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The Build: Explorer Carputer Version 1

JRLCrist

Active Member
Joined
February 25, 2007
Messages
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City, State
Stewartstown, PA
Year, Model & Trim Level
'93 X EB & '00 Olds Alero
Okay, so some of you have seen me around on here from time to time learning as much as I can and trying to help others using what y'all have taught me :) Y'all have been here since I bought my first 93 Eddie about 4 months ago and the information you've provided has been invaluable in my endevor to fix it up.

Well, now it's time for me to give back in the area that I do best in: Computers. I'm no motor head, but being a computer tech for 7 years running, I'm well versed in this arena. Hopefully you guys can benefit from my project.

The Build: A fully-loaded entertainment, tactical, communication, and diagnostic computer platform designed specifically for our Explorers.

What this system WILL do (not a complete list, feel free to add things :D):

Entertainment -
- Play music via CD/MP3 or off it's internal harddrive (you can transfer files to your truck wireless through 802.11 or Bluetooth)
- Play movies via DVD or off it's internal harddrive
- Stream video over the internet such as news and podcasts

Tactical -
- Full GPS with traffic detection and re-routing (GPS system that will detect if you're route leads you into a high-traffic area and reroute you if necessary)
- Rear-mounted camera
- Vehicle positioning and distance measuring sensor array (just simple and cool to implement)
- Vehicle tracking

Communication -
- Full VoIP for phone calls while on the road
- Vehicle-to-Vehicle Voice and Video communication
- Vehicle-to-Vehicle GPS and Vehicle Telemetry Sharing (useful in a convoy situation)
- Onboard Email (why not, simple enough)

Diagnostics:
- OBD-I/II code reading
- Internal sensor information (this is where you guys will be most useful :D)
- On-Demand Tuning


The idea behind all the work I'm doing on my Explorer is to bring my 1st gen up to date. I want the body to reflect a new and agressive look, not the old "I've been through two tours of Vietnam" look it has now. I want the interior to feel more comfortable and more modern. I want it to perform on par or beyond the current gen Explorers, and even give those damn imports a run for their money.

So far AAMCO rebuilt my transmission (which was a **** job, mind you. Worst $2.5k I ever spent and I'll be rebuilding it myself soon. Thanks Glacier :D), and the engine is in need of some serious work very shortly (will be using Creagers thread, thanks man :D). Everything else is just in need of some basic elbow grease I think (again, not a motor head).

This carputer is just my next step in my endevor and will hopefully give back to a community that gave to me :D



THE RULES OF THE BUILD:
- This project cannot consume any major amount of money
(I'm just a teenager after all)

- When finished, this project must look stock and finished

- This carputer must be transferable to any generation of Explorer and, for that matter, any vehicle. It must be modular enough to allow the user to choose what he/she wants and doesn't.


In the next few moments I'll be posting my first documented post about the progress on the project :D I need to take some pictures first. Hope you guys enjoy!

- LJ
 



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I moved the thread since the goal contains communication/navigation and even possibly audio (mp3).

~Mark
 






I'm actually working on a part list and trying to figure the best way to make mp3's play off a spare HD i have layin around. I was thinking about getting a touch screen and putting a mini computer in the car, loaded with mac OS X or Windows XP. This is something i will keep an eye on, hopefully I can pick up a thing or two. I've also been workin with PC's for about 7 years now too lol.
 






chetzar, Sweet deal :) Maybe this will help you out

So I'm back and I have pictures. To start out, I'm going to talk about the hardware I'm using, present and future. I'm also going to delve into a little bit of history, since I've been working on this project for a little while alongside my collegue JeS (not a member of this forum... yet ;))

For starters, I'm going to be building this from the ground up, i.e, not using a laptop that would pretty much have everything I need already. That wouldn't be fun, nor upgradable. I'm using the Shuttle FS51 ITX motherboard paired with an Intel P4 @ 2GHz and 512MB of RAM (DDR200 for documentation purposes). I have a mystery 80GB harddrive that I'm using that USE to be used for storage on my desktop. I say mystery because it doesn't have any labels on it. I'm guessing it use to have one of those rubber sleeves that Gateway and whatnot use to use on their harddrives, and that sleeve was just removed at some point.

