Friday, July 31, 2009

Touch Me, The Sun Always Shines on TV

A central element of any Carputer is the interface. De rigueur these days is some kind of touch screen display embedded in the dash to look like it came with the car.

Before I left on holiday, I came across a guy on e-may selling 8" Lilliput touch screen displays. He was in Ireland (Mayo) and the screens were good value compared to buying new in US and paying shipping and import tax. When I got back I ordered one and it arived on Tuesday.

As a complete aside, it turns out the seller (Hi Damian!) is a bit of a techie interested in Carputing and SageTV, a PVR system that I'm currently struggling with as well. It's funny how you meet people!

Today I had a look at how I might mount the screen. First task was to remove the centre console and the radio. I discovered I had a model 86120-0k050 for which there is absolutely no information available anywhere in terms of pinouts etc. It has two sets of interfaces on the back, one of which appears to conform to the standard Toyota configuration, the other is a set of 12 and 20 on smaller pins that I assume is for hooking up optional cd changers etc. (I found an analysis of the 12 pin set here, I still have no idea what the 20 pin connector does.)

Not that any of this is too important as that radio will be getting shelved. Here's a picture of the centre console with the radio removed;

In this picture, the clock has also been removed. The display is a Lilliput 8-Inch Touch Screen VGA Monitor 889GL-80NP/C/T. Most people seem to go for 7" units which fit well into double-din spaces, often with the panel removed from it's casing. Having measured my dash and looked at the specs, I thought I could make the 8" unit work. Here's the general idea;

With the clock and radio removed, I have just enough height for the full screen and all of the buttons to fit and the width is just about perfect. I'm happy that I don't have to remove the panel from the case. There were a couple of contours on the inner plastic frame behind the dash that prevented the bottom of the screen pushing back far enough so I attacked them with a stanley knife and solved the problem. Here's the set-up with the center console back in place (that fake wood was in the car when I bought it, honest. It actually looks slightly better in real life than in the photos). Can anyone spot the problem here?

While the screen fits well in the space previously occupied by the radio & clock, the moulding dividing the two remians. While I was happy to hack away at the inner plastics with a stanley knife, I'll need to find out the best approach to cutting this panel. (If I make a mess of it, it's no big deal, you can pick up these fake wooden fascias online).

My only real issue is the fact that I need to tilt the screen in at the bottom to reduce glare and reflection. In doing so, I'm opening up a gap along the side and bottom, as seen in the image below. While I'm not overly concerned with factory quality fit & finish, I don't really want gaping holes either. I'm going to have to come up with some kid of solution here. I will also need to find a way to fix the screen in place firmly so it doesn't rattle around or jiggle when touched.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

OB Want To Know Me, Not

So, staying with the Star Wars theme.....

I posted earlier indicating that I'd found what looked like an OBD-II connector under the steering column on the iLux. (I now know this to be a DLC3 16 pin interface). I'd done some cursory reading on OBD-II dignostics and noted that it was supported in Centrafuse. With the connector there and all indications pointing to it being supported on the HiLux, I went ahead and ordered an OBD-II/USB device to connect the laptop to the car.

It arrived last week along with a Griffin Powermate (more of which in a later post) from

This week I got around to testing and it's been a bit of a disappointment. It's an ELM 327 v1.3 device supporting ODB-II. It works with any of the various free and paid-for OBD-II diagnostic software suites - assuming you have an OBD-II compliant car. I tried many different pieces of software (thanks to Quinny23 at and while all could communicate with the ELM device, none could communicate with the car.

I spent a couple of evenings doing all sorts of things including USB driver updates and even ended up trying to initiate a basic direct connection via hyperterminal following this guide. ame problem. I can communicate with the interface but not the car.

Thinking maybe my laptop was old and did not have onboard USB 2.0, I decided to eliminate the machine as the problem. I took a desktop machine to the garage, installed the latest drivers and connected everything up. Same issues.

My final test will be to take the laptop and OBD-II connector to a car with know OBD-II support and try that out. If it works, I'll know the iLux has no support. In fact, in searching almost the entire internet, I came across this page which is linked to an EFI Scan tool commercially available to talk to cars that do not have OBD-II suppoirt. Apparently, Asian Hiluxes like mine used a proprietary protocol known as MBOD up to 2006. While Hiluxes in other prts of the world had full OBD-II, those from Thailand did not.

