks up for an hour and a half to watch a DVD? Nobody. So what's the point in offering internet access or anything more than what's already offered by the manufacturers as standard?

              I have a very powerful CarPC- But since it's install in to my car (which I drive all the time), I've used SatNav, Music and very rarely- Video (daughter in the rear seats headrests). Never needed or used all the other things that I have at my finger tips. So why would a manufacturer spend tens of millions in R&D to provide something that a driver won't use and can't use by law?

              You can even buy a crappy KIA that provides SatNav, DVD and MP3.

              Also with most cars now you have a AUX port somewhere, it's far less hassle for people to connect iPads or Android devices through that to get satnav, music and video. Far less hassle and makes a lot more sense as you take the device (and media on it) with you to use in the office, at home or in the hotel.

              I've got a 3G dongle on my CarPC and the only time I've used that is when I unplugged it to use in my laptop while working out of the office!

              BMW's iDrive has had a very bad reception from the drivers as they believe it's far too over complicated. People like to see a button that turns the AC on or changes the heated seats etc, they don't want to navigate around a screen to change it.

              The other thing is a touchscreen requires your attention, you need to look at it to use it. A push button on the dash is there, in the same place, all the time and it does a very simple function which doesn't require visual acknowledgement (once you've learnt your car's layout).

              What do I want from my CarPC? Screens in the headrests, SatNav, Music and Video. What do manufacturers provide out of the factory? Screens in the headrests, SatNav, Music and Video.

              Why did I bother with a CarPC? I'm a Geek, it was cheaper than a doubledin unit and my car didn't have these things as standard when it rolled out of the factory.

              What would I do if I had to do it again? Possibly something like an iPad install or android etc. Less work, lower power consumption and pratically the same offerings (providing the interface is driver friendly).


              • #8
                Interestingly a product was just released on the mp3car store called "Mimic" which at quick glance is a VNC connection to your iPhone using a 7" touchscreen. This encapsulates the idea that car PC hardware should just adapt or translate newer tech.


                • #9
                  Not really, apple products don't conform to standards even between their own products.

                  The same could be said for any USB VGA touchscreen with that line of thinking lol... At least that conforms to standard VGA and USB.


                  • #10
                    The future will be smaller, cheaper, faster, easier more durable. Been this way pretty much since the birth of the computer.
                    Last edited by -zip-; 06-02-2011, 10:34 PM.
                    2008 350z GT Installed since April 22nd 2011 - Worklog
                    2000 Protege Installed Since April 2, 2005 - Intel D201GLY|Fusion Brain|ODBPros ODBII|Engenius|GPS Rikaline|Powermate|Motorized Lilli
                    Sound Stage


                    • #11
                      A couple thoughts:

                      - At some point in the future, all new cars will be connected, period. They won't be dependent on your smartphone either. Tethering is just a stop gap until we have the infrastructure and price-point to be connected everywhere.

                      - Car manufacturers want more dynamic software on static hardware. Future cars will have an operating system with a software ecosystem like meego or android that can update over the air. There are challenges about this, (esp considering the long lifespan of vehicles and the fast pace of technology) and many of the issues are unsolved. I think terminal mode is a potential alternative to having a self-updating OS... but there are issues with that which I won't go into here.

                      - Windows XP => Vista is a really bad example of technology slowing down. Technology is not slowing down, it's accelerating. MS is just really bad at making operating systems. They spent all their time on winfs and hybrid drives that never went anywhere. During that time, there were like 3-7 versions of OSX and probably 12 versions of Ubuntu released. Intel's ability to shrink the die and improve power and performance on the "tick-tock" schedule is one of the best examples of how complex technology is getting yet the implementation/development time isn't following. Where intel fell behind was the Pentium 4's and Core duo series (Core 2 duo and i7 killed the competition and still do).

                      - Gaming Consoles are like 7 year commitments. It's not impossible to imagine dynamic software on a static piece of hardware.

                      - Mimic looks novel but it may work for some. All those apps that lock in portrait are going to be annoying. It's not a long term solution and thus not the future.

                      The other thing is a touchscreen requires your attention, you need to look at it to use it. A push button on the dash is there, in the same place, all the time and it does a very simple function which doesn't require visual acknowledgement (once you've learnt your car's layout).
                      Cars will drive themselves in the future, so this really doesn't matter. There's already cars out there now that make it darned near impossible to rear-end someone.
                      Former author of LinuxICE, nghost, nobdy.
                      Current author of Automotive Message Broker (AMB).
                      Works on Tizen IVI. Does not represent anyone or anything but himself.