Friday, September 18, 2009

Holden Commodore US Police Cars

Prototype Pontiac G8 for LAPD According to media reports from the the Frankfurt motor show General Motors is planning to sell Australian made Commodore cars to US law enforcement agencies.

In March when speaking at a public safety communications conference in Sydney, I tried out several prototype police cars. One was a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) squad car (LAPD officers were speaking at the conference).

Touch screen in Prototype Pontiac G8 for LAPDThe vehicle was fitted with a large portrait format touch screen in the centre console, replacing the clutter of controls common in police vehicles. The Commodore is a large vehicle, allowing room for the equipment carried in police cars. There was also an upgraded electrical supply fitted.

While I only got to sit in the stationary LAPD car, I did have a ride in the back of one of the unmarked cars. This was fitted with discrete LED red and blue lights and also had recharging stations for police torches in the back. In place of the touch screen this car had a compact keyboard in a holster on the side of the transmission tunnel. The officer in the passenger seat could pull the keyboard out of the holster and put it on their lap, using the console mounted screen for looking up the police database.

The LAPD prototype was based on the US export version of the Holden commodore. The vehicle was branded as a GM Pontiac G8 for the US market. This was dropped after GM's financial difficulties. But the Commodore is still engineered for construction in left hand drive for the US market. As an example, the instrument cluster for the driver's side of the car is designed to be swapped with the glove box on the passenger's side. Also the handbrake on the driver's side of the transmission tunnel is swapped with a grab handle on the passenger's side. This would allow a small number to be made for US police use.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Open source consortium building car entertainment platform

The GENIVI Alliance is a non-profit consortium launched in March 2009. It aims to produce open source car entertainment systems based on Linux. Members include GM, BMW, Intel and Peugeot Citroen. Given cutbacks in the automotive industry it might be a good time for a cost-saving open source approach, as an alternative to initiatives like the Microsoft Ford Sync.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Internet car radio

Blaupunkt have demonstrated two internet car radios at the "Consumer Electronics Show" developed in conjunction Melbourne company MiRoamer. These have been described as the"World's first internet car radio, Aussie-style" (by Ty Pendlebury , 8 January 2009, Cnet Australia), but they require a bluetooth connection to a mobile phone to provide the Internet connection. The two radios are the Hamburg 600i (single-DIN) and New Jersey 600i (double-DIN). The smaller will cost about AU$600 in late 2009. They also have an AM/FM radio, CD and socket for USB flash memory.

Some of the radio broadcasting industry, particularly the ABC, see Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) as the future of radio. But Internet radio may well kill it off in Australia, before it starts.

The Blaupunkt units can't control an external smart device, such as an iPhone, iPpod or smart phone. The double DIN model will likely cost as much as some car dash computers. A better alternative might be a simpler device which just acts as a remote control for such a device and way to get the sound to the user, such as the Microsoft Ford Sync.

miRoamer are offering an Internet radio portal designed to make Internet radio easier to use. This has a free basic service and a premium paid service. It is not clear if the Blaupunkt radios are designed to work only with this Internet radio service, or can use others.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Open Source Smartphone

Neo 1973 Open Source PhoneThere has been a lot of press coverage of the Apple iPhone smartphone. I was going to set an assignment this semester for my web design students to do web pages for a mobile phone. But the iPhone is a very closed proprietary system and an alternative open source device may be available, the FIC Neo1973 Smartphone.
One of the world's largest computer and consumer electronics manufacturers will ship a completely open, Linux-based, GPS-equipped, quad-band GSM/GPRS phone direct, worldwide, for $350 or less, in Q1, 2007. First International Computing's (FIC's) "Neo1973" or FIC-GTA001, is the first phone based on the open-source "OpenMoKo" platform.
From: Cheap, hackable Linux smartphone due soon, Nov. 07, 2006
As a mobile web device there isn't really much to distinguish the iPhone from other smart phones and the same techniques can be used for designing web pages for mobile devices. Apart from the smart phone I thought it might be worth looking at two other device developments: the Microsoft Ford Sync which is an in-car computer and the Nintendo Wii games console, which now has a web browser.