I've decided not to stress too much more on this. It would be nice to have had support for diagnostics in Centrafuse but it's not the end of the world if I can't get it to work. I'll save it for iLux v2.0.

In working on this though, I've got to know my car a little better. The engine is a 1KD-FTV model, built in November 2005. I also now have an inkling as to why Toyota main dealers are not too keen to service imported vehicles - I'm sure their diagnostic tools won't interface with it either.

While not giving up on this completely (the guys at have just posted a ton of links to toyota/obd/diagnostics materials so some light reading for me tonight), my touchscreen has arrived so I'll be playing with that for a while.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Break

No posts, (or even thinking about project iLux), for the past week or so as we've been on a family holiday. Took the Hilux on a 1,000 mile drive through England taking in Legoland Windsor, some relatives in Kent and CenterParcs Elveden. Excellent time had by all and the car performed faultlessly - very comfortable and very practical.

I didn't get to do the air con swap and cruise control mentioned earlier as I failed to co-ordinate with the garage properly. Just as well as the carputer funds would have been sucked up.

STILL waiting for expansys to deliver those parts I ordered almost two weeks ago. Maybe a good thing as I have a lot of work to catch up with.

I did however, acquire a new keyring at legoland...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Audio Circuits

Getting ahead of myself a little, I'm thinking today about multi-zone audio. I've spotted a news post over at Centrafuse where they talk about and show a demo of true multi-zone in operation (see video below). I'd like this and there's a chance it will come in Centrafuse 3.0 so I might as well build my systems to accomodate.

I'd like a dual-zone system whereby front passangers and rear passangers can listen to the same or different content. I imagine I'll need a multi-channel sound card and a pair of stereo amps, one driving front speakers, one driving rear speakers.

The idea would be that software (centrafuse?) would direct eitehr the same sound to 2 stereo outputs thuse enabling all occupants to hear the same contenrt for direct different content to each stereo pair. For this to work, rear passangers would need to wear headphones.

I'd like to add a pair of headphone jacks in the back that, when headphones are plugged in, the rear speakers are cut and sound is directed to the headphones.

I've been googling and have come across this circuit that uses a switch to redirect amp output from speakers to headphones.

Another way to do this would be to add a third 'zone' to the system (headphones) and use the controlling software to switch outputs to this zone and switch off output to zone 2 (rear speakers).


In other news, I ordered the following items from expansys yesterday;

140985 BU-353 WaterProof USB GPS Receiver
142812 ToughDrive 2.5" 160GB USB-2
161623 USB Cradle for Nokia N95 8GB

These will allow me set up gps interface with centrafuse, copy all my .flac audio files to an external drive and dock/charge my N95.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Small Success

With my current problem getting my phone tethered to the Acer, I suspect that I've introduced a little too much complexity into my setup. When it installed my Belkin bluetooth adaptor originally, I installed the drivers that came with it on the disc. I later discovered that this adaptor was not supported directly by Centrafuse/BlueSoleil and I needed to hack some .ini/.inf files to make it work. In addition, I had installed a stand-alone driver for the N95 8GB before installing and updating the full Nokia PC Suite and mesing about with various configurations. I had also installed and removed some other bits of sotware to test and had turned off some windows services to save on resources and speed up the laptop.

I figured something was messed up there and any one or combination of the above factors could be causing problems. So, I backed up my driver & centrafuse demo downloads to a USB key and reinstalled windows and all the software. Before installing Centrafuse or any bluetooth, I got the phone working as a modem. This time, it worked straight away.

Having installed Centrafuse and configured bluetooth on top of that, everything now works. My phone connects to Centrafuse via bluetooth for hands free calls AND acts as a modem via USB cable connection.

The next step is to see if I can get the phone working as modem via bluetooth as well which would let me eliminate one cable (usb connection from laptop to phone. However, this is not such a big deal as I came across this Nokia n95 8gb docking cradle that will charge the phone, connect it to the laptop via usb and provide an additional USB port, this might work a lot better than a conventional car phone cradle. (Interestingly, the N95 cannot be charged via usb).