08-03-07_1742.jpg

Shuttle FS51 ITX Motherboard

08-03-07_1743.jpg

Our mystery 80GB harddrive. You can also see the scrap DVD drive and floppy drive with it.

All of this is being powered by an el'cheapo 250W Bestec powersupply from a scrap computer I had laying around.

08-03-07_1744.jpg


I already have a slim DVD drive I'll be using when I install this sucker. I'm waiting for a connector to hook it up via IDE found here.

08-03-07_1745.jpg


Toward the end of the project, I'm hoping to have made the following changes to the setup

- Using the slim DVD drive instead of that bulky thing, but if I can find a slot-load drive for cheap or free, I'll use that :D
- Using a laptop harddrive encased in an ejectable cartridge ((Wonderful product from ICY DOCK). This'll make it easy to have a backup OS if one crashes for whatever reason, not to mention I like the modularity of it.

And so far, that's really it. Now onto software.

There are three main choices in OS: Linux, Windows, and Mac OS X.

Windows has the biggest software base and would be the obvious choice for this application. With a full array of multimedia software and GPS software, Windows XP is what most of you will likely go with, and with good reason. ALSO, it has the all-in-one software title known as StreetDeck, which contains multimedia and GPS capabilities all in one, as well as many other functions and is natively built for touchscreens. Check out their website for more info.

As a lightweight Mac OS X user, I can't really see any benefit to using it in this application. I'm not versed enough in what it can do and how it could be better or worse, so please, flame the hell out of me so I get it.

Linux is the OS I'm choosing to use, specifically Gentoo Linux. I'm using it for it's configurability and lightweight-ness. After all is said and done, it can boot up in mere seconds and, as per the rules of this project, allows me to make everything look stock, from the boot splash all the way down to the applications.

In the next post, I'll be going on about what specific software titles I'll be using, the reasons for using them, as well as giving you insite to JeS' build and what hardware and software he chose to go with. Who knows, maybe I can convince him to register here and post :D
 






If making it look stock for booting and you dont want the XP logo, you can surley get a bootskin with a ford logo, that way if you wanted you could use XP. I'd choose OS X if it wasnt so hard to build a mac, maybe buy a mac mini? hrm. Also, any thoughts on a screen yet? For a screen the smallest i can find is 7":
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16882751005
and that might be too big. Perhaps I am hearing DVD reciver to replace my ash tray?
 






That one isn't bad, but in this type of project I would personally want to get a touchscreen monitor such as this one. It's relatively cheap and I've heard a lot of good things about it.

Then comes the question, though, of whether it's something I'll end up using in this build. One of the rules is not to spend a lot of money, and JeS is doing just that by using a trackball mouse and a backlit keyboard. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get there :)

You're absolutely right about XP and skinning it to look stock, but my only problem is it's boot time. It can take anywhere from a minute to a minute and a half to boot, and for me, that's too long :) I want it up in 30 seconds or less and ready to navigate for me. Now, there is a mod that I've tried on XP that brought the boot time down to about 7 seconds. Basically it's called the Minlogon mod and it involves replacing the Winlogon program in XP with the minimal login program found in Windows Embedded which has less dependancies and thus creates a smaller footprint. The only problem with this mod is it's less secure and networking tends to inconsistantly not work.

I also considered skinning it and then using Litestep to remove the task bar and give me more configurability, but then comes the fact that it'll still boot a lot slower than the tuned Linux install. However, the ease of setup with XP and the use of StreetDeck is really enticing and I will definitely be covering both the linux install and the XP install. Maybe by doing that I can see which one works better for what I'm doing and let the rest of you decide :D The whole time, though, I am keeping in mind that most of you will probably want to stick with Windows.

As far as the mac goes, it does look visually appealing and I'd love to see it done, but you're right, it's hard to build a stable mac and even if I did do it I wouldn't know where to go from there.
 






Hey, JRLCrist... I'm in a somewhat similar position as you, it would seem: more of a techie then a wrench.

