Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tata Magic Iris

Indian vehicle maker Tata have announced the Magic Iris, which is essentially a minivan version of the Tata Nano micro-car. Just as the Nano is intended to replace scooters for personal transport, the Magic Iris is to replace three wheel auto-rickshaws:
"The Tata Magic Iris, to be launched this year, is for public transportation, offering safer and more comfortable mobility for those who depend on three-wheelers. Its spacious car-like cabin can comfortably seat four passengers – three at the back and one in the front beside the driver. With its car-like on-road stability and sheet metal roof it provides car-like safety.

The 611-cc water cooled diesel engine, backed by a 10-litre fuel tank, is capable of running larger distances with a top speed of about 55 kmph and yet higher engine life. With its bouquet of features, the Tata Magic Iris will be the ideal small passenger carrier which will upgrade both the quality of public transportation and also the income of their owners. ...

From: Tata Motors Group displays the widest range of products and environment-friendly technologies at Auto Expo 2010, 5th January, 2010

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Car Share Example of Green Technology

Suzuki Alto GoGet Share CarIn the street today I notice a Suzuki Alto car, which is part of the GoGet Share Car scheme. This is a good example of how to use computers and telecommunications for improving the environment. After joining the GoGet scheme you book a car online and open it with an electronic key. This allows inner city residents to convinently share a car. Residents are more likely to forgo car ownership and use public transport if they have access to a share car when required. Also most of the cars such schemes use are small fuel efficient models, like the Suzuki Alto.

This is an example of reducing greenhouse gas emissions without the need for a large investment in new technology. The care share system uses conventional petrol powered cars and roads. There is a small investment needed in a web based booking system and the electronic keys for the cars. However, this is minor compared to the cost, for example, of electric cars or a metro system.

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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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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Smart Cars Stacked in Sydney Again

Smart Cars Stacked in Railway SquareIn 2006 a company stacked six Mercedes "Smart Cars" about 12 m high in Sydney to promote their carsharing scheme. These schemes are becoming popular for people in the inner city who want occasional use of a car for short periods.

By the way the company doesn't normally park their cars in a stack in squares, they arrange to have reserved parking spots at locations around the city.

I was reminded of this recently, as the company sent me a note to say their web address has changed and on the web site I noticed they were going to do the car stacking stunt again. Has anyone see it in Taylor Square?

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Are CB Radios Safer to Use While Driving?

Last night's premier of Top Gear Australia (derived from the BBC's "Top Gear" TV car show), had the three presenters Warren Brown, Charlie Cox and Steve Pizzati, driving in the Snowy Mountains while operating hand held CB radios. While this is not necessarily illegal, it is hard to see how talking on a two way radio would be less distracting that a phone. Perhaps this is an area for research.

According to the Roads and Traffic Authority (NSW), CB and two-way radios are not banned for drivers:
300 Use of hand-held mobile phones

(1) The driver of a vehicle (except an emergency vehicle or police vehicle) must not use a hand-held mobile phone while the vehicle is moving, or is stationary but not parked, unless the driver is exempt from this rule under another law of this jurisdiction.

Offence provision.

Note Emergency vehicle, park and police vehicle are defined in the dictionary.

(2) In this rule:
mobile phone does not include a CB radio or any other
two-way radio.

From: Australian Road Rules, RTA, NSW
Research has shown that talking on a phone impairs driving ability. It is not holding the phone in hand that is the problem, but having a conversation. Hands free phones cause similar impairment to hand held telephones. However, having a conversation with someone in the car may cause less impairment and conversing with someone in an adjacent car, as was the case in Top Gear, may be less of a problem.

One area which appears to have not been researched is the impairment from two way radios. Most two way radios are "simplex", that is the radio can only transmit or receive, it cannot do both at once. As a result the two parties have to take turns speaking and there are usually pauses in the conversation between. This makes for a stilted and unnatural conversation, but perhaps this reduces driver distraction.