Anyway, the correct installation procedure is;
  • Install Windows XP
  • Install SP2 Update
  • Install WiFi dongle & software
  • Install Nokia PC Suite & configure N95 as modem via USB
  • Set up Nokia as modem in Windows modem set-up
  • Install Centrafuse
  • Install Belkin Bluetooth dongle & configure BlueSoeil to recognise it
  • Set Up & confirm connectivity to N95 in Bluesoeil
  • Restart
  • Open Centrafuse and configure Phone and Internet settings

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

New Rubber

Nothing to do with technology but got a new pair of front tyres on yesterday. Hercules TerraTrac A/W 265/70's to match the rear pair that were put on when I bouth the car last October. Got them balanced and got the tracking done. Car now drives in a straight line!

In other news, I spent a few hours trying to get my N95 to work as a modem for the Acer. It works great as a tethered modem via Bluetooth on my MacBook Pro but did not want to work over Bluetooth or USB wired connection. Simply refused to connect. More work to be done here. What's an iLux without go anywhere internet access?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Kicking & Screaming

A visit to the local PCWorld has resulted in the acquistion of a number of items of a technical nature that should bring the creaking old Acer within sight of modernity.

I have purchased;
  • Belkin USB 2.0 notebook card (F4U008ea)
  • Belkin Wireless G USB Network Adapter (F5D7050)
  • Belkin Bluetooth USB Adapter (F8T013xx1)
  • Sandisk Cruzer Micro 8GB Thumbdrive

The idea behind this is to give the venerable old machine a pair of USB 2.0 ports via pcicma. This card replaces the old wifi pcicma card I had in there, hence the usb network adaptor. The bluetooth stick is to try to get my phone (Nokia N95 8GB) working for hands-free and internet dial-up on the move. Finally, the 8GB thumbdrive is to augment the 10GB internal hard drive to to store music and other media files for testing.

The USB card worked straight away on insertion. The Wireless USB stick required a download of the most up to date drivers from Belkin as the supplied CD simply would not install.

The Bluetooth stick was more problematic. I installed the drivers etc. and while the laptop could see the phone in the shell, Centrafuse refused to play ball, resulting in a useless uninformative error when I tried to add the handset under phone settings.

Some research on Centrafuse forums revealed that this particular model adpater did not appear to be supported in version 2. It appears that Centrafuse installas it's own Bluetooth interface software (known as a stack) from a third party provider - BlueSoleil. The problem was that this software did not support Belkin F8T01x series dongles.

Further investigation, however, revealed a workaround that modifies some text files to make the software aware of the dongle. I love the internet!

After applying this, Centrafuse recognised the phone and allowed me dial out and receive calls hands free. I'm using the laptop build in mic. and speakers for testing and sound quality is poor enough (with a significant delay). This is something of a known issue however and can be rectified by using a specific external sound card, (more info here and here). Future versions of the software promise better integration. I think the jury is still out on this.

I loaded some .AAC files from iTunes onto my memory stick and registered it as a music path in Centrafuse. It refused to play them, indicating I'd need some third party software. Checking the software specs again, I saw it plays .flac out of the box. This is good as .flac is the format I have all my music in on the multi-zone SqueezeServer whole house audio setup I've built (a whole other blog!). I loaded up some .flac files and hey presto, Centrafuse does something useful.

Well, at least now, I can do stuff with Centrafuse. It plays music, connects to my phone via bluetooth for hands free calling and works with my wifi card to provide internet access.

Next step: get the handset working as a modem for internet access out and about.

Centrafuse features

So, with Centrafuse installed, I can get a good idea of how the UI would work. One of the nice things I've discovered is that the software can bring some additional functionality to the party.

One thing it features is OBD, the ability to interface with a standardised vehicle diagnostics port to display engine management and other information. A little research reveals that Toyota has a proprietary diagnostics interface used in some Hilux up until 2006 (M-OBD). The almost universal OBD-II protocol was added in this year. As my HiLux is 2006 it's touch and go as to whether it has the required interface.

A quick removal of the panel under the steering wheel reveals a 16-port connector that I must presume is OBD-II (M-OBD connectors were loocated in the engine compartment, I think).

But at the moment, Centrafuse does not do much. I have no music on the Acer, no bluetooth for phone connection, no GPS receiver, no OBD interface. Essentially it's a pretty UI that does nothing. Yet.

