Raspberry Pi carpc [MAKER’S REPORT]

Raspberry Pi carpc [MAKER’S REPORT]

In-car PCs with multimedia and navigation
capabilities are so cool,
but you know how it is, they are often
found in luxury, high-end vehicles only.
But if you know what you are doing,
nothing stops you from making your very
own car PC, even if your car does not
support this type of fancy accessories
out of the box. In this episode I will
show you how I turned a Raspberry Pi and
a bunch of other components into a
custom PC for my car. My name is Kradion
and this is Maker’s Report. Let’s face it,
there is nothing more annoying than a
long road trip without any music. You see,
I love my car, but that piece of junk has
very poor multimedia capabilities. I can
basically listen to people talk on the
FM radio, and load one audio CD. Just one!
So, that’s not very much.
This means no mp3, no auxiliary inputs,
no data CDs, no USB, no nothing.
None of that. So that’s why I decided to
take up the challenge and design my own
car PC based on a Raspberry Pi. So, first
question is: what should this car PC do?
And I have identified a few features
that I really want to implement in this
project. First and foremost, I want this
car PC to be able to play music and
video. Second, I want the car PC to
provide GPS navigation with voice
directions. Now, I know, I know, I can slap
a standalone GPS unit on my windshield,
but where’s the fun in that? So, we are
going to do that as well. Third,
I want the car PC to be able to power
itself on and off automatically when the
engine starts and stops. Next, I would
like to implement automatic screen
brightness control. I basically would like
that automatically, when I’m driving in
full sunlight, the screen gets brighter,
so I can read it, and if I enter a
tunnel, or
it’s night, I want the screen to get
dimmer and dimmer so it doesn’t burn my
I like my retinas. Next, I want the car PC
to be able to receive audio via
Basically, I want to turn my entire car
into a huge Bluetooth speaker. Last but
not least, very important, I would like to
implement some sort of steering wheel
controls. You see, I like safety and I
would like to be able to control the car
PC without breaking eye contact with the
road. Okay, so, now that you know what we
want, let’s have a look at the system
we’re going to build. Let me start by saying
that this project is quite complex, and I
will be leaving out a lot of detail for
the sake of runtime of this video. I
will publish a little more on my blog
(link in the description) so, if you want
to have a chat, or a discussion, or know a
little bit more, see you there,
or in the comment section, if you feel so
inclined. So, surprise surprise, everything
starts with a Raspberry Pi. For this
project I decided to use a Raspberry Pi
2 model B. Why not the 3? Well, none of
the functions that I’m going to build
actually requires the extra power of the
Raspberry Pi 3, so I decided to give the
old guy a chance. The Raspberry Pi is
connected to the official seven inch
touchscreen display. This device is a bit
on the expensive side, but totally worth it.
It is recognized automatically under
Raspbian, and both the screen and the
touchscreen are of very very high
quality, so, totally recommended,
especially for bigger or more complex
projects like this one. So, let’s have a
look at the audio system. As I was
mentioning, we need to find a way to
bridge the gap between the Raspberry Pi,
generating the music, and my car radio,
which only accepts FM signal. I have
found a very nice component, an FM
transmitter on Adafruit, that can help
me bridge this gap. I can basically
connect the audio jack of the Raspberry
Pi to the input audio jack of the FM
and have my music broadcast inside my car on
the FM channel of my choice, but that
would be a mistake. Why? Because the
Raspberry Pi generates its music using
Pulse Width Modulation, or PWM for short.
PWM is a very cheap way to generate
audio, but it suffers from artefacts, and
a humming noise that cannot be removed.
I really didn’t want to have these
problems, so I decided to use digital
audio. The Raspberry Pi is capable of
generating digital audio using what is
called I2S, which is a digital
audio port available on the GPIOs.
I bought an I2S DAC, which is
basically a Raspberry Pi sound card, we
can say, that takes the digital signal
