Hotwiring a destiny of in-car tech with a smartphone and Raspberry Pi


Most stream in-car infotainment and “telematics” systems follow a common thesis in their design. For a consequence of safety, branding, and a postulated source of revenue, they encircle automobile owners to an integrated complement that does feeble a things that smartphones already do well. The “connected car” dream has arrived in tiny doses on comparison vehicles, and it has idiosyncrasies that expostulate automobile owners who’ve turn used to a energy and morality of smartphone apps a small bit crazy.

OK, a lot crazy. A few months back, we ranted about my personal knowledge with MyFord Touch and a shortcomings of in-car technology. It seemed like a automobile makers were blank a indicate with systems that attempted to duplicate smartphone facilities and to get developers to formula for their possess exclusive platforms. While a new ascent to MyFord Touch (that we had commissioned during a dealership) has solved many of a problems that gathering me to distraction, it’s still a locked-down sourroundings that gets in my proceed some-more mostly than it does what we want.

When Michael O’Shea, a CEO of Abalta Technologies, told me his association was operative on a complement called Weblink that draws on a capabilities of a dungeon phone to expostulate in-car systems, we wanted to see it immediately. He gave Ars entrance to a prerelease iOS focus and sent antecedent hardware to exam it with: it’s a sincerely customary 7-inch VGA touchscreen tethered to a Raspberry Pi computer.

I plugged a Raspberry Pi into a DC adapter in my automobile and booted it up. Seeing a Linux startup console on my dash, we started to slobber during a potential. Even after a exam was done, we was still branch over a ramifications of a complement in my head. While there are clearly a few bugs to be worked out, there is also so most potential. This guarantee lies not usually in Weblink or in harnessing smartphone record and economics, yet in destiny applications of cheap, modular, wirelessly networked computing energy in a vehicle.

The Web on your dashboard


The Weblink “app” for iOS and Android is radically an focus server for a customer module that runs on a Raspberry Pi (and will run on embedded computing systems on “head units” from manufacturers that permit a Weblink technology). What shows adult on a shade is an HTML5 interface to a Weblink server app itself as good as other applications on a smartphone that it interacts with.

The Weblink server app can be connected to a customer in a series of ways. Two of those approaches use Wi-Fi—either a peer-to-peer connection, regulating a immobile IP residence environment for a smartphone, or over an existent common Wi-Fi network. The second proceed works best if you’ve got your phone enabled as a Wi-Fi hotspot or your automobile has some other in-car Wi-Fi hotspot. There’s also a choice of tethering a phone to a customer over USB. O’Shea pronounced that Bluetooth connectors will also be permitted in finished Weblink units.

Once we got things connected, we took some of a HTML5 applications already configured in a Weblink menu for a exam drive. Some of a applications were quite demos, yet a immeasurable infancy of a apps were entirely functional. Media applications on Weblink—such as Slacker Auto, 8Track, and NPR’s Web radio player—worked exquisitely on a prototype.


That’s mostly since applications that have been grown in HTML5 need small if any alteration to run on Weblink, O’Shea said. The Slacker Auto app that was enclosed on a Weblink demo, for example, is radically a same focus that runs on a Chevy MyLink system. So if you’ve already grown an HTML5 focus for iOS and Android inclination that accesses plcae data, a same formula can be run within Weblink’s sandbox with minimal modification.

It’s also probable to emanate hooks that daub into local applications on a phone. One instance of that is a demo mapping module from TeleCommunications Systems, that uses a “helper” app on a smartphone to control a perspective of a map so that a smartphone’s shade can be used as a arrange of touchpad to vessel a map on a dashboard screen.

By default, audio from Weblink apps we tested played from a iPhone itself, yet Weblink can be configured to “stream” a audio to a customer over a USB or network connection. In a blurb units, there will be support for Bluetooth “streaming” of audio. But we was means to switch audio to a MyFord Touch/Sync complement as good as to a Bose unstable Bluetooth orator by my iPhone’s possess settings as a workaround.

Since a Raspberry Pi setup of Weblink was, as O’Shea put it, “a elementary analysis kit” that was one of a dozen or so configured to uncover a record to intensity partners, it wasn’t set adult as a full proof of a height and lacked call-handling facilities and a like. There are positively some hurdles acted for Abalta’s developers by a inlet of iOS itself—particularly for cases when a phone is connected to a customer over Wi-Fi.

For example, when a phone call comes in, iOS army applications to suspend, that terminates a network tie between a smartphone app and a client. The same thing happens with popup notifications. In both cases, Weblink has to reinstate a Wi-Fi tie once a warning or call has been cleared. Alternatively, conjunction of these is an emanate over Bluetooth or USB, since those connectors use Apple’s iPod Accessory Protocol (iAP) to hoop communications.

Convergence by a dashboard light

In some ways, Weblink resembles a subsequent era of record designed by General Motors. As we was in a center of contrast a Weblink, we paid a revisit to GM’s OnStar Command Center in downtown Detroit and got a demeanour during a antecedent of a subsequent chronicle of OnStar’s telematics display. (It’s branded as MyLink for Chevrolet, Cue for Cadillac, and Intellink for Buick and GMC.)

Like Weblink, a subsequent chronicle of a MyLink/Cue/Intellink interface will be formed on HTML5. But instead of regulating a smartphone’s computing power, a applications will run on a telematics system’s embedded computer. While they’ll be stored locally, they will be means to use a 4G wireless being built into a subsequent era of GM’s OnStar systems to bond to a Internet (with germane charges for information use of course).

GM’s proceed has a advantage of formation with both a rest of a automobile and with a OnStar service—which can bond a motorist with a genuine tellurian being to assistance them do things that drumming and boring on a touchscreen can’t. And OnStar and Sync can also get entrance to information on automobile opening and intensity upkeep issues. Those things that aren’t in Abalta’s range for Weblink.

This doesn’t meant that arrange of functionality couldn’t be brought into Weblink or a identical system. Most of a information that drives automobile telematics is permitted over vehicles’ Controller Area Network (CAN) by a automobile diagnostics port—a pier that generally usually gets used when we move your automobile in for an emissions test. Ford has sponsored a growth of OpenXC, an open interface that allows other inclination to block into a CAN and lift information from it. That interface could, for example, be used with an focus like Weblink to launch a call to 911 when airbags muster or upload automobile opening data. The same apps could use a accelerometer information from a phone to warning 911 of a rollover and give a plcae for a accident.

That arrange of thing is a poignant penetrate right now—one a Raspberry Pi using underneath my armrest in my Escape desirous me to take on. But it could shortly turn a underline of aftermarket and off-the-shelf systems for people who’d rather not compensate for OnStar or Sync or a other homogeneous services offering bundled with vehicles during a dealership. It should also assistance those of us who expostulate less-expensive models that don’t come with a choice to start with.