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Even after a year, I'm amazed how well Google Earth navigation performs - and for free. It completely kicks butt over any nav system out there.

This tutorial shows you how to set up the hottest in-car nav and Web setup that's far better than store-bought standalone GPS units alone. If you already have an old laptop, it's cheaper as well.





The benefits of in-car Internet continually amaze my wife and I. You enjoy yourself so much more because you're never lost, and always have all the information you need. Trip planning happens on the fly. Change reservations. Find gas. Find steak. Get the weather. Stream videos. You can always get all the answers you need to make your trips so much better than before.

In-car Internet is cheap and easy. You need:

1. The cheapest old laptop.
2. Any handheld GPS with either a serial or USB output, or an external GPS antenna made expressly for laptops.
3. A cellular Air Card.





Mounting your laptop

Mounting your laptop can be done a variety of ways. However you must NEVER set it on the dash. When the airbag goes, you will be looking for your passenger's head for some time. I researched this over a year ago when I did my mount, and I wouldn't even rest a pair of sunglasses on top of the dash. The bag explodes up out of the top of the dash, then straight back.

My setup above is safe because the airbag clears the top of the screen and does not carry the computer with it.

If you want to fabricate your own mount, there is Frogeye's easy-to-build version. He runs his without a passenger however. So, the only change I would make to it is to lengthen the supports to hold the laptop lower. There is also my version pictured here, but it requires simple sheet metal fabrication.





Cellular Internet

I'm no cellular expert; there are a few folks here that are, however. This cellular Air Card cost me about $60 at Cingular. Then the monthly charge was about $20. However, this was a year ago, so there's probably a lot of cooler stuff on the market now.

Out in the sticks, the reception sucks like any cell phone. However, there's a fix. Google "Cellular range extender" and there are zillions of little devices that you can stick in your FJ to improve not only the laptop's signal, but your cell phone's as well. I have a 5 watt extender that I hooked to an antenna on the roof and it's really good.


GPS

If you do not have a handheld GPS like a Garmin or Magellan, there are many USB GPS receivers that just plug into your laptop.



Amazon.com: USB GPS Receiver: Electronics


I have a Garmin handheld that I was forced to mount in an unusual way, up between the cage tubes in the ceiling. It's USB-attached to the computer:




Firing it up

Google Earth needs an Internet connection to constantly download the maps. However, in a pinch you can do it without a connection if you take the time to cache the maps in GE before you leave home.

The free version of Google Earth does not include a GPS driver. The Pro version does ($20/year), but it's not too hot. Your GPS driver is a great piece of freeware called Earth Bridge. Earth Bridge not only hooks up your GPS signal with Google Earth, it lets you tailor it in cool ways, like letting you adjust how you view "yourself", how far away, what angle, etc. Here is a screenshot as it shows you the quality of signal reception you're getting:





Earth Bridge is set-and-forget and you only need to use it once, to turn on the GPS signal for Google Earth.





Here, I've requested directions from Vegas to Ballarat, a Death Valley ghost town. Google draws the route in purple. If you want, you can right-click it and save it for later.

For trails that Google doesn't know, there is a Draw tool so you can make your own. While researching a trip at home, you find the trail from the satellite image, draw a trail on it, then save it. When you are actually driving that trail, you'll be able to follow it.





Then all the cool GE panning and perspective features come in. Zoom in 50 feet above your truck. Swivel around and check out the scenery - even at night.





Ah - a storm is coming in. Believe it or not all this is... free!


 

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Awesome. I wasn't kidding about the Tablet. I have an Xplore pentiumM model, with XP Tablet and pen/digitizer screen. Need to find the vehicle dock for it.

Or, I could use a DRS (ex Walkabout) with PentM. Hmmmmm.

This, is just awesome.
 

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Sorry, temporary hijack..

Todd.. how come your dash is "black"? Is it just super clean and armor-alled or did you get it painted a different color at the body shop?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I cleaned it up today finally... it had half of Death Valley inside it. It's still blue Dom
 

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Todd. Nice! This is an essential mod IMHO.
 

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I just wish we had better cellular coverage here in arizona, I am with verizon and even with a wilson 3watt booster I still don't get coverage out in the boonies
I might have to try the cache thing since I already run a laptop with oziexplorer & globalsat gps puck. I is always nice to have more than 1 way to look at things, plus weather and google is cool.
nice write up sir
 

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A2A,

You can manually set the zoom where it shows your track but you have to pan the map manually so your track doesn't go off the map. That is fine if you have a co pilot but not feasible if you have to drive. If you set it up for automatic then the zoom level is preset to zoom all the way in when driving really slow and zoom out depending on speed. The problem is that you can not control the zoom and sometimes you want to see where a certain road takes you. You try to zoom out and GE Plus just zooms you back in. We haven't found a way around this and others on the net are experiencing the same problem. How are you getting around it?

GE is great but there are some off road spots in Arizona where GE does not have great imagery.

Thanks in advance and great write up,

Cheers,
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
....If you set it up for automatic then the zoom level is preset to zoom all the way in when driving really slow and zoom out depending on speed. The problem is that you can not control the zoom and sometimes you want to see where a certain road takes you. You try to zoom out and GE Plus just zooms you back in. We haven't found a way around this and others on the net are experiencing the same problem. How are you getting around it?

Speedy that's exactly what you use Earth Bridge for. That problem was driving me totally nuts too. Earth Bridge lets you view yourself from the sides, front and back, set the altitude, angle... it is just awesome.

Earth Bridge also saves you $20 a year because you can use the standard free version of GE with it.
 

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A2A,

I have been searching like crazy on the net for a solution. I am going to give bridge a try. I already paid for the $20 and haven't used it since.

A BIG THANKS!
 

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great thread! We used laptops and aircards last year on the way to the Summit and it was great being able to look up stuff on the fly. We'd look up campgrounds and restaurants, even posted a bit on the forum from the road. I can't wait to try the Earth Bridge software.
 

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I'm definitely going to have to see if I can get this same setup working with my old 12" Apple Powerbook!
 

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Awesome! I have a spare Motion LE1600 slate tablet collecting dust too! Mind if I ask you to describe your mount in further detail for the tablet PC?

Also, do you not use the tablet functionality of the notebook anymore as evidenced by the mouse and keyboard?

Wonder if this along with my newly installed Avic-D3 would be total overkill..
 

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I got this up and running & so far its awesome...
a coupla ?'s.
to zoom around in GE do I have to "stop" earthbridge?
also I don't seem to be able to start my route from my current location-can you guys?
and- are you guys plotting your route and then following it manually?
thanks,
sc
 

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I will eventually go this route and I was wondering what I need to buy.
Thanks for the pictures and valuable information!!
 

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I will eventually go this route and I was wondering what I need to buy.
Thanks for the pictures and valuable information!!
What is the latest on hardware/software. Looks like this would be a good alternative when on a road trip. (Ouray) I would go back to my TOPO maps when in the outback. Nothing beats that.
Todd, you will have this for when I see you soon? Hope so, I can get the lowdown.
 
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