The Neo1973 is a GSM phone (2.5G) and would at first glance seem a bit old fashioned compared to high speed 3g phones. But I am yet to see a useful 3G use for a phone. The Neo1973 does have GPS making location based applications possible. So, for example, I might get the students to do an electronic guide to Beijing to help people to find their way around during the 2008 Olympics. I was invited to give a presentation to the Beijing Olympic Committee about their web design in 2003. After the conference I bicycled around Beijing city seeing the sights and could have done with an electronic travel guide .

The tourist could first look at the information on their PC or games console (such as a Nintendo Wii ) then in a car using the dash board screen and finally on foot (or bicycle) with the smart phone. Rather than produce four new electronic travel guides for the PC, game, car and phone, the one adaptable web system could be used. Rather than creating new information for the system it could be a mash-up of available web data. This could information from people in the city.

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Interactive car navigation with advertising

Dash is a US company offering a GPS car navigation computer with a wireless link for interactive access. The idea is that it can be updated in real time with information about traffic delays collected from other users of the unit:
The Dash navigator uses either Wi-Fi or cell network connectivity to provide users with real-time information that, if it works as advertises, could cut down on driving blindly into traffic jams.

The secret sauce seems to be the utilization of real-time route information sent automatically back to Dash's central servers by each Dash user's equipment. Then the central system sends specific route and traffic information back to individual users so that they can benefit from the experience of fellow Dash users ahead of them.
Their hardware looks much the same as other GPS units. However, it is not clear how much intelligence there is in the unit. In theory it could just be a dumb terminal relaying the GPS coordinates to the remote service of the Internet and sending back maps and instructions. But I suspect the Internet service just augments the usual built in mapping in the unit. There are considerable claims made:
Dash Express is the smartest, most Internet-connected navigation system on the road. In fact, it's the first and only automotive navigation system with two-way connectivity. Which means it gets you where you want to go—in the fastest time possible—and delivers the most relevant information—right to your dashboard. Plus, Dash Express is the only device on the market that automatically and wirelessly updates its maps and software, so all you have to do is drive.
Also it allows for very specific information about products and services available in the local area:
With Yahoo! Local and Dash Express, local search in the car is becoming a simple and easy-to-use reality. When a user enters their search term into their Dash Express, the device wirelessly begins a Yahoo! Local search on the web. Within seconds, the results are formatted into address cards and presented to the user as a simple listing of nearby businesses. With the press of a button on the device, the Dash user is routed to their desired destination.
Anu alternative would be a smartphone with GPS.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pocket Terminal or Car Computer Multimedia Device?

Motorola TXTR D7 SMS TerminalTwo hardware components suggested to me for building a low cost educational computer are the Intel PXA270 processor and a single board computer such as the Gumstix.

The PXA270 has an Enhanced LCD and USB Controller built in.

Gumstix are one of the many single board computers available. These are designed for hobbyists and for incorporation in small scale production of devices. They typically have a range of expansion board allowing a complete computer to be built (or built into a piece of equipment).

Another interesting product I found was the Motorola TXTR D7. This is a wireless SMS terminal for a mobile phone. The unit is 54 x 18 mm with 4 lines, 20 character screen, rubber Qwerty Keyboard. It is intended to communicate with a mobile phone via Bluetooth for sending and receiving SMS messages.

The Motorola TXTR D7 does not seem to have been successful as a product, but a terminal with a bigger screen and keyboard may be more viable. Those who want a very small QWERTY keyboard for SMS will probably just buy a smartphone with a keyboard built in, rather than an extra external to carry around. However, a more capable device with a larger 5.6 inch (A6) size VGA screen and keyboard might be of use. This could be used for web browsing as well as SMS. It need not be a fully functional computer, as it can make use of the processor in the mobile phone it is communicating with.

