Tuesday, April 7, 2009

OpenICE - Computer Enhanced Cars

No matter how you look at it, technology in cars has come a long way since the cassette tape. When you buy a Car today, you most likely were offered by the dealer an upgraded "technology package". This usually includes upgraded speakers, GPS navigation, Bluetooth and the ability to play music from your iPod.

With all the technology available today, do these enhancements really help enhance our experience. What is the future of technology in cars? I hope to point to a opensource software project that looks to answer the question.

There are many closed-source software solutions looking to become the center of In Vehicle Infotainment (IVI). Streetdeck an advanced car interface for the Windows XP operating system just released their 2.0 version last month. Centrafuse, another software application for Windows was seen on a number of devices at CES this year. Many of us have seen the Microsoft/Ford Sync commercials on TV. So where is the Open Source alternative? Enter OpenICE.

OpenICE (Open In Car Entertainment/Infotainment) is a open source project that aims to create a standard for IVI systems. OpenICE also develops software to meet these standards.

OpenICE categorizes IVI into 4 sections:

* Entertainment
* Information
* Connectivity
* Mobility

OpenICE maintains a "Plays Everything" policy by utilizing open source technology. Unlink many closed-source systems, the OpenICE media playback software, nGhost Media Desktop, can play back a number of non-patent encumbered media codecs like Ogg-Vorbis/Theora and FLAC. NGhost Media desktop also supports plugins for mplayer and phonon, which allows backends such as gstreamer among others to be used.

The Future:
The future of entertainment is in smart devices. Smart phones, mobile internet devices, and Ultra Mobile PCs are examples of such devices. In the future, OpenICE hopes to integrate with these devices so that the moment you walk into the car, the car recognizes these devices, and the car's interface displays and controls information from the devices. Drivers will be able to play mp3's from their phone on their car stereo system via bluetooth or wifi. They'll be able to answer phone calls by voice activation allowing the driver to focus on driving.

OpenICE has developed plugins to the nGhost media desktop to give real-time car statistics to the driver. In the current version of the plugin, the driver can view Engine RPM, Speed, Engine Coolant Temperature, and Engine Load.

OpenICE has also developed plugins to display weather and traffic information to drivers.

The Future:
OpenICE hopes to extend information into read even more data from the vehicle, including error codes. OpenICE hopes to integrate traffic information into the navigation and automatically reroute you to avoid traffic.

OpenICE also hopes to integrate automation into the vehicle. By selecting a user preference, the car may automatically roll down windows and shut off the air conditioning to save energy when traveling at certain speeds. The volume on your music may automatically adjust to compensate for wind noise when traveling at high speeds. The vehicle may warn you that you are driving to aggressively and recommend different ways to save gas by adjusting your driving behavior.

OpenICE hopes to achieve connectivity with mobile devices. Handsfree communication is essential in IVI environments. OpenICE uses the nohands project to provide handsfree communication with cellular phones with bluetooth.

Streaming media over bluetooth, upnp via wifi, are also ways in which OpenICE hopes to connect the driver to his mobile devices.

The Vehicle is a very different environment then most. The driver must keep his attention on the road where it belongs. Any technology added to the car must aid the driver and not distract him.

OpenICE implements guidelines for graphical interface so the driver will be able to use the system, and still keep his attention on the road.

Currently mobile graphical interfaces are designed for use in handheld devices. Because of the requirements of the Vehicle's environment, where the drivers attention is only on the interface for brief moments, no other mobile graphical interface existed that really tailored to life on the road. OpenICE developed it's own customized desktop (nghost) and dock (icepanel) to satisfy these specific requirements.

Video of nGhost,icepanel, and Compiz-Fusion's cube rotate:

OpenICE is a young project with big goals. It recently (yesterday) released it's development roadmap where hopefully, many of these future ideas and concepts will become a reality. As with any young open source project, the more developers that join and contribute, the better the experience for everyone will be who uses the software.

Hopefully, we will soon see some aftermarket products based on the OpenICE platform. Eventually, even auto makers will include Open Standards in their "technology" offerings.

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