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.