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April 16, 2006

FJ Cruiser Car Computer Project

I decided that at the beginning of the year that I would try to surround myself with Speech Recognition products.  I heard Bill Joy speak years ago and he talked about trying to understand future technology by figuring out ways to live with it today.  I'm not sure he said these words, but I think of it as "prototyping the future."

I've decided it is time to build a car computer.  This is a personal project even though there might be some interesting business and technology lessons to be learned.  (In other words, I'm paying for this out of my pocket and I don't have to be limited by an ROI or a business case.)

Since I bought my last car ten years ago, I decided that a new car with a factory navigation system wasn't going to give me everything I wanted and it would certainly be obsolete well before my ten year trade-in target.  I've played with the navigation system in an Acura TL, and it's pretty good, especially the speech recognition, but in a couple of years it is going to as obsolete as my first Palm Pilot.

I looked at a lot of cars and settled on the new Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Fj1I've owned three jeeps, but I always wanted one of the old Toyota Land Cruisers.  Just this month Toyota released the FJ Cruiser and I was fortunate (with some help) to get the first one to arrive at  Longmont Toyota.  I'll write about my experience with the dealership another time - it's a good sales and service story and I was very happy with the experience.

This is not a fancy "leather and burled walnut" kind of vehicle.  It is a lot more complicated than my old jeeps, but the dash is metal, plastic and vinyl, so installation of the car computer will (I hope) be a lot easier.


In phase one of my project, I'm installing an aftermarket system from Pioneer, the AVIC-Z1.  It's also brand new and I'm already experiencing the joy of trying to put a complicated audio/navigation system that no one has ever seen, into a vehicle that no one has ever seen.  The Z1 is on order at Ultimate Electronics in Boulder who is going to do the installation for me, because while I've installed a few stereos before and I can solder fairly well, I don't have the confidence to be cutting wires under the dash of my new FJ.  (Yet - that will happen in Phase Two)  Update - Ultimate couldn't deliver so after waiting for weeks, I cancelled the order and now I'm scheduled to get it installed at Extreme Automotive.

The Z1 has speech recognition built in, gps navigation ("Go to Denver"), Bluetooth phone integration and a 30GB hard drive for ripping MP3s from CDs.  When I get it installed I'll do a full review, particularly about how well the speech recognition works.

Phase two of the project will be to add a real car computer.  The after market car computer market is just getting started but it is an exciting place - it reminds me of the early days of home computers where hackers would get together and figure out out to build their own computers.  If you want to follow along, there is a great community of developers at mp3car.com and I've found some good books that are (for the moment) very current.  Car PC Hacks - Tips & Tools for Geeking Your Ride is my favorite.  It's an O'Reilly book written by Damien Stolarz with a lot of help from other enthusiasts.  It has the most references to websites and sources for parts and I've already dog-eared many pages.  I also bought Geek My Ride - Build the Ultimate Tech Rod which has a lot of good photos and finally Build Your Own Car PC, a book from the UK which also has a lot of photos and specifics about hardware.

As car computers start to go mainstream, plenty of people are going to say "why would I want a car computer?"  Just remember, plenty of people said "why would I want a home computer" and "why would I want a cell phone" and those two markets have done just fine.  I believe that speech recognition will play an important roll in making it happen, which is why I'm going to devote a few weekends to understanding where it is going.

April 16, 2006 in Car Computer, Speech Recognition | Permalink


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» Online on the Road from Fractals of Change
Fellow nerd and My Way Network blogger Terry Gold is making his car into an online computing environment. The car computer gets its connectivity through a Verizon EVDO card (which I also use) and a KR1 Mobile Router (gotta get one) which has both Ether... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 6, 2006 12:36:36 AM


Really great, quite good.

Posted by: mtv200 | Apr 21, 2006 1:50:37 AM

Hey Terry,

I just looked at one of these today. It's a really neat looking vehicle.

We just bought a 2006 Sienna today as I have 4 kids and need the room. One for these days I'll get me another 4x4.

Did the dealer show you the FJ magazine?

Posted by: Marshall Harrison | Apr 22, 2006 7:37:00 PM

I'm looking forward to hearing how your project works out. You might also look for support and help from the TLCA, the Toyota Land Cruiser Association http://www.tlca.org. Even though the FJ is not a Land Cruiser, it has been adopted by us.

One of the 4 Toyota promotional rigs that are travelling the country was parked in San Carlos for a few days. http://www.flickr.com/photos/streamofconsciousness/136484227/

Posted by: Mike McGrath | Apr 29, 2006 3:44:32 PM

I looked at one of these last weekend. I was the proud owner of a 1971 FJ40, but will get an 'exec' car. ;) Way to go on being 1st.

Posted by: Jim Franklin | May 20, 2006 9:49:38 PM

Terry, found this site doing a google search: "installing AVIC-Z1 fj cruiser" and this one hit top position. I too just acquired an FJ and have ordered the AVIC-Z1, I expect to get it next week and will attempt the install myself using information found at http://www.fjcruiserforums.com/ I'm going with ipod interface, bluetooth and rear backup camera. Using a 3rd party cam that support night vision. Curious as to where you're at with your project and if you plan on posting pics from the install. BTW, I got the Avic for 1527 from powersellernyc.com

Posted by: Jim | Jun 16, 2006 1:51:52 PM