Hands free kits for mobile phones in cars try to reproduce the free flowing two way conversation of a hand held phone. In practice this is limited by the noise level in the car and positioning of speakers. Less sophisticated kits, and those not well fitted, effectively operate as automatically switched simplex radios, cutting off the audio of the remote party while the driver is speaking. This is normally seen as a problem, but perhaps it increases safety.

Some CB Radios have the option of a tone at the end of a transmission to indicate the other party can now speak (commonly called "Roger Beep"). It may be useful to include this in hands free car kits to indicate to the remote party that the driver has finished speaking.

While the research is not clear on this point, some indicate that conversations with passengers in cars are less impairing as the passenger can see the traffic situation and so know when not to distract the driver. It may therefore be that a videophone showing the traffic, or a phone which detects the driver is busy and sends a synthetic voice or tone to say "driver busy" might help. Such a system might use a tone to indicate to the driver that it is not a good time to talk, or even switch off the microphone to stop them. The phone could detect when there is frequent breaking and use of turn signals, to indicate a high driver workload. Some hand held telephones, such as the iPhone, have accelerometers built in which could be used to to detect when the car is manoeuvring and so it is less safe to talk.

A simpler alternative might be to place a "Push to Talk" button on the car steering wheel. As with a two way radio, this button would need to be held down while the driver was speaking on the telephone. This would have the advantage that the driver would be only able to hold the button down and speak, when the car was proceeding in a uniform heading. As soon as the moved their hands on the wheel to change direction, the button would be released. This should have the effect of training the driver to not talk when manoeuvring.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Smarter Than Smart Car

In 2005 I suggested Diahatsu cut the back seat out of a Cuore to make a two seater car about the same length as the Smart Car. Toyota, who own Diahatsu, went one better by making the Toyota iQ which still has a back seat.

Toyota iQ CarAt 2980 mm the iQ is it 845 mm shorter than a Toyota Yaris , 120 mm shorter than the Tata Nano and 290 mm longer than the Smart. The iQ has a conventional front mounted engine like the Yaris, unlike the Smart and Nano's rear mounted ones. The iQ is made shorter by making the engine, dashboard and seat backs thinner. It also compromises on rear legroom.

Birth of the Beetle: The Development of the Volkswagen by Porsche, cover of bookThe car is described as seating thee adults and one child. When I first read this I thought of a small bucket seat sideways in the back, next to a full size one. In fact there is a conventional bench seat. It is just that there is not enough leg room behind the driver for an adult's legs. The rear adult passenger is accommodated by the front passenger pushing their seat forward.

The underside of the dashboard is higher on the passenger side to accommodate their legs, so they can sit further forward than the driver. This asymmetrical design is not a new idea: it was used on the second prototype
(Type 62 "Der Stuka") of the VW Kübelwagen military adaptation of the Volkswagen Beetle in January 1938 (mentioned on page 222 of "Birth of the Beetle"). The extra room was to operate a machine gun.

Reducing rear leg room in a small car makes sense, as most of the time the rear seat is not used. It seems likely that if the iQ is popular, other makers will adopt similar techniques to give more interior room. Modifying the engine to make it slimmer would be difficult, but thinner the dashboards and seat backs could be retrofitted to existing car designs.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Green Car Proposal for Australia

Accoding to a news report the Universal Design Company (UniCo) is proposing to refit the disused Mitsubishi's Tonsley Park car plant in Adelaide to assemble alternative fuel "green" vehicles. The cars would initially have V6 engines capable of running on biofuel and LPG, with hybrid electric engines later.

The plan envisages the first cars made by 2009, so presumably these will be assembled from imported components, using an existing design. It take several years to design a car and more to make the parts.

The plan is said to be support ed by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. But it is difficult to see how a plant making a small number of cars (30,000 per year) could be cost effectively assembled in Australia, unless some radical new technology is used. Dual fuel LPG/biofuel engines do not appear breakthrough technology.

