AvBrand Exploring Technology
AvBrand Exploring Technology
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Adding an Internet Connection

In the earlier days of my CarPC setup, I would occaisionally tether my cell phone to the PC via USB, and share my cell phone data plan with the car. This is what makes the traffic cameras and alerts work. But it was too much hassle to get the phone out of my pocket each time, so I rarely bothered.

But one day, Rogers was the first Canadian internet provider to offer a reasonable price for a mobile data plan designed for laptops. For $25 a month on a one-year contract, you got a little USB "internet stick" and 500 mb of usage (per month). This may not seem like a lot of data, but it was all I needed in my car.

I ran into countless problems with USB power interference, surges, radio noise, and beat my head against the wall for days before finally getting everything working just right. Let me take you through my internet addition.

Behind this unassuming panel in the back of my car, attached via velcro, you will find...

... the Rogers 'Mobile High Speed Internet Stick'. It's actually a Novatel 3G GSM modem, and getting it for free on a one-year contract is a steal. Once I had solved the hardware problems, the next hurdle was getting the software to play nice. By default, the Internet Stick blocks Standby or Hibernation while it is plugged in, and that's just not nice. Hibernate is very important.

With the help of the command-line utilities RASDIAL and DEVCON, I wrote scripts that automatically disable the USB hardware when the car is turned off, and re-enable it (and then auto-reconnect to the internet) when the car is turned back on. This allows my system to Hibernate properly.

The Many Uses

There's about a million things you can do with your CarPC if it has a constant internet connection. Here are a few of the things I've added so far.

Live Traffic Cameras and Traffic Reports

This is mentioned briefly in my introduction video, but now that the internet connection is permanent, so is this feature. Cameras appear automatically as I drive on highways that have them, and as I pass the cameras, they vanish from the screen. I can touch the camera bar on the right to enlarge it to full screen.


Real-Time Position Tracking

I already have a feature that tracks where I drive for later perusal, but now I've also added a feature that uploads my position every 10 seconds. As a result, I always know where my car is, even when I'm not in it.

There's also a simple web page that I can access on my phone, that shows my car's last known location. This is great for finding my car if I can't remember where I parked it.

Search Nearby

My chosen GPS software, iGuidance, already has an extensive built-in database of Points of Interest. But no database is ever as complete or up-to-date as one on the Internet. So, by leveraging my current location via GPS and my internet connection, together with voice command, I created Google Local searches that appear on screen:

The green arrow represents my current location at the time of the query, and the markers are what's nearby.

Song Downloading

I have a huge music library at home, but the hard drive in the car is limited and I can't store even 10% of it on the car. So, I keep only my two main playlists in the car. But sometimes I just need to hear a specific song, or someone requests something I don't have with me. I built a web service that can remotely search my song database. Multiple songs can be selected from the search results and a download can be initiated.

It takes about 2-4 minutes to download one song. This happens in the background, and the downloads resume if interrupted, since cellular internet is unreliable at best. Once the downloads are complete, an audio notification is heard, and the songs can be viewed in a "downloaded songs" menu and added to the playlist like any other song.

Remote Control of Apartment

I've integrated a bunch of remote control features for my apartment. Thanks to my Computer-controlled Thermostat, I can adjust the air conditioning or heater in my home remotely. I even created a feature where I can tell the car I'm on my way home, and it turns up the heat / turns down the A/C when I am within 20 km of home.

There's also a view of my various home security cameras. Also, as I approach the garage door of my building, within 50 metres, the door opens up automatically without me touching a thing. It's super convenient!

More?

I have a lot more ideas for internet-related features, I just haven't had time to implement them. I'd also love to hear your ideas if you have any, send me a note!

Move on to Part 9 - Front Camera

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