I keep jumping between doing a carputer install with all of it's difficulties (getting power to everything, getting the computer to work with the stock sound system, etc... while making it look OEM-ish) and just getting an in-dash CD/DVD player and adding a nav unit to it, which is as expensive and less useful (was looking at the Alpine IVA-W2000).

So far, you seem to be off to a great start -- hardware all seems great... I would never have thought of that particular mobo/proc combo. How do you plan to enclose your system, though, since i didn't see any mention of a case?


I see where you're going with the Windows vs. Linux thing, but I would think that you're going to have a lot of problems with finding good compatible software if you take the Linux route. Using hibernate with XP won't look as OEM, but you'll get the box up within a few seconds with only a half-gig of memory to restore... this would also avoid the problems inherent with minilogon. If you did need to actually reboot because something was acting flaky, you could always just do it when nobody else was looking. ;)

How do you plan to integrate the slim optical drive... just pull the mounting from an inop laptop, cut a hole in the dash, and mount it there?
 












That's actually a good question. I found a place that sells 50-pin to 40-pin IDE converters that'll allow me to use the slim CD drive. Linux will be the more challenging route, but I'm feeling like I can make things look more stock as I go. Hopefully soon I can post about the software side of things.

What I'm planning on doing is removing my sub in the back and mounting the motherboard and power supply there. The sub's screen should give me some half-decent ventilation. Everything's going to be running off an inverter that I'll mount somewhere. Those details I don't have quite yet, but I'm taking measurements in the truck today to see where I can mount everything.

If you have any suggestions and photos, by all means post em! This is an excellent group project.
 






That's actually a good question. I found a place that sells 50-pin to 40-pin IDE converters that'll allow me to use the slim CD drive. [...] What I'm planning on doing is removing my sub in the back and mounting the motherboard and power supply there.


So do you plan to not use the drive from the driver's seat? Or are you going to get an IDE-to-USB board and run a USB cable back to the box? IDE's got an 18-inch maximum cable length, so you'd need to use USB instead (that'll give you 6 feet, and you can get a repeater if you need more then that).

What's the power requirement like for that system? I'd guess about 120-150W, considering the moderately low-powered hardware.

Speaking of power, how do you plan to turn the system on and off? Are you just going to use the startup/shutdown controller that mp3car has and tie that into acc/run power? When I was thinking about mine, I was going to do that, but put a DPST (one for the comp, one for the screen) switch before the controller, so that it would work similar to the OEM radio, where you both have to manually turn it on, but it only works when the truck's in ACC or run so it doesn't run down the battery if you're forgetful.
 






Battery backup systems for desktop computers have an auto shut down utility which shuts down the computer after the main power fails. I have a Belkin system which connect to a serial port (newer versions connect to the USB port). A voice comes on over the speakers to say that the main power failed, and a shut down is in progress. It starts counting until you manually shut it down, or restore the main power.
 






Battery backup systems for desktop computers have an auto shut down utility which shuts down the computer after the main power fails. I have a Belkin system which connect to a serial port (newer versions connect to the USB port). A voice comes on over the speakers to say that the main power failed, and a shut down is in progress. It starts counting until you manually shut it down, or restore the main power.

The thing with battery backups is this: they're bulky, making one more thing to try to hide in the truck; they draw quite a bit of power themselves, meaning that you need a larger inverter; they also produce more heat. If this weren't a carputer install, I'd be all for this, but to stick it into a truck, it makes it a bit more difficult.
 






So do you plan to not use the drive from the driver's seat? Or are you going to get an IDE-to-USB board and run a USB cable back to the box? IDE's got an 18-inch maximum cable length, so you'd need to use USB instead (that'll give you 6 feet, and you can get a repeater if you need more then that).

What's the power requirement like for that system? I'd guess about 120-150W, considering the moderately low-powered hardware.

Speaking of power, how do you plan to turn the system on and off? Are you just going to use the startup/shutdown controller that mp3car has and tie that into acc/run power? When I was thinking about mine, I was going to do that, but put a DPST (one for the comp, one for the screen) switch before the controller, so that it would work similar to the OEM radio, where you both have to manually turn it on, but it only works when the truck's in ACC or run so it doesn't run down the battery if you're forgetful.