HiLux Resources

In searching the InterWeb, I've come across a few good HiLux resources;
A site dedicated to the Mk6 HiLux. Based in Australia with a discernible Australian bias, it's nevertheless a remarkable community where there are answers to everything and some very serious HiLux modding going on. (I discovered 2 ways to disable the annoying beep when the driver door is open and keys are in the ignition).

Tacoma Manuals & Schematics
Downloads of full service manuals and wiring schematics for 05/06 Toyota Tacoma, the version of the HiLux sold in the USA. Could come in useful, or maybe not. This history of HiLux vs Tacoma would seem to indicate they are two quite different vehicles. The password is

Toyota Owners Club
The HiLux section of the toyota owners club.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Baby Steps

So, a decision to base the iLux on M$ Windows made things a bit easier. I tinker. As mentioned earlier, I've been into HTPCs for the past few years, building and rebuilding DVD playing, whole house audio systems for speed and silence. I also build PCs for work so I have a few bits and pieces lying around. You could say.

More online research led me to identify two main approaches to the CPU element; a custom built or off the shelf mini-itx based system or a laptop based system. My ambition is the mini-itx solution as there are advantages; the box is small and can be hidden away, I could build it myself, the system power can be directly attached to the motherboard via in-car d negating the requirement for power bricks, transformers etc.

However, I don't have a mini-itx system to hand but do have an old, old Acer Travelmate 212T so iLux version 1.0 will be laptop based.

Now, when I say this is old, I mean OLD. The manufacture date is 29/9.01 and there is a Windows ME licence sticker on the bottom. It's a Celeron 800MHz cpu with 312MB RAM and a 10GB hard drive. It has USB 1.0 only and no wifi. The battery is missing.

But it boots. It currently has Windows 2000 installed and that runs OK. This is my starting point. The idea is that I'll use this essentially free laptop to experiment with software, hardware, interfaces etc. Once I get everything working to my satisfaction, I can then splash out on a nifty tiny machine. Until then, it'll be an acer under the seat.

In addition, I have a 12v inverter I purchased from Maplins some time ago. Rather than go down the route of a dedicated dc-dc power unit wired in to the car, I'm happy to run the laptop from that using the existing power brick. It's inefficient I know and I won't have fancy smancy auto-shutdown and startup with ignition etc. but really, in these early stages, it's all about the software, functionality, UI and ease of use. Once that end is sorted, the integration is stage 2.

Now, with a CPu (of sorts) in place, it's time to start looking at software. Very quickly, through both and general googling, it becomes apparent that a commercial product called Centrafuse seems to be the leader. Yes, there are lots of free alternatives out there but this one seems to have a solid reputation. And there's a 30 day trial.

On downloading and installing to the Win2K Acer, the program fails to start. A little research unearths the fact that Win2K is not supported. Oh well. Several hours later, the little Acer is groaning under the weight of Windows XP Pro SP2 and centrafuse boots. Hurray!

Platform Selection

Knowing very little about carputers (as pcs in vehicles are affectionately known), I had a lot of learning to do. My objective was to build a system that would have the following functionality;
  • CD Playback
  • FLAC Playback
  • DVD Playback
  • Video file playback
  • FM Radio
  • GPS Navigation System
  • Hands free telephone integration
  • Internet Access for Web and E-mail
  • Video input for in-car camera monitoring
  • Touchscreen Interface
  • Wireless networking
  • Highly integrated hardware (out of sight)
To achieve this, I had a vague idea that I'd need to focus my research on the following areas;
  • CPU
  • Power
  • Touchscreen
  • Storage
  • Peripherals
Being a Mac fan and user, the obvious choice for me was a Mac Mini. Google searches soon revealed a few useful resources;

MacVroom - a site dedicated to Mac based carputers
123MacMini - a site dealing with all aspects of the mac mini - a lively community based carputer site

To my disappointment, it soon became clear that in order to meet the project objectives, a Mac was not going to cut it. While frontrow would be an excellent music/dvd/photo interface, there were many elements that were just not mature enough on the platform:

The only GPS navigation system to speak of is RouteBuddy and while it appears to function based on the demo download, the UI is not condusive to a low resolution touchscreen implementation. What a lot of people do is run boot camp or Parallels/VMWare Fusion on their mac mini and run one of the many available windows navigation solutions. This to me is an inelegant solution.

