Jun 20, 2014

It's a computer... in a car

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Because my '05 Hyundai Accent has died, this is no longer a maintained project. This project page is only hosted for historical purposes.

CarPuter is a project to take my base-model car and add features I want to it. I'll be adding:

  • Power windows. Installed!
  • Power locks. Installed!
  • Keyless entry. Installed!
  • A powered subwoofer in the back. Installed!
  • An OBD-II connection to display real-time car engine information. Installed!
  • LED interior lighting. Partially installed!
  • A tablet-based center console that allows interaction with all of the added features.
  • Spare, high-amperage USB ports for rapid charging. Installed!
  • Likely much more, over time...

This project grew out of a fascination with the low level of technology in cars. We've finally hit a point where cars have advanced computers, but it's still a significant luxury, even though the cost of the actual devices is rapidly declining. A good example of a modern, fully integrated system is the Tesla Model S' 17" touchscreen. They integrate all of the systems of the car into a massive tablet, essentially. There are talks, as of right now, of adding an Android emulator to the system, so it can run Android apps. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

My goal is to build something similar to that. Certainly not quite on that level of awesome, but I guess we'll see how it ends up.

The original plan was to use my old Dell Mini 9 netbook to act as the central system. I started planning out and even building some software for the netbook, but ended up frustrated with the speed of the machine and the lack of good Windows GPS tools. I may, however, end up back on a Windows- or Linux-based laptop as the central machine of the system, depending on how everything works out.

I plan to use an Android tablet as the new center of the system. For now, I'll be using Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, but I plan to buy a smaller, cheaper tablet to fully install into the car's dash. The tablet will interact with the other systems through a homemade Android app and the IOIO development board. The IO pins will connect to the new electric windows and locks, and possibly, control the basic climate control system, replacing the old manual system.


Some of the parts that have been ordered:

  • ODB-II Reader. Partly chosen for the power button.
  • LED panels. These will replace the dome light and the trunk light. Installed!
  • Universal power window and lock kit. Installed!
  • Stereo wiring harness for wiring up the new stereo. Installed!
  • Autel scan tool. I had an airbag warning light on, and you need a special tool or to go to the dealership to have them reset it. I figured it was worth it, so I bought it. UPDATE: The tool successfully connected to the airbag system and reset the code, after replacing a fuse.
  • IOIO-OTG development board. Also available on SparkFun, I got a IOIO-OTG to let me bring together various electrical systems in the car. The tablet will interact with the IOIO (USB or Bluetooth), and the IOIO can be connected to my locks, lights, and (maybe) windows.
  • 5 volt, 25 watt regulator. This is for the added USB ports and for the installed tablet. I chose to go with 25 watts because that give me 5 amps to play with, allowing the tablet to take a full 2.1 amps with a lot of leftover.
  • A spool of RGB LEDs. I bought these a few years ago, so this is not exactly the spool I would recommend for this project. These are being cut apart and repurposed as some of the interior lighting.

The code for one aspect of the project is available on GitHub.

Any questions can be directed at