and turns it into a high quality analog
representation, and that is what is
connected to the FM transmitter. The GPS
subsystem is quite straightforward. I
just bought a GPS receiver from Adafruit
and an active antenna. The power
subsystem is a little bit more
convoluted. I have found an intelligent
switch on Mausberry Circuits. This
switch connects to the 12 Volt power of
the battery and to the ignition line of
the engine. When I switch on the engine,
the ignition line goes active and the
power switch activates the power to the
Raspberry Pi, so the system goes online.
That’s nice.
Then, when I’m done with my driving, the
ignition lines disappears and the switch
communicates this event to the Raspberry
Pi using one of the GPIOs.
In the Pi, there is a script that monitors
this GPIO, and responds by issuing a
clean shutdown, so this should give me
the functionality I need.
Next up, a few extras for convenience.
First of all, I want to implement two
light sensors very close to the screen.
I basically want to implement a feedback
loop in software where I measure the
light intensity hitting the screen and
regulate the brightness of the screen
accordingly. Next component is a
Real-Time Clock, or RTC for short. Next, I
have a small USB flash memory where I
will install program data, such as the
maps for the GPS software. Then, I will
certainly need a Bluetooth dongle, if
I want to turn my car into a Bluetooth
speaker, and last but not least, I marked
here a keyboard, because I want to be
able to control the car PC with a small
keyboard installed as close as possible
to my steering wheel. And last but not
least, I’ve decided to install two panel
mounted Ethernet and USB ports. Because
why not. Okay, so, the initial problem was
to put music in my car, and this is what
I came up with. This is what happens when
I’m left unsupervised for a while. So, now
it’s the time to put some hardware
together. And putting the computer
together is probably the funniest part of
this project. To start we need to hook
the Raspberry Pi to the seven inch
touchscreen display.
Conveniently enough, this display comes
with an adequate ribbon cable for data
and with metal standoffs that are
aligned to the mounting holes on the Pi.
This will make for a very sturdy board
Next up, the audio DAC board goes on top
of the Pi, firmly hooked to the GPIO
header. For this build,
I had already soldered the Real-Time
Clock board to the appropriate pins and
hooked the wires that will be connected
to all other peripherals. And here’s the
basic stack in all of its beauty. Then, I
want to show you this little prototype
board I made, where I soldered the FM
transmitter and the GPS module. I routed
the power supplies and the I2C
lines to the top and bottom bus of
the prototype board, and soldered a few
screw terminals for jumper wires. This
allows me to centralize the distribution
of supply voltages and control signals
to all the satellite peripherals. From
here on, it’s a matter of connecting all
other components: the two light sensors,
the internal USB stick, the Bluetooth
dongle, the GPS antenna, you get the point.
I also designed a custom USB keyboard to
control the media centre. It’s a simple
design based on a Adafruit Trinket. the
Trinket is an Arduino compatible
development board that can be programmed
to emulate a USB keyboard, and send valid
key codes to the Pi in response to
button presses. My personal touch was the
inclusion of a PSP thumb joystick for
cursor navigation. So, time to perform a
smoke test… and it seems to work. So, my
GPS navigator of choice was Navit. Its
user interface is indeed a bit clunky,
but I didn’t really have much choice
under Linux. Navit uses maps I’ve
downloaded from OpenStreetMap. Very
detailed, highly recommended. My personal
touch was the customizatincel Doneon of the user
interface to suit my liking.
The choice for the media software fell
very naturally on Kodi,
former XBMC. My only task there was the
customization of the user interface to
suit it to the colour scheme of my car,
and to add all the functions that I
needed, such as launching the GPS
navigation, and hopping to a different FM
channel. Okay, time to test the system.
I apologize for the reflections on the
screen, but I haven’t peeled the plastic
off the screen yet, to keep it pristine
until the final installation. The first