... Under the plan, car parts and "trans-hybrid" engines would be shipped to Adelaide and assembled at Tonsley Park to produce specialised people movers and easy-access vehicles seating up to seven people. The V6 engines would initially be dual-fuelled, running on biofuel and LPG, with plans to introduce electric hybrid engines in the future. ...

Southern Suburbs Minister John Hill, who is in charge of redeveloping the site, said there was a high level of interest and "lots of exciting propositions".

"I would welcome the interest from this company," he said.

Expressions of interest for the site, being collected by Mitsubishi, close today. ...

From: Secret bid to build 'green' cars at Mitsubishi plant, LAUREN NOVAK, The Advertiser, Adelaide, March 21, 2008 12:10am

According to the news report, Universal Design Company (UniCo), was formed by Chris Burrell, who previously started UniCab Australia. An ASIC search shows that "UNIVERSAL DESIGN CO. (UNICO)" is a business name registered with the Office of Fair Trading, New South Wales (no: NSW BN98311428). There does not appear to be a web site for UniCo. The web site for UniCab <http://www.unicab.com.au/> is now "parked" by Primus Telecommunications PTY LTD.

Premier of South Australia is in India, discussing business opportunities. These mostly seem to be about mines and some about defence industry. These seem more likely ways to redeploy the workforce from the closing Mitsubishi car plant.

INDIAN INDUSTRIES searching for new avenues in mining and exploration can now look forward to setting base in South Australia. The South Australian premier, Mike Rann has asked Indian businessmen to enter into joint ventures and partnerships with companies in his province in mining and exploration. He said that huge opportunities existed for mining copper, uranium, gold, zinc and zircon in South Australia. He was speaking at an interactive meeting organised by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FICCI) in New Delhi.
Speaking at the meeting, Rann also invited the Indian entrepreneurs to have tie-ups in the defence sector, which includes shipbuilding, submarine support, systems integration, electronic warfare, surveillance, research and development. ...

From: South Australia invites India for mining, defence ties, Mineguruji, MeriNews, 14 March 2008
Also a consortium of Indian universities is to establish a campus in Adelaide. It is unlikely that many ex-car plant workers will be employed there, but this might be a better prospect for the South Australian economy, than a car plant:
The Icfai University has entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the state of South Australia to set up its campus at Adelaide.

Initially, the university is planning to launch postgraduate management programmes in a leased space in Adelaide this year before setting up a full-fledged campus with other courses over a period.

The MoU was signed by the visiting South Australia premier Mike Rann and Icfai University chairman Subhash Sarnikar here on Saturday. ...

.... The students would spend a year in the Icfai campus in Adelaide and the second year at an existing university.

In the process, they get degrees or diplomas from both the universities ...

From: Icfai to set up campus in South Australia, BS Reporter, Business Standard Ltd, Hyderabad, March 17, 2008

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wireless solar powered red light cameras for railway level crossings?

Warning lights on the Level Crossing Protection System from GNS Associates Pty LtdA report by the Victorian Government's Chief Investigator, Transport and Marine Safety Investigations, on the "Level crossing collision V/Line Passenger Train 8042 and a truck near Kerang" (5 June 2007), was released 15 February 2008 . The Victorian Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky, announced 22 July 2007 than two red-light cameras would be trailed at level crossings and 200 crossings would have "rumble strips" installed. But by using advanced wireless technology and integrating the cameras into the red lights, it should be possible to get the cost of the far more effective red light cameras down to that of the rumble strips.

The two red light cameras were announced to cost $1.8 million, or $900,000 each, whereas the "rumble strips" were $11.7 million for 200, or about $59,000 each. Rumble strips are simply lumps on the road to give the driver an auditory and physical warning that they are approaching a level crossing. They do not warn of a train approaching and do not report a vehicle which fails to stop. This is far less effective than a set of lights and bells, activated by a grade crossing predictor, which warn of a train or a camera which records a vehicle illegally crossing so a fine can be issued.

