I got the Pandaboard on Jan 24. Took some wrangling to get Android 4.0 to compile on my Gentoo system (their instructions and build tools tend to assume Ubuntu), but I got a successful build in the end.

Flashed the SD card and got the board to boot. I get a popup after the boot screen saying “Unfortunately, System UI has stopped”. Seems that Android 4 isn’t as out-of-the-box on Pandaboard as Google says.

Still haven’t fully decided on a touchscreen and mount, but I obviously still have work to do with what I have.

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Small Update

Ordered the PandaBoard and an SD Card. PandaBoard is on backorder at Digi-Key, so no idea when it will get here.

EDIT (Jan 23, 2012): Finally got a tracking number from Digi-Key. Should be here tomorrow, so this project can finally go forward.

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The Parts

Parts list so far:


Cost: $180

Basically a motherboard with a ARM processor that can run Android 4.0 right out of the box.


Cost: $55

Case to hold a Mini-ITX motherboard (I assume the PandaBoard will fit) and can be put into the double-DIN slot of a car stereo head unit.

7″ Touchscreen

Cost: $180

This is listed to fit on the case listed above.  However, it’s only single-touch.  Might have to look for other options in the same size.

SD Card

Cost: $20

This is listed on the PandaBoard wiki as a good, fast card for the purpose.  I plan on having music on this, but not movies, so 8GB should be enough.

12V -> 5V DC-DC Converter

Cost: $20

Car batteries put out about 12V, while the PandaBoard runs on 5V.  Having 4 amps is recommended, especially with a few USB accessories (which we will have, in the form of GPS and AM/FM radio).  The linked model can handle 10 amps, so there’s plenty of overhead.

OBD-II -> Bluetooth Adaptor

Cost: $30

I bought one of these already. It lets your Android device connect to the on-board computer for logging speed, RPM, oil temperature, etc., as well as viewing and clearing engine codes. Using the Torque app handles the device side. While Torque’s wiki page warns against the cheap adapters on Amazon/eBay, this one worked just fine for me on both my Android phone (LG Optimus S) and tablet (Asus Transformer).

Total so far: $485

I may have to blow the $500 limit to get a multitouch screen.  I also haven’t included the GPS and radio modules.

For parts specific to the RX-8, I need:

Double-DIN Stereo Face

Cost: $120

Nothing too interesting. It just replaces one bit of plastic with another bit of plastic that will fit better for my purposes

Wiring Harness

Cost: $5

Also pretty boring. This connects the manufacturer’s stereo plug to the aftermarket unit. You’ll need to dig a little to find one to fit your car.

Edit: It turned out that the stereo face came with its own wiring harness. This may or may not be true for your car, so try to check before ordering.

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A DIY Android Car Computer

I normally don’t do this. There are lots of people who talk about what they’re going to be doing instead of doing it. Indie game “developers” are the worst–you can see forums filled with ideas for fantastic games that are far too ambitious to ever be implemented. The indie devs who actually release something are the ones who are typing code rather than forum posts until they have something that mostly works.

So I’ve broadly followed Steve Jobs’ rule of never talking about what you’re working on until it’s nearly finished.

In this case, I’ve decided to break that rule. I’ll be blogging about my DIY Android Car Computer project, documenting individual steps.  The reasons are:

  • I’m more of a software guy, and this gets into hardware territory that I’m somewhat unfamiliar with.  If I run into problems, I’ll probably have to talk about the project details in order to get help, anyway.
  • If I can generate a bit of a following, it might motivate me to see the project through to completion
  • Provides public documentation of all the steps so others can base their own projects on it

I’ll follow up with technical details in another post soon.  As a quick overview, I plan on using PandaBoard with Android 4.0 to put a computer into my 2004 Mazda RX-8 in place of the factory stereo head unit.

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I aim to include the following:

  • Android 4.0
  • GPS
  • WiFi
  • OBD-II Scanning
  • Fits in a Double-DIN slot
  • At least 8GB of flash storage (only holding music, not movies)
  • AM/FM radio (probably)
  • Hooks up to all the car audio
  • Multitouch screen
  • If possible, powered by an always-hot wire, but with a hookup to put it into sleep/shutdown when the ignition is turned off

Budget is $500, not including some parts specific to the RX-8.  Mainly the plastic front plate needed to fit an aftermarket stereo unit, as well as the harness for the audio hookup.  Fortunately, my RX-8 has the premium Bose factory stereo, which already has an external amplifier.

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