functionality I want to explore is the
video and music playback. I will navigate
through the menus using the external
keyboard to test the steering wheel
controls as well. I have loaded a song
and a video on the external USB key, and
now we’ll be playing them. The FM
transmitter tuned itself to 89.8 FM.
Here, I have tuned the
radio receiver of my smart phone to the
same frequency, and connected it to the
speakerphone in order to be able to hear
the signal. So, without any further ado,
let’s make some noise. I should be able
to freely navigate up and down the
hierarchy. Fantastic.
So, it seems to work. I can pause the
music, resume it, and stop it altogether.
Okay, very good. I was not expecting a
success, hehe. Let’s see if we can do the
same with the videos. I can still
navigate up and down, select the source,
and if you are a real fan you should
know this one.
In the same way, I can pause the video, resume
it, and stop it. Okay,
fantastic. So, the point here is that the
video, music, and steering wheel control
seems to work as intended, so we can tick
them off the list. The second function to
test is GPS navigation with voice
directions. Now, I’m not going anywhere,
but I can launch Navit and set a
destination, to see if the navigation
started correctly. So, let’s push the button.
Very good. Now I can set a recent
destination, calculate the route…
Fantastic. Okay, so, the user interface
that I’ve customized gives me additional
information, such as the next turn, the
distance to my destination, the estimated
time of arrival, and some other GPS stats
for the geeks. I think we can tick the
GPS off the list. In order to test the
automatic power on and off of the
carpc, I need to install this smart
switch in my car. There is no easy way to
emulate this function here in my studio,
so, this test will have to wait. Moving on
to the automatic brightness control. This
is a very important feature of my carpc.
I don’t want to be continuously
annoyed by a screen that is always too
bright to be comfortable, or too dark to
be readable. These two light sensors and
a small feedback loop in software
should do the trick. To test this function,
I have my sun emulator, and I’m about to
shine the living hell out of these
sensors. This should cause the screen to
slowly go brighter and brighter. I don’t know if this is visible in the video,
but it is definitely getting brighter. Good.
So, now I remove the sun and I cover the
sensors. The carpc should now think it’s
night, or I’m in a tunnel, and should
lower the brightness to very low levels.
Again, I don’t know how visible it is, but
there we go, it’s done. Excellent.
Another feature has been proven.
Last not least: Bluetooth audio. You know
the drill. The perfect album for the trip
is there in your phone, and there is no
easy way to move it to a USB key. This is
where Bluetooth comes to the rescue.
Also, establishing a Bluetooth link
between my smartphone and my carpc
allows me to use my car as a
speakerphone during phone calls, or Skype,
or Whatsapp, or whatever cool kids use these
days. I have paired my smartphone to my carpc,
and I’m about to play some more
Pacman’s Revenge so, here we go!
Fantastic. It seems that all features
are go. It’s time to take a look at my
car, and decide where to install this
little marvel. Okay welcome to my car.
So, the question is: where to install my carpc? As you can see my car is a pretty
standard car, so there is no place that
is really suitable for this type of
installation. In the end I knew I had to
invent something. So, the first idea I got
was to reuse the cup holder. I do not
need a cup holder so maybe I could reuse
the cavity, install the electronics here
on the bottom, and a screen right sitting
on top. This would be very convenient,
because very often my arm is resting
right here, so it would be convenient for
typing. Problem is, in order to use the
device, I would have to look down, which
is dangerous. I don’t want to do that.
The second idea I got was to install the
device right there, in front of the clock.
I could reuse this cavity for the
electronics, and install an even
bigger screen right in front. This would
be safe, because while driving the device
would be sitting right in front of me.
Problem is that it would be quite far to
reach. What I decided to do is to reuse
the ashtray cavity. I am not a smoker, so I
