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  1. 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!

  2. Automotive Computing (R)Evolution - The Android Head Unit Build - Hardware Overview

    by , 06-11-2013 at 10:33 AM


    The Hardkernel ODROID-X2

    The heart of the Android head unit was obviously the item most considered for a new project build. Because I demand a lot of power from my system, as well as a lot of connectivity options, I simply could not choose the easier way to get Android up and running. The ODROID-X2 is a powerhouse of a development board, boasting specs that meet or exceed my prior Windows based installation. The processor that powers the ODROID-X2 is the Exynos 4 Prime ARM Cortex-A9. With four cores, a default 1.7ghz of power that can be easily overclocked if need be, the ODROID-X2 is the ideal launching platform for a powerful Android car PC. The board houses 2GB of DDR 2 RAM, and boast a very capable 3D graphics processor which can handle more than one would need in the car, unless of course you plan on hosting 4 player Mario Kart 64 tournaments in traffic.




    The Android standard benchmark utilities, Antutu and Quadrant, both prove the ODROID-X2 as a absolute powerhouse of a board. This coupled with its miniature profile at 90x94mm makes it the best choice for an Android head unit.




    Another key factor in selecting the ODROID-X2 for my car PC needs was the ability to purchase compatible hardware accessories at once source. Hardkernel.com sells the board along with compatible Wifi, Bluetooth, UART, and Android-installed storage solutions. For my build, I selected the 64GB eMMC memory module with the thought I could also add a 64GB SD card for additional storage, but you cannot use both at once. The board has a jumper that allows you to select which option you choose.






    The ODROID-X2 has a total of 6 host-enabled USB ports that can provide the max 500mA per port provided your supplied power meets the requirement. Considering that both wifi and Bluetooth need to be handled with dongles and your touchscreen needs an additional port, its safe to assume that at least one powered hub is a good option. Sound output is handled by a single 3.5mm port and input is handled by a second 3.5mm port. Additional components can be connected via the 50pin expansion slot. This allows interfacing with items like LVDS displays, GPIOs and more low-level device interfaces. If ribbon wires aren't your suite, the micro-HDMI port can be your primary display means. Take note though, that the ODROID-X2's HDMI port is hardware locked to display at either 720p or 1080p. That means that for devices like the Lilliput 669, you must use a HDMI-to-VGA adapter to achieve native resolution without overscan.


    Because the ODROID-X2 requires a regulated source of 5 volt 2 amp power, it cannot be powered properly via the unregulated 12v found in most car systems. Because of this, I acquired a Mini-Box DC/DC Power converter. In fact, I acquired two, one for the ODROID, and one for the display, as they both run on entirely differently input voltages. There may be an all-in-one solution that fits your bill, but I like that the two will be isolated. The ODROID-X2 is out of the box capable of auto start on power up, and doesn't need to be shutdown or put to sleep with ignition, so you wont have to deal with any timing issues.


    The rest of the Android head unit installation will allow me to use all of the car PC add-on equipment used from the Windows PC. OBD-II receiver, GPS receiver, USB hard drives, and cameras can all be plugged in and work without much muss or fuss. The eGalax touchscreen module found on the new Lilliput 669 charged with the task does however require some kernel modifying to work properly. More on this in the next blog.

    While finding a spot for the ODROID in my compact vehicle wont nearly be the hassle of my Windows system, finding a suitable case to protect it from at least some of the bumps and bruises of the road became somewhat a chore. Custom cases aside, there are a few eBay retailers which provide a solution. My choice of casing can be shown below. While it doesn't provide much side protection, my new Android head unit looks good in it's two-piece .


  3. 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.