You can use a relay and feed it directly from the battery. That way your not stealing power from anything. So when the car is off everything else turns off.
 






I use a Laptop w/ GPS and a Sprint Broadband Cell Card w/ a 7" touchpanel on dash!

Hi, Yall

I am also interested in a CARPUTER. I use my work laptop with Delorme Street Atlas 2008 and a USB GPS Receiver. I also have a Sprint Mobile Broadband Cellular card and a 7" touchscreen on the dash.

I had to add a 4 port usb hub to simplify the connection process. I then run the audio of the computer out to the Aux input on my head unit.

The system allows me to access VOIP, Internet streams, XM radio as well as my Digital music, Cable and Directv TIVO, and home Video Cameras Thru SLINGBOX via the cell modem. :D

I got the 7" Touchscreen with RGB and 2 video inputs on Craigslist for $150 the rest of the stuff I already had. I feel I have most of what is mentioned if not more. Other than the Diagnostics and Tuning hardware and software.

ORIGINAL POST"
What this system WILL do (not a complete list, feel free to add things ):

Entertainment -
- Play music via CD/MP3 or off it's internal harddrive (you can transfer files to your truck wireless through 802.11 or Bluetooth)
- Play movies via DVD or off it's internal harddrive
- Stream video over the internet such as news and podcasts

Tactical -
- Full GPS with traffic detection and re-routing (GPS system that will detect if you're route leads you into a high-traffic area and reroute you if necessary)
- Rear-mounted camera
- Vehicle positioning and distance measuring sensor array (just simple and cool to implement)
- Vehicle tracking

Communication -
- Full VoIP for phone calls while on the road
- Vehicle-to-Vehicle Voice and Video communication
- Vehicle-to-Vehicle GPS and Vehicle Telemetry Sharing (useful in a convoy situation)
- Onboard Email (why not, simple enough)

Diagnostics:
- OBD-I/II code reading
- Internal sensor information (this is where you guys will be most useful )
- On-Demand Tuning"


G2G, I'll finish my post later!

:salute:
 






Hack a battery backup system. Remove the internal battery pack, and connect the vehicle's battery instead. When you turn off the ignition, the system will work off of the vehicle's battery. The backup system is used only for providing the necessary electronics in this case.
 






Your going to generate lots of heat with all this 12v to 120 (inverter) then your backup will itself be converting 120 to 12v while feeding 120 through. Your looking at lots of unnecessary heat.

Thats if you were planning to do it in that way.
 






You can use a relay and feed it directly from the battery. That way your not stealing power from anything. So when the car is off everything else turns off.

That would be one way, but a relay alone doesn't gracefully shut down the carputer without doing it manually (obviously, you don't want that just like you wouldn't turn off your computer by yanking the plug out of the wall). What I had planned to do was something like this:

The carputer would be fed directly from the battery (not switched power). I'd pick up acc/run switched power somewhere near the dash where the switch would go, and run that into the switch, and come out of the switch to go to a startup/shutdown controller. So, when the truck is started, the carputer wouldn't come on unless the switch is flipped. As long as both are met, the carputer would stay on. If one is no longer met, the controller sends a shutdown command to the carputer, and starts the regular shutdown procedure.

It's a bit of an odd setup, but it both protects the computer and car's battery, and makes it act somewhat OEM so that the carputer doesn't come on as soon as the truck is started.

----------

Hack a battery backup system. Remove the internal battery pack, and connect the vehicle's battery instead. When you turn off the ignition, the system will work off of the vehicle's battery. The backup system is used only for providing the necessary electronics in this case.

This scares me. A lot. I've seen battery backups start to fail, and they let their battery run down to nothing even if they're set up to shutdown the computer and turn themselves off after a period of time. I wouldn't want to take that chance with my truck's battery.
 






I'm driving in the car as I post this! :) My Vision for Carputer.

Carputers can be done with off the shelf, exsisting technology.

With an old or new laptop with a cellular modem and a Touchscreen display you can build a very powerful GPS/ Entertainment system. The laptop allows you to:

Surf the internet including "explorer forum" while riding in the car. Including posting this.

Play: CDs, DVDs, MP3s, Internet streams both Audio and Video(Depending on modem speed), Games and any other program that you have.