do not need the ashtray. So I decided to
design a plastic holder that would sit
firmly on the bottom of the ashtray,
where I could install all the
electronics. I will also have a screen
holder that would come at an angle from
the bottom of the radio all the way down.
In the end I will also
have a left plastic wall, and the right
plastic wall, to close this entire area
that would be really dedicated to the
electronics of my carpc. But the most
important feature of of this arrangement
is this cavity that I have here on the
back, because in here I can route a power
wire directly from the battery
compartment to the car PC, so, the entire
installation would be pretty invisible.
Last thing, I would like to have some
controls of the car PC close to my
steering wheel. In the end, I do not want
to look at the PC every time I want to
change something, so I was thinking of
installing a few buttons, maybe here on
the on back of the steering wheel, to
control the basic functions of the carpc,
and I could route the control wires
for this keyboard all the way down,
reusing the same cavity as the power, so
the entire installation I think would be
pretty invisible. So, we have a plan: let’s do
this. So, time to have a look at the case.
I designed the whole thing in Sketchup
under windows, starting from a single
rectangle and extruding all the volumes
one by one. In order to get the
measurements right, I decided to build a few paper models of each part, and
refine them until they fitted my car
perfectly, and if I learned something here,
is that paper craft is not my art, by a
long shot.
Anyway, I exported the final design to
the Collada format, and sent it to
Shapeways for printing. In the end, I was
quite pleased with the result, and I had
just a few details to fix here and there
with a Dremel tool, because, believe me
not, it does not matter how accurate your paper
model is. It isn’t.
All parts are held together by screws.
However, given that I do not really trust
the ability of a cheap
M2.5 screw to carve a decent thread
in nylon, I decided to slot some brass
nuts on the interior side of every
screw hole. I used epoxy glue, some patience,
and I would say a lot of regret every
time the glue ended up flooding the
threads, and it happens. The side panels
are quite boring, sporting several
uninspired slots for ventilation, and
holes for the panel mounted USB and
Ethernet ports. The front panel was by
far the most satisfactory part of this
design, with its angles and curves.
I really loved it. I’m not a product
designer, but I am unreasonably proud of
this piece of plastic. I also built two
little glass windows with a plastic
bezel to expose the light sensors to,
well, light. The funniest part of it, was the face
of the DIY store technician when I asked
him to cut me two pieces of glass
exactly one square centimetre each. The
guy thought I was making fun of him.
As a final step, I can finally install the carpc in my car, starting from the base
plate in the ashtray compartment and the
scaffolding structure on top. I will
attach all other parts to these two, so,
they better be solid!
Next I need to prepare the panel mounted
ports and install the GPS and FM
transmitter board on the bottom of the
hole. Now, I am ready to slot the
Raspberry Pi and the screen into place,
and this is almost an emotional moment.
Once done, I can fix the side panels in
place, choose a destination for the GPS
antenna, and check if the custom keyboard
fits its slot, and spoiler alert: it does.
And I’m finally ready to run this
little thing. So, the computer starts
automatically as expected, and the
software is fired up as planned.
Good! I kind of like the aesthetics of
the final result. You can see it’s a DIY
work from a kilometre, but it’s still
acceptable to look at. My favourite part
are the little windows for the light
sensors. They’re kind of cute. So, will it
play music on my radio?
Good, it works! And the audio quality is
better than expected. And what about
video playback?
And now, it’s time to end this video. I
had a lot of fun with this project, and I
learned a bunch of new things about cars,
electronics, design, an even paper craft,
which is more than I initially planned.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go play
with my new carpc based on Raspberry Pi.
My name is Kradion and this was Maker’s Report.

