Crankshaft turns a Raspberry Pi 3 and a touchscreen into an Android Auto head unit


Android Auto-compatible head units aren’t too difficult to find these days, but they cost a pretty penny and usually won’t fit properly in older cars. A developer created a solution called Crankshaft to address both of those issues, and all you need to make it a reality is a Raspberry Pi 3 and a touchscreen.

Crankshaft is a free “turnkey” GNU/Linux distribution with a simple proposition:

  • Buy a Raspberry Pi 3 and a 7-inch touchscreen (and a case, if you’d like)
  • Connect the Pi to the touchscreen
  • Download and unzip the Crankshaft image, and write it to an SD card
  • Assemble the makeshift Android Auto head unit in your car
  • Drive

The developer, Huan Truong, said the project began when he couldn’t find an affordable Android Auto Head unit that fit in his 1998 car, which has a single DIN slot. He saw an open source Android Auto head unit emulator called OpenAuto but wanted to create a simpler solution. Crankshaft is the result, and it seems pretty awesome.

A demo of how the Crankshaft setup works

The Raspberry Pi 3, touchscreen, and case will run you about $110, which sure beats what you’d have to spend on a manufactured single-DIN Android Auto head unit. Huan makes it clear that Crankshaft should be seen as alpha-level software that shouldn’t be relied upon for everyday use.

The Crankshaft setup lacks a microphone, so there’s no “Ok Google” functionality. While Bluetooth functionality is on the radar, Huan doesn’t consider it a high priority at the moment. Neither of those limitations takes away from the cool and fun factors here.

A demo of Crankshaft features

Huan shares more about the project in a reddit post, wherein he links to the touchscreen and case he uses and offers his take on why anyone would want to go through all this when there’s an Android Auto app you can use on your phone. There’s also a Google Photos group set up for Crankshaft users to share pictures of their homemade setups.

Huan shares a more personal backstory to why he made Crankshaft on his blog. His candor makes it well worth a read.

If you’re interested in giving this a go, head to the Crankshaft website to get started. Huan isn’t accepting donations (he asks people to support f1xpl, the developer behind OpenAuto), but he welcomes emails and photos from Crankshaft users.


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