The difficulty with warning lights and cameras is the high cost of installation. Power has to be supplied to the crossing for the equipment. Detectors need to be fitted to the track to signal a train approaching and wires run to the signals. Underground cabling has to be used near the road to connect the equipment. Cameras with film have to be regularly checked to have their film changed.

However, the cost of this installation could be lowered by integrating the equipment, making it solar powered and connected by wireless. Solar powered detectors could be placed by the track where required and signal to the crossing of an approaching train. Each signals could be self contained on its own pole, simply planted in the ground. The red light camera and car detectors would similarly be on the same or other poles.

The equipment could be assembled and tested in a factory, so that there would be the minimum of work needed on site. After installation of the poles, the installation staff would simply switch on the equipment. The system could then be tested by the factory technicians via the wireless link. The installation staff would then walk and drive across the crossing while the remote technicians tested operation. In this way installation for simple crossings could be reduced from days, to less than an hour, with just two on site staff.

The wireless system would regularly check that each component was functioning by exchanging test signals. Failure of a component would be signaled to a maintenance depot. Digital photos of vehicles failing to stop at the crossing would be transmitted to the appropriate authority by wireless. Vehicles stopped on the crossing would be signaled to the railway operator, to warn oncoming trains. Similarly any collision at the crossing would be signaled to the emergency services.

To remove the need for wires, short range digital wireless signals would be used for communication between the local components of the system and long range wireless to the train control network. These signals could be encrypted and use other techniques to prevent deliberate or accidental interference. The equipment would be solar powered to eliminate connection cables. To lower the power and maintenance requirements, warning lights would be LEDs.

Wireless Announcer Emergency Warning and Intercommunication alert pole mounted unit from Open AccessTo reduce installation costs, all the equipment would be installed on the poles, with no track side cabinets needed. An example of such a wireless pole mounted safety application is the Sydney CBD's Emergency Warning and Intercommunication System (EWIS), by Sydney based company Open Access.

In addition to detecting vehicle crossings against the lights, the system could also detect pedestrian and livestock crossing. While it would be infeasible to issue automatic fines to pedestrians, the system could issue an additional warning to the pedestrians via a synthetic speech or a recording: "train approaching; get off the track NOW!". They could also be used to assess where further safety measures were needed.

Components of such a system are already offered by various suppliers, such as the ELSIE Level Crossing Protection System (Type ELS-6007) from Victorian based GNS Associates Pty Ltd.

For the simplest level crossings it may be possible to install all the equipment for a warning system on just two poles: one on each side of the crossing. Detectors on each pole would sense oncoming trains, vehicles and pedestrians, signaling as appropriate.

One way to fund the development of such a system would be to discontinue the Victorian Government's Don’t risk it! marketing campaign. Issuing of an educational CD-ROM for schools and public advertising would be ineffective in improving safety at level crossings, even if it contained dramatic footage, such as the train smash video from Top Gear.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Advanced vehicle systems for developing nations

Systems such as the $US395 Ford Sync car dashboard computer show that computer technology for cars is now affordable for more than just upmarket models. Recently I was asked for some ideas for research on vehicles and IT and so suggested using in car computers to provide facilities usually requiring expensive roadside infrastructure and be used to reduce traffic congestion and fuel use, particularly in developing nations.

Theme: Advanced vehicle systems for developing nations

This research will focus on the use of current or soon to be available mass produced computer and telecommunications hardware which can cost effectively applied to vehicles by use of advanced new computer applications. The technology will be developed for and tested in Australia's remote and harsh outback conditions and then sold to existing markets in the Middle East and new markets in developing nations, such as India and China. This will address the AutoCRC's mission to deliver smarter, safer and cleaner vehicle technology for Australia's benefit.


Technology which could be applied on a small scale by one manufacturer will be emphasized, rather than systems which require widespread industry adoption or government mandate. Instead of the "trickle down" approach, where technology developed for dense US and European roads has to be modified, the technology will be developed with these conditions in mind. Australian long distance driving, and for similar conditions in the middle east, demand different features from vehicle systems. Developing nations cannot afford large scale infrastructure to support advanced vehicle systems and so a more independent approach is needed.


