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

    by , 06-11-2013 at 11:33 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 .


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

    by , 06-05-2013 at 02:49 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.

  3. Hardware Review: Andrea Electronics WNC-1500 Wireless Computer Headset

    by , 03-11-2013 at 11:52 AM

    What is it?

    The Andrea Electronics WNC-1500 is a Wireless Computing Headset featuring digital audio enhancement and noise cancellation.

    The Verdict:

    The WNC-1500 is an excellent option when looking for a wireless communication device for VOIP. Communication was crystal clear in a variety of busy environments. The headset is very comfortable and provides a secure fit allowing for a pleasant listening experience.



    What’s in the box?

    The WNC-1500 Comes with the headset, a 2.4ghz USB adapter, USB charging cable, a convenient carrying case, and an instruction manual. Software is also available for download from AndreaElectronics.com


    Description:

    Andrea Electronics is widely known in this community for the stellar series of Superbeam USB microphones. When installing a automotive PC, the Superbeam was the best available option for hands-free audio communication for a very long time. The quality of the Superbeam bundle has been reassembled into a wireless audio headset named the WNC-1500.


    Each part of the WNC-1500 package has been considered for fit and finish. The headset itself is extremely comfortable, which each part of the headset which touches your ear cushioned more than adequately with genuine leather. The attached microphone with included pop filter rests away from the face but in ideal position for vocal clarity. Microphone placement was considered not only for clarity, but it stays out of the way during video conferencing for the most part. The headband is also cushioned and does an excellent job of securing the headset speakers comfortably. Being wireless, the device is made to be mobile, and consideration was certainly made to keep the headset snug without being painful.


    The WNC-1500 comes with a convenient set of controls on the right earbud. Included buttons are for volume control, music playback next/previous track, power, and configuration. The buttons are raised with a firm press, but unless you use the headset often, you may find using conventional computer controls more friendly. I find myself hunting for the proper control through trial and error too often.


    The most endearing feature of the WNC-1500 set is the audio quality. Its crystal clear that in it's out of the box form, the headset is made for verbal communication. Despite being wireless, I could effectively speak and listen as if using a landline form of communication. There was simply no static or filtering noises with callers, and they never reported issue in response to my end. Andrea calls it "military grade acoustic noise cancelling technology", I'll just say it does the job and then some. The headset does just enough to filter ambient noises locally as to not disturb what your ears are hearing through the 40mm speaker drivers. By default, the headset doesn't thrill in regard to music or gaming enjoyment, but the included software has a 10 band graphic equalizer to aid in this regard. Despite this, I still felt at times that the headset muffled the audio experience while gaming at its most ideal setting. The virtual surround sound feature was lacking.

    The WNC-1500 is powered by a built in lithium-ion battery. Simply plug in the WNC-1500 with the included USB cable and it will charge fully and relatively short time. The LED indicator on the headset will indicate when charging has completed. During testing, I observed battery life in the 5-7 hour range, more than enough for one sitting. The wireless range too was outstanding as audio clarity would hardly be affected until I was some 40 feet from the USB adapter. This far exceeds any bluetooth headset I've used to date.

    The Positive:

    • Terrific audio quality and noise cancellation
    • USB rechargeable
    • Comfortable design and secure
    • Fold away design and included carrying case means the headset will go where you do
    • Excellent battery life and range

    The Negative:

    • Not immersive sound for gamers
    • Must use device manager to enable/disable the USB adapter as your primary sound card


    The Verdict:


    The WNC-1500 is an excellent option when looking for a wireless communication device for VOIP. Communication was crystal clear in a variety of busy environments. The headset is very comfortable and provides a secure fit allowing for a pleasant listening experience.



  4. More on CES: "Square" your car PC away with Xi3

    by , 01-16-2013 at 02:10 PM

    The Xi3 booth at CES was jam-packed with these ultra-cool x86 computing systems. Shown above is the Xi3 5A. This 4" modular cube houses a 1.8ghz dual-core AMD CPU, 2GB of system RAM, and up to 1TB of solid state storage. It's modular design allows for a host of peripheral devices, with multiple options for USB/ eSATA, and display ports. The 5A does include a fan for system cooling, but I can say after demoing the device it's indeed silent. It sips power at only 20 watts, and can be powered from 12-24v.






    So what's missing from making this a go to Car PC option? The only downside i see is the lack of the smart automotive power management that we know from Opus and Minibox systems, but because the device is modular and Xi3 is looking at the device to be installed anywhere possible, the engineers eyes lit up at the idea of creating a automotive add-on module to handle that. ETA is of course unknown, but it's great that there's another company out there that gets frenzied up for car PC goodies.


    If the 1.8 dual core isn't enough power for your setup, Xi3 has other builds that might work. The X7a, while slightly more power demanding at 40 watts, packs quad core power and more memory to boot. It's plenty powerful enough for the user who needs to video edit or game on the go.

    The Xi3 modular systems start at just $399.

  5. More on CES: Your automator is safely automated

    by , 01-11-2013 at 06:40 PM
    Another slice of the massive tech showcase known as CES was spent focusing on the trends that should have an immediate impact in the evolution of automotive automation. Many aftermarket manufacturers have inched past the practice of trying to safely deliver content to the car in lieu of using hardware systems to process content to create a more engagement and safe automotive environment. I spent the majority of Day 2 scouring the North Hall booths for demos of the gear that will bring some of the high end OEM systems to the aftermarket. The top buzzword from both OEM and aftermarket companies when referencing these systems is the "Connected Car" concept, a term that most people in the mp3Car community have run into in previous years.




    Among the coolest gear in this Connected Car category is Delphi's new OBD-II based Bluetooth 2G adapter. Developed in partnership with Verizon, this device not only has the ability to monitor car systems and control routine functions like car start/stop, but it also can harness available data received and provide users with recommendations on how to automate driving tasks. For example, the device can take user driving habit along with the power of the Verizon mobile network to suggest new routes based on time, distance, or even environmental impact. Of course, another key feature of the Delphi adapter is the ability to control car functions like locks, engine start, and geofences from anywhere. Accompanying apps for the web, Android, and IOS are already available. Unfortunately, the current iteration of the device is limited to 2G communications, making unable to be used as a infotainment hotspot.




    Globalstat's TR600 tracking system is another automation powerhouse. In short, the TR600 is a GPS, GSM, and CANBUS capable I/O device. The TR600 has a total of 9 I/O points (3 Input/ 6 Outputs), and with add on sensors can monitor most any vehicle event and automate tasks based on them. GSM capability means users can also remotely monitor and control I/Os. The TR600 can be used fully autonomously or as a standalone device to control relays via an included serial interface.


    The Mobileye Series 5 is a product aimed specifically at adding collision avoidance systems for any vehicle. The Series 5 is essentially a advanced camera which can identify objects and their respective distances from the vehicle in real-time. The camera can then relay information to either your Android or Apple smartphone, or to the included display module. Multiple data points are available and instantly updated including lane departure warnings, following time indicators, and road sign recognition and indication. On top of these monitoring capabilities, the Series 5 can also automate tasks such as headlight and high-beam control for an active safe driving experience. This is a fascinating system which can be easily tucked away behind the windshield of any vehicle.



    More from CES 2013 to follow.