Watch Live or Recorded TV through "Slingbox" anywhere in the world. Slingbox hooks up to your cable system, DSS Receiver, DVD changer at home and streams the Audio/Video via your home network.


http://us.slingmedia.com/page/slingboxpro.html

The Slingbox PRO is the perfect companion for your home theater. The Slingbox PRO allows you to watch and control up to three standard definition and one high definition video devices anywhere you go. Using an Internet connected computer or mobile device, you can watch and control your home TV, DVR, basic cable, digital cable box, or satellite receiver around town or around the globe. With a Slingbox PRO you will never be separated from your favorite TV shows, sports broadcasts, breaking news stories, digital video recordings, or video on demand.

ALL-ACCESS PASS (WITH NO MONTHLY FEES)

The Slingbox PRO not only allows you to watch your home television virtually anywhere, but it also allows you to watch any cable subscriptions, special programming, or sports packages you may have – with no monthly fees. If its on your home TV, its on your computer and phone.

YOU'RE IN FULL CONTROL

With the Slingbox PRO you have just as much control over your special programming and component devices (such as TiVo and On Demand) as you do at home. You have the ability to fast-forward, rewind, pause, and everything else under the sun.

ULTIMATE CONNECTIVITY

Connect and control up to four A/V sources. This means you can access your entire home theater, including digital cable, DVD players, TiVo, or any other new-fangled contraption you may have.

HD READY

The Slingbox PRO is HD Component video compatible (up to 1080i) when used with the optional Slingbox HD Connect Cable. The Slingbox and SlingStream technology adapts the compressed video stream to match the available network and Internet bandwidth. This provides the best possible video quality between the Slingbox and the SlingPlayer application, whether running on a computer or mobile phone.

Ok I better drive now. g2g :( I'll finish my vision later. :D

:burnout:
 






It would seem to that the easiest way to accomplish this mod would be using a tablet PC.

They already have a touch screen, slim drives, low power consumption, and DC power supplies. I would remove the case and screen, and mount the motherboard in the console. My 97 has rear AC which is ducted under the console, so I would build a custom duct which taps into this duct, and cools the processor, then vents out the side of the console, under the passenger seat. A small manual damper could be installed to shut off this duct when using the heater.

The Tablet screen would probably be a little large (unless you can find a smaller one). So it would probably require some custom cabling to hook up a different touch screen.

Most tablet PC's I've seen have an onscreen keyboard application, so a keyboard and mouse wouldn't be needed.
 



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It would seem to that the easiest way to accomplish this mod would be using a tablet PC.

They already have a touch screen, slim drives, low power consumption, and DC power supplies. I would remove the case and screen, and mount the motherboard in the console. My 97 has rear AC which is ducted under the console, so I would build a custom duct which taps into this duct, and cools the processor, then vents out the side of the console, under the passenger seat. A small manual damper could be installed to shut off this duct when using the heater.

The Tablet screen would probably be a little large (unless you can find a smaller one). So it would probably require some custom cabling to hook up a different touch screen.

Most tablet PC's I've seen have an onscreen keyboard application, so a keyboard and mouse wouldn't be needed.

It's a bit more complicated then that.

The biggest problem is that the standard tablet screen is not a standard touch screen -- you need an electronic pen to activate the screen. So, yes, you would need a different display to use it with your finger, which defeats the point of using a tablet in the first place.

You don't need a computer running XP Tablet PC to get an on-screen keyboard, either -- the only thing that the Tablet Input Panel does special is handwriting recognition.For a small-footprint setup, any version of XP would work, using the handicap-accessible on-screen keyboard that's automatically installed with the Accessibility options. Various Linux window managers also have their own on-screen keyboard. If you plan to go all out with cutting-edge hardware, Vista automatically installs the tablet PC features on Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, or Ultimate, even if the system is not a tablet PC, leaving out only the handwriting recognition feature.

As far as the screen goes, there isn't much to it -- Liliput makes a 7" screen that fits into a double-DIN opening, which uses a DB-15 cable for video, and passes screen presses to the computer via USB. Just install a set of drivers, and it works.
 






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