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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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?
- 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?
- IF the previous internet connectivity was taken care of, I could use live navigation apps such as Google Maps or Waze.
- Given the relatively good processing power of cell phones these days, could I use the cameras on it to:
- act as a dash cam?
- look at the road and warn me of possible crashes?
- 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.