When Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft over 30 years ago, they talked about a PC on every desk and in every home. I don't think they envisioned a PC in every car. But that seems to be coming to fruition as well. I'm not talking about taking your laptop with you for a spin, but something that's built into the car that's more flexible than today's systems.
A case in point is a next-generation car PC from VIA Technologies (www.via.com.tw), a leading innovator of power-efficient x86 processor platforms. The company's VIA IVP-7500 board is the first in a series of dedicated x86 in-vehicle platforms for developers of car PCs and intelligent transportation devices.
While the home PC continues to evolve as a multimedia playback device for audio and video entertainment, people are getting itchy to take that content with them in the car. And there's no technological reason why you can't do that. In addition to playing your music and video content, in-vehicle PCs let you access intelligent global satellite positioning services for accurate location tracking, route planning and navigation. Granted, drivers can do some or all of this now, but it's typically through a proprietary platform.
Just as home PCs give users flexibility with software and peripherals, an x86-based PC running Windows CE, Windows XP Embedded or Linux could do the same. Consumers could employ in-car-mounted cameras for video-assisted parking and highway surveillance recording, while commercial customers could have access to license plate recognition, fleet management, digital tachograph, odometer and security applications. I'm envisioning a full third-party network of software and peripherals specifically for use in the car, like the kind of products that have sprung up around the Apple iPod and the IBM PC before that.
Let's take a closer look at the VIA IVP-7500. According to VIA, this board has been designed from the ground up for the rigors of in-vehicle computing. Powered by a fanless 1.0 GHz VIA Eden processor, the platform is power efficient, yet delivers strong multimedia performance. The board measures 114 mm × 185.5 mm and can be employed in a variety of dashboard configurations, including one or two DIN designs as well as discrete, in-seat and headrest designs.
“Intelligent transportation devices are making the transition from an enthusiast to mainstream audience,” said Daniel Wu, VP of VIA Embedded. “The VIA IVP-7500 carries our expertise in developing stable, compact, energy-efficient systems to this high-growth sector, bringing with it faster product development cycles and the flexibility to offer consumers more than just a car PC.”
Although the board supports a range of display technologies, the LCD (TTL) panel interface will probably be the technology of choice for in-vehicle applications. When you examine the ports available on the board, you probably can sense the possibilities both for initial installation and later add-ons of software and peripherals. There are camera ports including A/V (via mini-USB) and V-CAM for monitoring applications; two USB 2.0 ports; a COM port; and an infrared adapter for hands-free applications. Storage support includes IDE 1.8 in. hard drives with flat flexible cable (FFC) and SD card support. Communications technologies include a GPS module with IPEX antenna, an FM stereo transmitter and Bluetooth. HD audio is provided with optional SPK (R+L) and Mic-in connectors.
Obviously, the VIA board is not the only one on the market that can offer these computing amenities, and designers will have to make choices based on the usual suspects: price and performance. But this board is a great example of the next generation of in-vehicle PC. Now all that has to happen is for designers to encourage users to customize their computing experience via third-party hardware and software. This means giving users as many I/Os as possible, as well as a way to install new software programs onto the system.