Ok so I am writing this very simple web page to describe to everyone how I built, and put to use, a car computer aka “carpc” or “carputer” as some call it.
First let me tell you briefly how I got motivated to do such a thing.
There was a time back in 2005 I believe it was, when I traveled from Mississippi to Louisiana quite a bit, and sometimes I would see some really awful accidents
Ok so I am writing this article to describe to everyone how I built, and put to use, a car computer aka “carpc” or “carputer” as some call it.
First let me tell you briefly how I got motivated to do such a thing.
There was a time back in 2005 I believe it was, when I traveled from Mississippi to Louisiana quite a bit, and sometimes I would see some really awful accidents …
Or some just plain amuzing drivers….
I even though about it further and though it would be cool to make the recorder record and prompt me to some how save each time I cut the engine off.
That way if I saw something cool I knew it would record it, and when I turn off the engine it would ask to save and if I saw something interesting that I wanted to share with everyone I would simply tell it yes and it would start fresh on the next start up.
Then I got to thinking how can I make this happen? Lets see, I would need a laptop or something in the car to record the video feed to hard drive, and a web cam.
I only thought about it for a little while maybe 20 miles of highway time, then began to think about how I might be able to make it stream the video to the web !! YES that would be awesome!
How could I do that? I asked myself. I thought maybe with a cellular card and dynddns.org, I could capture video from cam to a laptop, then have a webserver (apache) running on this laptop, and have users visit some address like for example carpc.dyndns.org and they would be watching the live cam stream over my cellular card connection. Its very doable but then I got to thinking that the more users, the less bandwidth I would have, and cellular internet is not the best really as it cellular networks were intended for voice data, not the data that being pushed across it today. They can say what they want about edge (2.5G) and 3G (broadband like speeds) being the cellular internet, but what we are truly waiting on is nationwide wifi in the 700mhz spectrum. This cellular internet that everyone is on right now is just a hack, its just another feature that the companies can use to make a buck. It works yes, and compared to dialup days its great, but its not quite there yet.
Anyways back to topic. So I was thinking about all this and thought, thats a lot of trouble really, not to mention cellular drops, so I scratched the whole thing. Put that idea on a shelf for a while.
Then it was sometime in early 2006 when I saw an article in Popular Science magazine called “A DIY Dashtop Computer” . You can read it here A DIY Dashtop Computer.
It said “Why settle for the standard stereo or a GPS unit when you can have an in-car PC running off your car’s battery to guide the way, watch the engine diagnostics, and download tunes?”
It was labeled as intermediate and between $1000 and $2000. I read that article about a dozen times almost frothing at the mouth. I wanted to do that soo bad.
I could have my music, gps, on board diagnostics, internet, etc… all in one device, WOW that would be great!
Only one problem, it appeared to pricey for what it was. So that idea also became shelved.
I don’t exactly recall what got me back into it, but I had the urge once again to get back into figuring out how to put a carpc in my car.
Somehow I stumbled upon a website called mp3car.com that explained how to do a lot of it and they offered lots of components for sale there.
This got me thinking that this was very doable. So I looked over what they had to offer, some bare-bone kits, and already made kits.
Looked around in the forums a bit to see what everyone was doing. I stumbled upon a few YouTube videos of carputers in action and I was hooked, I had to do this.
I downloaded some software that’s used on your carpc on top of the operation system known to most hobbiests as a Front End. I messed with trials of Streetdeck and Centrafuse and the Free Open Source RoadRunner. I ran these programs on my computer at home and really liked how they worked and tweaked on them some and saw a lot of potential for add-ons later. This was looking really good to me as I like to know I am not limited by what a company tells me I can do with their product. I like to know I can change things to my liking when I want to.
So I put together a price list and it came to around 950$ at first jot. I had to figure out a way that this would not sting so bad. I was thinking “at least its not $1500 or $2000 like the magazine said”. I was trying to justify me doing this at $950, but I am a bit of a miser when it comes to money and I couldn’t live with myself if I spent that much.
Then a light bulb when off on how I could raise me some money. Here comes a small story within this story to get you up to speed.
One time in early summer 2006, there was an offer on the internet where the company ( well lets just not say) was giving away tiny hand held wireless routers to anyone that signedup.
I am going to make this part rather short. I received a lot of routers and sold them along with other items I had all for a profit on E-Bay.
I made about $481.93. There may have been more, sometimes I would ship several items to the same person in a box, and I made some profit on shipping as well.
So I had around $481.93 + $300 my wife gave me for our anniversary (thanks darlin), I can surely get this project going now.
I shopped on E-Bay and got most of the items I needed there, some used and some new at great prices.
