Why Doesn’t My Car Run Android?

A lot of cars are putting a big touchscreen LCD into cars, hooked up to a mediocre GPS system. And then they integrate it into some proprietary system. Not necessary proprietary as in “icky and closed-source,” though it’s that, too. But I suspect every car manufacturer has their own interface, each reinventing the wheel, and poorly.

At my apartment, I have a weather station that shows a 7-day forecast. On my desktop, I have a weather app that shows the weather. So sometimes when I’m getting out of my car, I glance at the center console to see if I need to bring an umbrella. But every time, I’m disappointed: my car doesn’t know the weather. At all. I could pull out my iPhone and look, but by the time I’ve realized that the oversized AC button doesn’t tell me the weather, I’ve lost interest.

Or there’s the radio. Six stations and rarely a good song. When I was in Raleigh earlier this month, I rented a car with Sirius (and a terrific sound system). But with ~150 stations, I still found myself aimlessly turning the dial, rarely finding anything that was even tolerable. I have a CD player, but one CD gets old very quickly. I can play my iPod through an FM transmitter, but the signal is weak and since my MP3 player is also my cell phone, I get horrible noises through my speakers whenever my phone transmits data back to the network, so it’s not really workable. You know what I really want? Pandora. Pandora never disappoints me.

I just had to update the maps on my GPS. They were years out of date, and it was a hassle. It’d be nice if my GPS could get updates automatically, a la Google Maps. (But a Google Maps with aggressive caching.)

My clock isn’t all that precise, either. If you have a GPS signal, you have an extremely accurate clock. (The GPS satellites carry atomic clocks and transmit this data, as precision timing is fundamental to how GPS works. One microsecond of deviation from atomic time in a GPS receiver implies almost 1,000 feet of error.) And then you could apply DST shifts automatically, too.

Oh, speaking of GPS. Some higher-end models apparently include gimmicky dead reckoning to try to estimate your position if you go into a tunnel and lose reception. But it’s based on an accelerometer inside the GPS, along with a digital compass. I can’t imagine an accelerometer inside a GPS is terribly accurate, which is probably why GPS dead reckoning isn’t held to be that accurate. But you know what has exacting information on precisely how far you’ve traveled, at precisely what speed? Your car’s onboard computer. So make that data available to the GPS as well, along with a high-quality digital compass, and you ought to be able to keep a very accurate fix on your location even when losing GPS entirely.

Plus, imagine the graphs you could make!

The only downside with an open platform like Android is that you couldn’t practically keep people from installing Angry Birds on their car, which would lead to mass casualties.

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