Computers in cars are really no new news. Since the 80's manufactures have been using computers for diagnostic and performance reasons but the latest and greatest computers are being installed specifically for owner interaction. Automobiles are now equipped to play CDs, DVDs, and MP3s. They are able to get precise directions to almost any address in the country. They can even look behind them so their owners can be sure not to run over or bump into objects. These options usually include a pretty hefty price tag but if the rich get to enjoy these 'toys' why cant I?
So where to start? This wasnt really a cheap project to undertake so I wanted to be sure that if I was going to purchase a piece of software or hardware that it was exactly what I wanted. For the most part I read up on as much as I could about my options. Much of this research was done on the mp3car.com forums and this project that was posted on hackaday.com. Not everything went exactly as planned but for the most part it turned out just as I thought it would when I decided on my components.
Through out the DIY car computer world the big question is which is better, Laptop or Desktop? I chose to use a laptop because that hardware was most available to me and I wanted to be able to remove the machine easily from my car. Using a laptop allows me to do this and still be able to use the machine when outside of my car(i.e. I dont need a separate monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.) which makes it much easier to work on things when you have problems(and you will have problems).
Before and after pictures of the dash getting taken apart
A big concern I had was purchasing hardware that in the end would be compatible with my planned setup. I did a lot of research with my prior references and decided on using the 7" Lilliput VGA touch screen and Altina GPS mouse. Im extremely happy and recommend both. The 7" screen fit perfectly in my dash and gives a very clear picture. The Altina GPS mouse has now been successfully tested in all types of weather and has had no compatability problems.
This is a pretty cheap and easy solution to adding the wifi option to this project. This adapter connects via usb and enables me to access the internet and media resources from the LAN in my apartment. Im also able to access the internet when in the proximity of public wifi hotspots.
Perhaps the coolest option of this whole setup is the ability for real time GPS navigation. Originally I was going to use the Destinator 3 software from Destinator Technologies however, after purchasing the $50 Software Development Kit(SDK) and $150 worth of maps for North America I was informed that the company was no longer supporting the SDK and that they were not going to give me the proper .dll file to unlock the SDK so that it can use the North American maps. So unless I was going to be driving around downtown London, England the software I had wouldnt work. Enter Microsoft's Streets and Trips 2006. To be honest this software was not created with touchscreen operation in mind however it is still very effective once you learn how to get what you want out of the software. There is a ton of usefull info(known as points of intrests or POI) and can even help you budget your fuel costs and time management. Nothing tops the voice guided directions though.
I was finally able to aquire the .dll file and use the Mapmonkey software. While the graphics of Streets and Trips are much better than Mapmonkey, the interaction and performance of the Destinator 3 software is MUCH better and is now what I use primarly. If you arent certain which software to use, use Destinator 3.
A snap shot of the rear view camera used during parallel parking
My new dash. I now have every type of digital media I own to my disposal immediately here in my car. Gone are the days of carrying CDs and having them clutter my car. Watching DVDs or .avi files is also an option. Getting functionality out this system was my first objective. I would like to work on the aesthetics of the screen to have it sorta look factory installed - I guess when I get time. Perhaps Ill even post pics.