What is an In-Vehicle Computer?

Related Terms: Automotive Computer, Car PC, Transportation Computer, Onboard Computer, Vehicle Computer

What are the Defining Features of an In-Vehicle Computer?

As the transportation industry continues to evolve, it's increasingly common to find computer systems serving a wide range of uses within cars, trucks, trains, boats and airplanes. The number of transportation applications for embedded PCs has grown exponentially, encompassing everything from advanced navigation and fleet management, to cargo allocation, telematics and infotainment. PCs used within vehicles must meet a very specific set of standards to ensure reliability in the often challenging environments of mobile installations. Computers for transportation applications will almost always include various combinations of these features.

  • Vibration Resistant - Because of the nature of mobile environments, in-vehicle computers have to be able to stand up to shock and vibration. Being subjected to potholes and train tracks would shake a standard computer to death. Advanced vibration isolating mounts and solid fully solid state construction are common in systems built for in-vehicle use. (Read more about vibration resistance here.)
  • Wide Temperature - In-vehicle PCs require components that are rated for reliable operation in both hot and cold conditions. Extreme climates often demand extreme operating temperature ranges, sometimes as wide as -40°C to 80°C. (Read more about wide temperature components here.)
  • Automotive Power Features - Specially designed automotive power supplies are commonly used for in-vehicle computers in order to account for the fluctuating power associated with turning a vehicle on and off. These PSUs feature settings that allow the user to customize the timing and voltage of power delivered to the PC based on the ignition state of the vehicle, often referred to as "ignition sensing".

Other Key In-Vehicle Features

Because of the unique challenges of in-vehicle computing, there are a number of other features commonly found in these systems that might not be as familiar to industrial & embedded PC users. Additional connectivity, often via CAN Bus, is frequently required to interface with existing automotive or mobile systems. In many instances cellular 4G LTE cards are installed to enable wireless communication and data transfer from vehicles to centralized servers. Wide input power supplies are also commonly required to account for voltage fluctuations.

In-Vehicle PC

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