This is another example of my engineer-ness. I was thinking about adding a computer to my car, what is known as a CarPC. Such a computer is typically used to provide music and videos for entertainment (it could also possibly be used to build a mobile WiFi hotspot if configured correctly).
Anyway, I was thinking about doing it. A CarPC could be installed in the boot of the car with little problem. I was thinking that an Atom based mini-itx board could be used, coupled with a small amount of memory and a solid state harddisk. Because the car will experience bumps and shocks, it is important to use a solid state drive. So, I was calculating the cost of doing this – about RM300 or so.
Then, the only trouble was with building a user interface to the computer. It has to be something that can be accessed from within the car. So, I thought of building my own little device with a screen and some buttons. Then, I suddenly realised that I could just use a PDA to control the CarPC. That was when the though hit me.
I could just use a PDA as the CarPC!
I have two old PDAs lying around, a Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 and an Acer Palm S10. The choice was evident on which to use. The Zaurus is infinitely hackable and had more computing power than the Palm. It has a 200MHz ARM processor, 64Mb RAM, 320×240 LCD display, keyboard, SD card slot, CF card slot. I plan to use the SD card slot for adding storage while using the CF card for peripherals (I have a wifi card for this device).
So, I dug up my old trusty Zaurus from my box of old stuff and plugged in the power cable. Nothing happened. Then, I shook the power socket a bit and the power-LED came on. That is a good sign. Then, I tried to turn it on and again nothing happened. I kept tapping away at the different buttons until something came on screen. However, the screen was dark because the back light did not want to come on. But after more fidgeting, the entire unit came to life! The batteries were just weak.
So, I logged onto the Internet and downloaded the latest version of OpenZaurus, a Linux operating system designed for the Zaurus. I flashed the internal firmware to the latest version and everything worked. This made me infinitely happy as I now have a semi-powerful computing device that I can install in my car. It runs on a 5V power supply which is easy to tap into, in a car.
So, the plan is to install a media player onto the Zaurus and test it to see if it can play MP3s and OGGs. If that works, the next thing to do would be to find a nice way to interface the Zaurus’ headphone socket to the car radio and provide a suitable 5V power supply. If that works, then it’s done!
In addition to playing media, I can install the wifi card onto the Zaurus and use it as a mobile way to say, check emails and such at public hotspots like at McDonalds or some other cafe. Now, that would be a real accomplishment. Wardriving is also a potential plus!