* CAR COMMS: Many vehicle technology applications assume that a reliable wireless communications network is available, usually provided by the cellular telephone network. However, this network is not universally available outside Australian urban centers. Also such systems are not necessarily affordable for the envisaged applications, particularly in developing nations. Mesh networks offer a low cost alternative form of communications, but a number of research questions remain before they could be considered reliable, particularly when used from moving vehicles. This research would look at software designs for WiFi and WiMax mesh networks for cars. The systems would be designed for adhoc car to car communications , as well as integration with the newly announced Australian WiMax system. The communications system would be used for entertainment, person to person communications and car navigation tasks.

* DASHBOARD INTERFACE: Many cars will have a computer screen in the car dashboard which either came with the car or was added. These systems can be used for family social use and for mobile e-commerce applications, such as taxi trucks in developing nations. However, the cost of developing an application for these systems is currently prohibitively high. This research project would look at a toolkit of application components using Web 2.0 related technology to build social and commercial applications for vehicles.

OpenMoko provides a standard open source hardware platforms for developers of in-car computers. The Reva NGX show-car model showed the use of similar technology, with an Indian made Linux touch screen computer in the dashboard.

* VEHICLE INTERFACE: Modern cars have computer controlled systems which could be used for remote monitoring and automated control. This research would look at how to provide standardized interfaces to engine management, breaking, steering and other onboard systems.


* FAMILY TRIP PLANNER: The family would use the car communications network and dashboard screen to plan trips. The screen could automatically show where the family is, from the location of their smart phones and plot this against the car location and family schedule. The system could then automatically route the driver to family events:

"... the built in phone would refuse to take any calls while your car was in motion. The automated voice response system would say on your behalf "Yes dear, I am on his way to pick up the kids, ETA is 2 minutes. I have parking slot 3 reserved in the school queuing system. Press 1 if you want me to get some milk on the way home, press 2 for bread ...".

From: Re: RUF Dual Mode transport system, Tom Worthington, Link Mailing List, Jun 7 09:39:27 EST 2006
This is the scenario I suggested AIIA CEO, Sheryle Moon's
talk on "The ICT Industry In Australia".

* SMART ROAD TOLL: The current toll roads, such as the Sydney M7 are based on expensive RFID or optical number plate recognition infrastructure. Also the toll amount is fixed, resulting in under use of the road at off peak times. Cars equipped with communcations and location systems could provide a lower cost option for tolling. The vehicle could also advise the toll road of the drivers intended route and time, to set a suitable price.

* SMART ROAD: Vehicles could cooperatively communicate the road conditions to each other and to traffic authorities. Vehicles slow or stopped in a lane could be advised to oncoming drivers and to authorities. Existing systems for this rely on expensive networks of in road sensors or cameras.

* SAFETY OF LIFE ON ROAD: SOLOR would provide a system for automatic commercial vehicle tracking for safety purposes. It would be analogous to the Automatic Identification System (AIS) used by international shipping under the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). SOLOR would monitor all commercial vehicles for public safety and conformance with cargo safety, driver fatigue and other rules. An adaption of the system would be available for use in trouble spots to monitor all commercial vehicles for detection of possible truck bombs.

* TRAVELLING WIRELESS HOTSPOT: Public vehicles, such as busses, could be equipped with mobile wireless hotspots to connect both their own passengers and surrounding cars to the Internet. This would provide a lower cost and more robust system than fixed roadside antennas.

* PIMP MY RADIO: The Pimp My Radio demonstrator vehicle would be outfitted with an advanced audio and video digital entertainment system, in the style of the MTV show Pimp My Ride. In addition to a high quality surround sound system, the vehicle would have high resolution screens and multi player online game consoles. The vehicle systems would be interfaced to form part of the game, with the vehicle and its occupants being represented by avatars in My Space and similar systems.