This device might be made inter-operable with the Microsoft Ford Sync car computer. It could then be used for playing music and video from a mobile device as well as operating a mobile phone remotely. This could be built into a car dashboard, used in the home or made as a portable device.

I have put this up as a suggested new expansion board for the Gumstix.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Microsoft Ford Sync the future of Car Computers?

Ford and Microsoft have announced a system for car communications and entertainment:
Dubbed Ford Sync, the system uses Microsoft's Auto software and allows drivers to dial their cell phone and have their text messages read to them through voice commands. Drivers will also be able to use voice commands or steering wheel buttons to play music stored on a portable device including Apple Computer's iPod and Microsoft's Zune as well as other MP3 players and even USB flash drives. ...
From: "Ford, Microsoft get in Sync on in-car tech", By Ina Fried, CNET, Published on ZDNet News: January 7, 2007, 10:00 AM PT
Mass production should lower the cost of such systems in cars. But you could get the same results with an after market car computer and GPS systems.

But is how much of this equipment does it make sense to build into a car? The GSM phone system was designed to use a removable smart card with the subscribers information on it. Originally the cards were the size of credit cards. The idea was that you could easily transfer your mobile phone number from one car phone to another by inserting the card in a slot in the dashboard. It was assumed phones had to be built in because they were large bulky items.

GSM phones still use smart cards (a SIM or Subscriber Identity Module), but in a much smaller format, as most phone are smaller than a credit card. Instead of having the phone built into the car, there is more likely to just be a microphone and speaker (and possibly power connection). Some cars have a Bluetooth wireless phone interface built in. You transfer your phone number from car to car by taking your phone with you. What is left in the car is a relatively dumb interface.

Similarly MP3 players can be plugged into a car radio and a GPS unit into the cigarette lighter. From reading Ford's announcement it appears that most of the intelligence for Sync is not intended to be built into the car, but in portable phones and music players the occupants have with them.

Perhaps we will see cars equipped with a large screen in the dashboard with some basic functions. But for the personalized services (your phone calls, your music) the car will communicate by Bluetooth with your smartphone. Already some car GPS units have Bluetooth so they can be used as a handsfree phone.

A car could have a screen for each occupant, communicating with the phones in the car and with each other. Each occupant could see information from their own phone on their screen, or share music, video or a phone call with the other occupants. These would be easy to install as they would only need power from the car, no complex data cabling. They would make a good after market installation or could be removable tablet computer.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Third party dashboard computer for Holden Captiva?

Chevrolet Captiva Dash
According to the review in the Australian newspaper, the Holden Captiva SUV dashboard has a "... tell-tale blank space that must house a video screen in overseas versions ...".

There would seem to be room for a double DIN ISO 7736 slot for a custom Car Computer with a 7 inch screen.

The Holden Captiva is known as the Chevrolet Captiva in the USA and the Daewoo Winstorm in Korea. Some photos show the vehicle with a single height DIN screen (described as the "Driver Information Centre" with a coin tray filling the unused DIN slot below

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Build a Car PC

Build Your Own Car PCAt the library I noticed the book "Build Your Own Car PC" by Gavin D. J. Hooper. As the title suggests, this gives a step by step guide to building a personal computer into a car for entertainment, navigation and car diagnostics. The book takes a purist approach using a VIA SP Mini Itx motherboard which fits in a case the size of a car radio (DIN slot).

Such a tiny PC requires special low height components, for the memory cards and heat sink, a more rugged disk drive. The book discusses peripherals such as tray less DVD drives, radio and TV tuners, small LCD screens.

Car PCBut what is not made entirely clear is why you want to do all this. A car PC would make an excellent entertainment system, able to play movies and music. A GPS antenna will turn it into a navigation system. An On Board Diagnostics (ODB) connector will allow the PC to read diagnostic information from the car's engine management system. But the details of how you would use these is not covered in great detail in the book, just how to put them together.

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