100 Replies to “Raspberry Pi carpc [MAKER’S REPORT]”

  1. Could it be possible to add some control input ( like from PIR sensor )to the ECU to control the fuel supply for security purposes so that it will not send data for the solenoid valve to not open?

  2. Cool project. Unfortunately I am pretty sure in Germany I will have to get it checked by the TÜV before installing it.

  3. Cool build, I would like you to do a real world review , things like boot up time. Does the gps get a good signal where it is mounted ? Also if you stop somewhere and turn the car off does everything come back up with gps? Does the auto dimmer work well ? What did it cost to build ? If boot times are laggy you may want to power off and on the screen only on the key and use a timer routine for the pie, this would allow a instance on capability. very cool project Would like to see a review video . Thanks

  4. I don't get it, much of what you wanted you already have on your smart phone these days and output devices would afford you the interfaces you require. I do get that most techies really just want to make things anyway.
    I would've used the Pi to load all my music on playlists so I didn't have to listen to Radio stations – where you get one tune in 5000 that's worth listening to and the rest is crass noise pollution. By the way the 8 bit "music" you have playing is annoying and makes it hard to hear you speak. I totally get the gps guide system though, but be careful they're not that accurate in some places.
    I am currently looking into expanding my tablets usage with a Pi cluster for a European Cycle and camping tour soon so that I have all i need to broadcast to social media live from wherever I wish and get all my internet needs – plus power management for my devices – cameras etc and office and editing requirements. This kit is growing but must come in at under 10 kilos including the power systems. When i realised my issues with bandwidth in some more remote areas of Europe …er…possibly Asia? I am thinking of the Pi 3 B+ but helped out by 2 Pi V2's. for the basics.

  5. This just gave my the go ahead, It will be my 1st Pi build!! I plan to use a Pi 3 for integrated Bluetooth, no fm modulation.

    DOES ANYONE KNOW OF A 12" TOUCHSCREEN I CAN USE VS THE 7"? I plan to run in portrait mode in my car with a few commands Ive seen. Links even if Alibaba is helpful!

  6. Why didn't you change the head unit and plug in the Pi through aux since you got the DAC? You're gonna lose audio quality transmitting to FM so that work was for nothing.

  7. Hello my friend, I am just about doing something similar on a clasic brazilian car. It is based on a vw beetle. So you can image how simple it is.

    I would like to suggest you a better position for your car pc: above the dashboard, like the brand new bmw or Mercedes benz. It makes a lot easier to see and operate it. Im my prototype i putted an old android tablet in the place where you can read the speed and developed an simple android app using gps data to track the distance travellled, speed, calculate the car authonomy and display a google maps. It is very basic, in the future I will evolve it to raspberry so i can interact with car infraestruture.

    Liked your project so much, congrats!

  8. Excelente video ,muy profecional , yo pensé en usar una rasperi , pero me decidí de poner un tablet android de 7" 3g , y genial , con Google Maps compartiendo la ubicación se donde deje el coche , lo conecte a la radio y el audio del tablet pasa por la radio , GPS , Spotify, Youtube, Torque para hacer diagnosis y datos en línea , etc .. inconveniente el botón de encendido y apagado , le puse un interruptor magnético por detrás del plástico , te felicito por el vídeo

  9. 6:28 HAHA! 🤣
    So recognizable! That is basically the moment when my wife gives me my dose of Ritalin…

  10. 9:42 I found some steering wheels online with tons of buttons for like cruise-control, multimedia and car menu. It would be awesome to use a real steering wheel like that to control a project like yours.

    Also, it would be cool to add ODB2 support to read some technical car data like KM, driving specs and maintenance data. Of course the GPS module can read the car's speed. But ODB2 also supports speed data. This way you can even read out the speed when GPS reception is poor, like in tunnels or when the KP-index is higher than 4.
    (KP-index is the solar activity, that has a negative effect on GPS)

  11. Ah man the music really ruined this it needs to be about half the volume but this is really cool and I’d love to do somthing like this. Except I feel like your loosing some type of quality or function with transmitting all the audio over FM again. There must be a way to wire it back the fm receiver into wheee the receiver would be feeding its data and then turn that into a digital signal. So you shouldn’t have to even change it. You would just skip the whole analogue FM part

  12. Ciao, al min 6:36 quel mini jingle di quale gioco coin op si tratta, lo conosco, l'ho giocato 1000 volte… non riconosco il titolo nelle info

  13. Porque no le pusiste una camara para manejar en reversa y una camara que grabe cuando maejas

  14. It's better to add AUX input to your Laguna instead of FM-transmitter.
    This is a cable – https://aliexpress.com/item/Aux-Cable-Mini-6-Pin-to-3-5mm-Auxiliary-Input-Adapter-Mp3-Interface-Adapter-ATE-For/1589109985.html
    This is a guide – https://www.drive2.com/l/2278715/

  15. Had a car Pi years ago on the og B, it was slow.. Retro Pi is always fun for the red lights..

  16. One question , why didn't you take the music as digital output and drive it to the speaker through a ADC? thanks for the video!