* CAR SHARE SYSTEM: Systems such as Australia's GoGet car share offer access to cars for those who only need them occasionally or cannot afford to won one. GoGet's current web based booking system and RFID tags could be built into the car communications system, allowing better utilization at a lower cost.

* GUIDED HIGHWAY: Light rail provides an efficient method of public transport in urban areas. However, the startup costs are high and does not suit organic growth. There have been various proposals for road vehicles adapted to guided ways, the longest such route in the world being the The longest guided busway in the world being the Adelaide O-Bahn Busway. Such systems have depended on mechanical modification of specially procured vehicles. Proposals for advanced computer controlled guided systems have not been successful. This project will research the adaption of existing vehicles, particularly hybrid cars, and hybrid light trucks and mini-busses for automated guidance. The existing onboard computer controlled systems would be modified with a minimum of additional hardware and using a wireless network for tolling, navigation and safety. The and the existing in-dash computer would be used for the driver interface. The system would be designed so provide car owners, taxi truck and mini-buss operators could drive their own cars onto the guided road.


Many of the issues with the use of vehicle mounted communications in remote areas also apply to the military. Adhoc self forming networks could be applied to the Australian Defence Force's need for communications in remote areas at short notice. In vehicle screens could be applied to situational awareness for Australian Army ASLAV and Bushmaster vehicles. This could also be used for civilian contractor vehicles used in conflict areas, where a full military communications fit out was not feasible.

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Open Source Alternative to the Ford Sync Dashboard Computer?

Ford have announced that their "Ford Sync" , dashboard system will cost $US395 as an option extra initially on late 2007 US models such as the Focus. But perhaps open source hardware can provide an alternative for a larger range of vehicles and expanded applications, paritularaly for developing nations.

The Ford Sync uses Microsoft software and is intended as a low cost version of the dashboard screens for audio, video, SMS text messages, telephone and computer access (flash overview available). The system keeps costs down by interfacing via Bluetooth or USB to external music players and phones. Voice recognition or steering wheel buttons are proposed.

The Projects such as OpenMoko provide standard open source hardware platforms for developers of in-car computers. The Reva NGX show-car model has an Indian made Linux touch screen computer in the dashboard. This goes beyond what is proposed for Ford Sync, by providing the car speedometer, as well as communications and entertainment. An alternative would be a removable or portable computer, connected to the car's audio system, but with no inbuilt screen.

Dashboard screens have previously been associated with upmarket models of vehicles. As these become more common it opens up the possibility of new vehicle applications. These could be used to provide facilities usually requiring expensive roadside infrastructure and be used to reduce traffic congestion and fuel use, particularly in developing nations. Recently I was asked for some ideas for research on vehicles and IT and these may be applicable.

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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 News.com, 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, November 17, 2006

In-dash Car Navigation Systems

Pioneer AVIC-D2 In-dash GPS
A few weeks ago I wrote in "Navigating Car Navigation Systems" about GPS units designed to stick to the windscreen. An alternative is an in-dash GPS navigation system.

The in-dash units come in two sizes: "single DIN" and "double DIN" unit. The standard size hole in the dashboard a car radio fit into is called "DIN". This allows for a wide screen display of about 4 inches. A "double DIN", "double height" or "double sized" unit is the size of two car radios stacked on top of each other. This allows for a wide screen of about 6.5 inches with some controls on either side.

Many modern cars have provision for a double DIN unit. On the base model car there will be a radio in one DIN slot and usually an ashtray or cup holder taking up the unused DIN slot. You can remove the radio and ashtray and replace it with a double DIN unit which will look like it was always meant to be there.

Delphi TNR800As the GPS unit will be usually replacing the car radio, most DIN units come with an AM/FM radio. The larger double DIN units come with a CD and/or DVD player. Some units can also be attached to a reversing camera. These units need to be installed by an expert as they need an external GPS antenna connected as well as all the power and speaker cables.

For someone really wanting to go hitech, there as in-dash computers designed to fit in the DIN slot, along with screens.

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