The other limited choice area is in hands free phone integration. This is usually done via Bluetooth and the only really mature application I came across for the mac is BluePhoneElite2. The demo of this worked very well on my MAcBook Pro and connected with my Nokia N95 8GB seamlessly, transferring contacts, call history etc. perfectly. However, the UI is again not all that suitable for touchscreen control having multiple small windows etc. In addition, it runs as a separate application so I'd need to be switching back and forth between front row, windows and BluePhoneElite2 - not an ideal situation.

Finally, the Mac section of the forums at is littered with half-finished mac carputer UI projects that either don't work, are no longer supported or require end-user compilation.

It was becoming clear that I'd not be using a Mac Mini in the iLux - just as well as I don't have one and it would really have pushed the project budget to buy one. The iLux will have a Microsoft heart.

Project iLux

In October 2008 I purchased a Toyota Hilux. Actually, a 2006 Hilux Vigo 3.0 crew cab, originally imported from Thailand but acquired by me from McConnon Motors. It replaced a Peugeot 306 that had served it's time well but was just too small for use for work (lugging video equipment around) and scouts (lugging camping gear around).

I was pleased. The HiLux is a fine pickup. The Vigo spec. is nice with leather interior, a/c and a few other luxuries you wouldn't normally expect in a pick-up. Mine has an aftermarket reversing sensor and a Nokia bluetooth kit for hands free calls.

I was aware on purchase that the imported Vigo model, while far exceeding typical Irish poverty spec. equivalents, might have a few problems. First, the chassis is not galvanised like European models and so is prone to premature rust. Secondly, as Thailand is a fairly hot part of the world, heaters are not fitted as standard, a/c only. On import, aftermarket heaters are added but are often not quite up to the job.

Having driven the car for a few months, it became clear that the heating issue was an issue. While there is a rotary heating dial running from hot to cold around about 270 degrees of travel, this control is effectively an on/off switch. Heat is either on at its full extent or off. Except on the coldest days, this is a problem as I found myself constantly adjusting the heating.

In addition, two mysterious rocker switches are present on the dash. It took a while for me to figure out that these control the a/c and, when engaged, the cold air gets colder. Hmm.

As a, (mostly), happy new owner of a Lux, I set about searching the internet for resources on the car. I had, in fact, came across the HiLux Pickup Owners Club website prior to my purchase during my research phase and it was through this site that I came across Adam from Samson Vehicle Services Ltd. They are based in Kent and specialise in 4x4 customisations with a particular focus on the HiLux. In discussing the heating problem online, I discovered Adam offered an upgrade service whereby he would swap out the problematic heater for a full uk spec. a/c and heater.

As it happened, and quite coincidentally, we were planning a family holiday to the UK and part of the itinerary involved a visit to my aunt who constantly reminds me has been living in Kent for 25 years and not once had a visit from her favourite nephew. A quick look at the AA routeplanner revealed that Samsons were located about 10 miles from where we would be staying. An opportunity too good to miss.

In looking at their website, it soon occurred to me that there might be a few other toys I could add to the car. They offer a cruise control add-on that looked attractive. However, the thing that caught my attention was the Pioneer Avic 700BT system. This is a cd/radio system with built in touch screen, GPS navigation system, usb support and, crucially, video input.

From time to time, I use the HiLux as a camera car, attaching video cameras and driving to obtain particular shots. I have a small video screen that I can rig up in the cabin to monitor the camera as it records but had previously considered the luxury of having a screen permanently in place that would save time and also provide additional gizmos. I had previously looked at the Kenwood DNX5220 but had discounted it on account of cost.

Now, however, I had an opportunity to get a similar unit installed while the factory fitted radio would be removed for the a/c conversion. That made sense.

Thinking on it a little more however, I had a brainwave. These all-in-one units were similar to computers in their functionality but were somewhat hampered in that the OS, firmware and feature set was restricted to manufacturer specification. Surely, it should be possible to put an actual computer in a car? I'd been here before having built a few home theater PCs that emulated the features of DVD player, PVR etc. but were a lot more flexible than those individual devices.

Some research was needed and the iLux concept was born.