  17. There was a community of carPCs about 10 to 15 years ago…
    Long time before the Raspberry Pi 😉

    But: cool Project!

  18. Seems interesting, but RaspPi won't be enough for everybody. I think more interesting would be idea to prepare well thought off Android edition for multiproducers cars. Even mobile phones back then had individual OSes, yet they turned in direction of unified Android. Imagine all required libraries supporting dashboard info, your favorite selectable from many navigation soft or things like logistic/taxi apps available for cars from different producers. I'd put that idea on some start-up, but I won't have time to realize it – it's a task for giants like Google.

  19. Great project – but I'm dying to hear you say "I want to drink your blood blah blah blah!" in your best dracula voice….

  20. Wow, hat down in front of you! You really dedicated and you added a lot of feature to the car. I added some of the features that you have shown in your video to my car too, not as many but some basic one only by replacing the radio unit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQ5CSPceSVs&t=98s. like I added USB, Bluetooth, and hands-free function.

  21. interesting,but no understand anythink how instal all software gps,sensors,speaker system,front panel not has usb connection can add own music or video whit usb memory stick.how move music at home whit wifi to car pc memory ? home pc need can connect to car pc wifi or somethink can move pc in home music and big files video to car. and have good if have bluetooth OBD reader too, can open car pc all car controll box infos.i think need made but no know how all softwares make and how make code light sensor and other.

  22. same need be dash camera too in car pc, and usb stick were record video, about somethink ssd hd or usb stick 128gb. and how add this rear barking camera too ?

  23. Really interesting video but please could you repost without the music – I'm hard of hearing and really struggling to separate your voice from the music?

  24. just ordn my new raspi 3 B board expansion board can add HDD disk to start raspi and big regulator 12V to 5V,3A. next need know how rear wiev cam adding long cable to car ? and what aurio card need be can add car genuine speakers. and how add GPS ?

  25. Awesome projet.. But… Why the FM transmitter thing ? You have DAC, so you can directly connect to your speakers or to the Auxiliary input of your car audio ? I miss something ?

  26. hello, very interesting project I congratulate you, the software as I can get it, thank you and I hope you answer me.

  27. Awesome video, thank you!! Also, please mix your backing music down an additional 20% from your default, the volume ratios of voice track to music effects is making listening difficult. Thanks again for the insightful vid!!

  28. Cool project…. Really wanted this… But i feel you should also implement android auto in this and obd2 support which would have costed 5dollars extra…
    Also want you to make another video on this with a detailed tutorial with source codes and without that background music

  29. Just at a beginning but using a radio transmitter is a big mistake. It has super low quality sound…

  30. Mausberry Circuits.. Has anybody had any problems receiving orders from here. I ordered the 3a car supply as per this video. Order was confirmed as received and a tracking number was sent. 4 months later the tracking number states the item has yet to leave the shop. Vendor has not replied to any of my emails..

  31. As others have said, the music is terribly annoying. But more importantly, most people looking at these do-it-yourself videos are seeking solutions to run a similar set up. As suggested in your video, I visited your blog for more detailed instructions on what you did but your blog shows that you won’t share the code …seems silly to post the video. I have my own solution, but videos like these are useless unless it’s purpose is to brag.

  32. I'm so sorry but does this have closed caption? The music was so loud that it sounded like someone was playing Tetris on their new card PC at 145db's.
    I'm really interested in doing this project and this video looks well put together. So is there any way you could re-upload it?

  33. At 16:30 I thought I was going to pull my hair out. There's just so much difference in the mood of your voice and the music you chose for the scene. I am not trying to insult you or anything like that. Your channel has so much potential, well this video does, and you do great work. I'm just giving you a perspective from a subscriber's point of view.

    Your ability to describe the task at hand so that those technology impaired can follow along with you quite easily. The ability to do that and master it means you're way ahead of the game.

  34. May be a dumb question, but how did you connect to the speakers. And do you have any wiring schematic? Otherwise very nice job.


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