“Carputers” Becoming Options On The Open Market

If your fingers itch for a touch screen even during the morning commute, there may be a solution — particularly when you’re carpooling in the passenger seat and have a minute to play. Vehicles are now being released with “carputers” or “carPCs” as an option, not just as a retrofit. A familiar type of “carPC” to most folks is a Global Positioning System (GPS). According to an online encyclopedia, a GPS device is much like a limited laptop running GPS software.

Basic Specs and Tech:

“Carputer” machines consist of a motherboard, processor and memory and data storage method, such as a hard drive or solid state flash memory. Interface hardware depends on non-distracting options to interact with the “carPC,” such as wireless protocols, which are commonly used to connect to GPS devices and mobile phones. Wirelessly connecting and transferring data to and from home computers is also possible.

A well-executed interface is paramount to the machine’s success, and its software runs the computer’s hardware. Good programming allows drivers to use their favorite piece of technology without being distracted. Common operating systems are available and nearly all are customizable.

Making sure “carPCs” keep their juices flowing is a slightly more complicated matter than it is for the average desktop or laptop. The danger lies in the sudden power drain to certain systems that occurs upon start-up or, of course, when the ignition is cut. To suddenly seize a computer’s supply, however, is risky; software can malfunction and data can be lost. To safeguard against this, a DC-DC power supply is often used, which provides a continuous, 12V power stream to the “carputer.” A DC-AC inverter can also be installed, but it tends to use more energy and produce more wasted heat. The right hardware and software combination allows the computer to sense when the main power source has been cut and use what’s left to safely shut down the machine.

Experiments have found that Internet users experience marked levels of frustration when a Web site takes thirty or more seconds to load. Bearing this in mind, imagine how quickly “carputer” popularity would decline without the relay circuits enabling the machine’s devices to start automatically. Without properly relaying circuits, devices such as amplifiers and screens would have to be started manually — something a portion of the general public doesn’t even know how to do anymore.

Before 2000, LCD character displays were the screen of choice for “carPC” builders. Commands were usually sent to the machine through a keyboard with this system. Soon, wireless serial port remotes were made possible, and small television screens became affordable. The majority of first screens were video input only. For over a grand a pop, though, these were hard to justify. Rapidly advancing technology and production increases have recently made touch screens available and affordable.

Lest one thinks these little “carputers” are all business, entertainment features have been added. “CarPCs” now bring nearly all the entertainment comforts of home onto that cross-country trek. Passengers feel like watching a movie? No problem. Playing a video game? Hook ‘er up. Download favorite music, tune in to satellite radio and map the next trip to Europe on advanced GPS software. It’s all there. No more “Maaa-om. Are we there yet?” “Pop in a movie,” says Maaa-om. Or, “do your homework,” which she downloaded from a desktop at home. At last — technology not only brings hope for peace and quiet but also a way to make sure no one gets too lost along the way.

The possibilities are nearly endless. After all, automobiles have already been introduced to the world of high technology. Consider infrared cameras, a variety of hands-free applications, cargo detectors, lane departure and side (blind spot) warning software — these technological offerings are all not only possible but are already being incorporated. Imagine the capabilities modern computers possess. Now imagine that in your car.

Mike Trudel, Freelance Writer.

Delphi Corp. is poised to apply its expertise and know-how to provide vehicle manufacturers and consumers with in-vehicle connectivity. To learn more about Delphi Corp., please visit www.Delphi.com/4Innovation or www.Delphi.com/4Connected.

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