Here is a break down:
Used VIA EPIA M10000 Mini-ITX Motherboard + 1GB Memory
7″ inch LILLIPUT TOUCHSCREEN MONITOR NEW 629GL-70NP
M2-ATX Car PC Carputer Power Supply +VoomPC-2 Enclosure
External Slot Loading USB DVD ROM/CD R/RW Drive
NEW GlobalSat BU 353 USB Sirf III GPS Receiver
Wide Night Vision Car Rear View Reverse Camera PAL/ NTSC
Hitachi Travelstor – 100 gigabyte -2.5″ laptop hard drive from Newegg.com
Then I needed some extension cables for usb and vga
10H1-01210 HD15 (VGA) Male / HD15 (VGA) Female (1)
10U2-02106EBK USB Type A Male / Type A Female, Exte (4)
Labtec PC Mic
Some 1/8 male to male audio aux cables from radio shack and some switches.
Phoco Phone control software
Grand Total at this point.
Some things I already had were a Dlink Bluetooth Dongle and Dlink wireless pcmcia card.
That is what the carputer cost if at this point. Did I waste any money along the way? Yes, well not waste, but I did buy a few usb 4 port hubs that didnt get used and I had to buy a AC to DC converter to bench test everything.
I know you can sometimes hack and old pc power supply to do this, but mine didn’t supply the needed voltage to get this done.
Ok so now you know what it costs, and what components are used. Now let me show you what it does and can do.
I installed everything and set it up on a bench to install the softwares needed.
I already had a copy of XP that wasn’t being used on the pc that it came with (pc is toast) so I used that. Had I not, it would have added to the overall cost of this project.
I used n-lite and trimmed the fat off of Windows XP Pro. Proceeded to install it and all was fine.
Next I had to decide on what front end to use. A front end is a piece of software that loads up when the computer boots, and it allows you to easily navigate around your car pc using the touch screen.
I initially tried StreetDeck and its awesome but you have to have a proprietary bluetooth usb dongle in order to get it to work with your cell phone and its pricey at $199.99 , it also made my cpu run at 100% no matter what I did, I didn’t like that too much.
Here is a YouTube video on what StreetDeck is like. (everywhere you see a mouse cursor would actually be you touching the screen)
Then there was Centrafuse and its very pricey to at $275.00
Check out this guys setup, he pretty much as the same stuff I do.
Here is the video that Kevin produced. I uploaded it here to YouTube because I noticed it didn’t always play from his site very well.
Here is a demo of RoadRunner running the Digital FX 2.0 Transparent skin from JohnWPB.
This is a wonderful skin and I am running the 2.5 version of it now.
Very excited to get the new 3.0 release soon.
Check out Guinos myspace, the maker of RoadRunner
I plan to make my own videos soon going through all the features of each program, so check back.
Now I know most you reading this are asking, whats the point?
Why put this in the car?
How can or could this benefit me?
Well let me get to that right now.
This will allow me to do/have:
1. GPS Navigation
2. DVD player
(I can rip some of my movies from dvd and place them on the hdd in small AVI format for my guests to view later while on trips or while I am parked.
Note: in most states its against the law to watch a movie and drive at the same time. I do not recommend it. Most semi carputer devices limit this activity to only working while in park, even setting gps destinations, fortunatly for me, this is my own creation and I can get around all that.)
3. Satellite Radio, that I can customize into as many custom favorites list that I want.
4. Internet browsing through an eligible cell phone or wireless 802.11 connection
5. Rip Music CD’s ( this is great for archiving )
6. Integrated Phone via Bluetooth ( I can make calls handsfree)
7. Voice recognition ( my computer talks to me and I tell it what I want it to do, like Knight Riders KITT)
8. Vehicle Maintenance Log
9. ODBII system
10. Rear View Camera
11. Any other webcam can be added to record video of your travels.
12. Rate Songs into a 1-5 star playlist and load them
13. Browse Pictures
14. Watch Live TV (need tv tuner card)
15. Store your entire music library on the carputers hard drive and never insert a cd again. Easily browse albums by name or cover art and play all or add differant songs to a custom playlists.
16. Other external application support
So why have all these components
when you can have it all in one place….
I will update this page often so keep checking back.
I plan on posting some of my own personal video of mine in action soon.
Some things I must get sorted out are the microphone for my phone calls.
I hacked up a few and wasn’t happy with the result. What I must do is find one that does not make my bass feedback soo much.
Keep in mind this is nothing really new. Many cars are fastly coming out with computers in them to do a lot of the things that mine does, but they will have limitations, and mine is limitless. Also note that this can be put into any car, it is not bound to this one vehicle. If I sale the car and get something else, this will surely come out and go in the new ride easy.
There are many devices out there like the Pioneer AVIC-D3 that try and accomplish what I have.
Oh yeah lets not forget SYNC from Microsoft either.
Like I said this stuff is fast becoming the necessities in cars today and in the future.
Here are some of my pictures of my setup.
I really like where I have my screen mounted as its not in the way at all and I dont have to take my eyes off the road much at all to get things done.
I know I need to get on the wire mess asap, I will put it in a hose or something soon.
Rear View Camera
Thanks to all the helpful guys over in the forums at mp3car.com
That is where I obtained a great deal of help with questions I had, they are a wonderful group of enthusiasts over there.
This is probably my favorite thread in the whole place.