Car location tracking

Android Installation in My Car: Origins

Almost one year ago I replaced my Nissan Versa’s audio system with an Android based Asteroid Smart “infotainment” system from Parrot. As iOS/Android based auto systems are becoming a reality, I wanted to document my experience. There are 3 parts to this: Origins, Current Installation and Lessons Learned.


How did it start?

If you have tried to ship a car before, you know the market model is not a very reliable one. A “broker” puts you in touch with a truck driver he/she finds from their internet hub and charges you a small fee (~$150). Then the driver is going to pick up your car and deliver it to the destination for another fee ($700 in my case for Texas to California). These two entities are unrelated, so if a problem/accident happens I’m not sure whose insurance is going to cover it. More than that I have read stories about people whose drivers had to hand over the car to another driver and the second driver never picked up the car … so you might lose your car in the transaction too!

As it turned out the people I dealt with were very nice and professional and none of these happened. But I didn’t know this when I started, so I had to have a backup plan if things went out of hand.

Requirements and Solution:

I had a really old Android phone and an extra car “jumper” battery I did not use. I bought a prepaid T-mobile SIM card and installed an app (Cerberus) on the phone that could track the phone on demand. The “on demand” part is important because I didn’t want to use all the battery in 24 hours by constantly transmitting. My plan was for it to be active for a week, or even more.

 

Results:

 

I was able to track the vehicle for about a week when it made its way from North Texas to San Jose, California. Since I could turn on tracking on demand, the battery of device and the extra battery lasted way longer than this experiment. In fact, I had to remove them few weeks later even before the batteries were dead.


While this addressed my main goal of this project, I started to wonder if I could leave the phone in my car as a theft recovery device. There were a couple of problems here:

  1. The battery had to be recharged once in a while. Even if it was for once a month, remembering to take out the extra battery is a hassle.
  2. The only information it provides is location of the car. It would be a better deal if I could “hook” the extra capabilities of the Android phone to the car, such as playing music.
  3. I wanted it to be in-dash, not externally mounted to attract thieves.

There were also a couple of extra features I wish such system could provide:

  1. Even in my 5 year old Nissan Versa you can get some information about vehicle health though the OBD II link. What if I could also monitor that whenever needed?
  2. Using cellular phone is reliable but expensive. At the time it cost me $30+ for a GSM SIM card that had internet access. What if I could have a very basic internet connection in the car?
  3. IF the previous internet connectivity was taken care of, I could use live navigation apps such as Google Maps or Waze.
  4. Given the relatively good processing power of cell phones these days, could I use the cameras on it to:
    1. act as a dash cam?
    2. look at the road and warn me of possible crashes?
    3. connect to another external camera for rear view?

    All the above points made me look into world of in-dash radios. As it turned out, Parrot had an Android based device: Asteroid Smart. I decided to get one! I will write about it in my next post.