Although I have integrated my Zune into my Mustang it’s not a very sophisticated solution – it’s still based around the original factory stereo and the only GPS is when I borrow it from the other car and try and balance it on the dashboard!
I had looked around to try and find a good entertainment, navigation and general auto optimized solution but while there are some solutions based around either entertainment or navigation or PC-centric car PCs with interfaces from companies like Centrafuse that require a fair amount of customization and don’t have good navigation solutions.
What I want though is something that combines the best of those worlds on a flexible enough platform. To do that I imagine it would need to be based on a Windows Embedded platform – companies such as PortalMedia supply fairly nice Windows machines that fit into a cars Dual DIN socket which gives the full flexibility of running XP (or presumably Win7) which would make development easier, but I wonder if a lighter-weight OS such as the specific Embedded version (Standard or Professional) or some other lightweight real-time OS might not be a more appropriate platform. At the end of the day as long as it’s reliable and performs well I should never have to see it.
So what do I think is the minimum that a system like this needs to provide to be worthwhile (and while I’d like to see it available as an affordable aftermarket install option there’s no reason it couldn’t be a standard offering as well)
- At the very least it should have hard drive storage and the ability to play back locally stored music with the ability to load content from a USB device (Flashdrive, iPod, Zune etc) or an inserted CD (though if supporting a CD makes the hardware more complex I can live without that)
- FM/AM radio and ideally HD radio and XM/Sirius support. Unlike some of the existing CarPC solutions this needs to be fully integrated into the front-end and treated no differently that other audio sources
- Over the air streaming of services such as Pandora or Last.FM (perhaps via something like the SqueezeNetwork) though the ability to pre-cache locally would be good (though possibly more difficult). Streaming music from a home server would also be a great feature as well as the ability to sync new music, playlists and listening data via something like Live Mesh would be a great capability
- Support for video playback should be restricted to rear screens only while in motion, if video or digital TV signals are displayed on the front screen it should only be when the vehicle is parked.
- Use of multiple screens, wireless headsets etc would offer the ability to entertain the kids with a movie in the back while the driver listens to music of their choice. Options like this would create scope for premium units or upgrade options.
- Most modern vehicles support either ODB-II or CAN-Bus for logging anything the engine management controls and can be used to record fuel levels and consumption, braking or acceleration, what gear was selected, temperature of oil and water etc. The system should be able to integrate this data and display additional information and alert the driver to sub-optimal conditions.
- In addition to ODB-II and CAN-Bus many vehicles support Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS). Sometimes the display can be a simple warning light on the dashboard if one of the tires is below pressure but more sophisticated systems can display pressure and temperature of each tire (as well as the spare) and alert the driver to low/high pressure or temperature warnings to help keep them safe.
- The system could be used to monitor service intervals as well as track when the vehicle is re-fueled (prompting the driver to enter cost etc to keep a log book). Similar to the way music is synchronized this data could be shared with your mechanic or a fuel price monitoring site to alert other motorists to good deals (coupled with the navigation system it could even track price trends for specific garages)
- Similar to any other GPS device the built in navigation capabilities would be pre-loaded with basic maps and offer route selection at least on par with some of the best systems available (optimize for distance or time, show junctions in plenty of time to make sure you are in the right lane etc) but by being integrated into the vehicle the scope can be expanded.
- Places of Interest (POI) data and map updates, as well as current traffic conditions could be downloaded in real time – so traffic jams, road-works or even speed cops are made available instantly. Similar to how Dash works route and speed information could be shared with a centralized service to help optimize that real-time traffic data.
- Integration with the automotive data and live fuel costs would allow the navigation system to determine the optimum fuel stops for a journey and direct the driver accordingly.
- The integrated nature of the system would allow the navigation system to automatically mute/pause the entertainment when it needed to make an announcement.
- The navigation system can be used to alert the owner if the car is driven outside a pre-determined area (similar to LoJack or for ring-fencing someone who is borrowing the car) or simply to broadcast location for social networking purposes.
- Using wireless connectivity routes can be planned on a PC and sent to the car, or a trip can be recorded and sent back to an online account for later review or sharing.
- All user interface should have optional speech control for hands and eyes-free use.
- Bluetooth connection to users phone for data and hands-free operation.
- Ambient sound level detection allows system volume to be automatically adjusted.
- WiFi support for when in the range of a hotspot. Use something like DeviceScape to automate connection and log-in.
- Simple integration of back-up cameras, parking proximity sensors or blind-spot warning devices help make the driver and those around them safer.
- In-build amplifier and “plug and play” installation into existing car wiring loom
- Some owners demand more from their car and take them to race days or join road rallies. By extending the navigation and engine management logging and supporting synchronized recording of other data a complete experience using additional inputs (accelerometers, cameras, microphones, compass, high sensitivity GPS array etc) could be recorded and played back or shared.
- As the system is connected to the engine management it could be used (under carefully controlled situations) to re-flash the engine management system to cater for specific conditions (eg during the week I want a regular octane, economy tune but for a track day I want a high octane, high performance tune) or hardware changes (for instance if I change the gear ratios or add a different air induction system then the tune will probably need to be adjusted accordingly)
I guess it’s quite a lot to expect in a single unit, especially with a really simple user interface that it no more distracting than a more traditional GPS or car audio system when you’re travelling at highway speeds, but there’s no technical reason that a platform like this can’t exist today … if there’s anyone out there building one I have an 07 Mustang that I’m more than happy to try integrating it into :)