Jirka Jirout can start his car’s heater remotely by sending it a text message. He can follow his GPS map on an in-dash LCD while one passenger watches a DVD on a fold-down 17-inch screen and another surfs the web on a laptop plugged into the center armrest’s Ethernet hub, each person listening to different audio streams. At a stoplight, Jirout can grab the wireless keyboard to pound out an email or use the Bluetooth connection to sync his cellphone’s calendar and address book.

  • Dept: You Built What?!
  • Tech: computer/car integration
  • Cost: $3,500
  • Time: hundreds of hours
  • Difficulty: practical | | | | | popcorn (Editor’s note: 1/5)

Jirout, a technical manager for a European newspaper conglomerate, drives what might be the most perfectly integrated computer-car on the planet. Its brain is a disemboweled 450MHz Apple G4 packed into a windowed fiberglass case in the trunk. Jirout replaced a stock plastic dashboard with a custom wood-and-leather version that accommodates a seven-inch LCD, a Griffin Powermate controller dial, and a row of programmable buttons that let him call up a map or start an MP3 playlist without taking his eyes off the road. There’s a GPS unit and mapping software, as well as a WiFi card and GPRS (through the cellphone) for a near-constant internet connection. He even wrote the control software that makes all the programs work together using Mac OS X’s programming tools, so his buttons and menus interface seamlessly with off-the-shelf programs such as iTunes.

Finally, the G4 is patched into the car’s ECU, but just to monitor—not control—engine performance. Integration can go only so far, lest one crash in this car lead to another.

The brains

The trunk of a car with a computer motherboard and a Blue Apple logo, with some hard drives.
The brains of Jirout’s computer-car. Jirka Jirout

Trunk-mounted case with Gore-Tex air vents to keep out moisture houses motherboard and video cards for both the front and back display screens

The connection

Custom rear armrest offers an Ethernet port for the WiFi/GPRS Internet connection; audio jacks; and a remote-control unit for rear-seat audio and video (see photo at the top of this story).

The display

Seven-inch in-dash LCD with custom software display.
Jirout’s in-dash display. Jirka Jirout

Seven-inch in-dash LCD with custom software displays several functions at once. Below it is a row of programmable buttons.

This story has been updated. It was originally featured in the September 2004 issue of Popular Science magazine.