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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Linux based mp3 player in Saab 9-5

These days, it's always a pity not to have mp3s in the car in form of mp3 capable CD player or any kind of input for external devices (AUX, USB, some card slot ...). I've found an interesting solution for older Saabs called Saablin. A smart guy has assembled a small computer and coded the player incl. remapping of buttons in the dashboard and other things.

Since the guy is living in Prague and I was on a trip there, I've asked him for a visit and short introduction of his installation in his 2001 Saab 9-5 Aero combi. We've met at one of the first sunny spring days in a nice part of Prague. It's a normal guy without visible signs of a geek background. Interior of his 9-5 (with re-mapped 2.3T petrol engine running also on E85 bioethanol) was something different.

The hardware part is a small custom built PC (documented here) connected to the CAN bus in the car. It's a standard PC but the trick here is to have an intelligent power supply which shuts itself down after ignition off, otherwise it would discharge the car battery. It can be tested with an old notebook, but for regular use it is very recommended to use a small PC because of the power supply.

The software part is Slackware Linux based and programmed in perl by using mpd (music player daemon) and Socket-CAN open source drivers and networking stack.

The result are playable mp3s from a notebook-sized 250GB hard-disk and several modes and possibilities for switching songs or fast rewind, usage of playlists or random play etc. The whole thing is controlled by re-mapped buttons below the 2-row display. For people who are not ready to use the re-mapped buttons there is also a bluetooth based solution in the mobile phone available. The player in the phone is Remuco, which can be used for many Linux based mp3 players on several mobile platforms (here on Nokia/Symbian, there is an Android client as well).

It's playing great, the PC in the boot needs some seconds to boot up, but than it plays fantastic. You can have your whole music collection with you in the car and it can be selected through a mobile phone from someone else in the car while you drive. In 2001 only the first car radios with mp3 capability came into the stores (i had a Kenwood in my 2001 Volvo, this one) but the original car installations didn't even started. Nowadays some sort of audio inputs are in nearly every car, but because many used cars are circulating, this solution will hold for several years from now.

It is a nice example of a custom computer implementation for the car. Since it uses CAN bus widely adopted in automotive industry, this solution is not only a Saab proprietary solution. Here you can find a partial list of cars equipped with CAN.

There are also some demo videos showing how this thing works on the original site.

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