How to Make Your Dumb Car Smart with Sensors, Cameras and Amazon Echo Auto

It's impossible to say precisely how many cars are currently on the world’s roads. It was calculated that there are over 1 billion motor vehicles roaming the streets of our planet. Given the fact each year some 80 million of them are sold, that means most of the cars now in operation are old or very old models.
Any car can be smart with today's technology 6 photos
Amazon Echo AutoSherox HUDGarmin Dash Cam 55Zone Tech parking sensorLeeKooLuu parking camera
Newer cars, the ones launched over the past decade or so, have signaled the beginning of a huge leap in capabilities. They can partially drive themselves, assist the driver in various circumstances and with various tasks, talk back or answer questions, connect to smart devices and smart homes, and so on.

But these vehicles are still rare when you look at the greater picture. The majority of vehicles are still dumb by these standards, doing only what they were originally intended to do: take people from point A to point B. No assistance tools, no voice control, no GPS trackers, no navigation.

But just as the technologies fitted on cars from the assembly lines have evolved, so did aftermarket solutions for those planning to turn their aging cars into smart hubs for the 21st century.

Below you will find a short guide on what to look for when trying to give your car some wits.

What You Need to Give Your Car a Brain

For a car to be smart, it needs additional equipment it usually gets right on the assembly lines. As we stated before, most of the cars now on the roads lack that equipment for the simple reason it didn’t exist when they were built.

The first thing a car needs to be smart is to understand its environment. For that it needs senses. In an inanimate object, that translates into sensors and cameras.

Then, it needs a way to tell the driver what its senses pick up. The easiest and more accurate way it can do this is by using an in-car screen, and optionally a voice-enabled assistant.

Amazon Echo Auto
Last, but not least, a car needs software to run it all. Usually in today’s cars that means Android Auto, Apple CarPlay or some other type of operating system. But there are other solutions available as well.

Most of these parts can now be found in online stores and installed in virtually any car with minimal hassle.

When fully operational, they should entrust any vehicle with capabilities it never had before: parking sensors, reverse camera, touchscreen display, head-up display, dashcam with lane keeping assist and proximity warning, and even voice control.

Parking Sensors (ad) - Sensors are essential for a car to know at what distance it is from an obstacle. Most of the time, they are especially needed when parking the car, hence they are mostly installed at the rear. And there’s plenty of them available online.

The Zone Tech solution we chose for our guide comprises 4 ultrasonic sensors, an LED display, a CPU and a chipset. The four sensors usually go on the rear bumper, but there’s nothing stopping you from installing a second set on the front one.

The sensors are sensitive enough, says the manufacturer, to detect small children passing by or a low obstacle that is impossible to see from inside the car or in the mirrors.

Relaying the information detected by the sensors is the LED display which shows in green, yellow or red the distance between the car and the obstacle. Red, obviously, is bad. There’s also an alphanumeric display showing the distance in meters.

The Zone Tech sensors can be used instead of a reversing camera, or in conjunction with one. When fitted on the front bumper, they can act as warning for approaching the car in front too much.

On Amazon, the Zone Tech (ad) sells for $17.20.

Zone Tech parking sensor
Parking Cameras (ad) - Should parking sensors not be enough for you, you might want to go for a parking camera. These devices are meant to be your eyes in the rear, sending images of what’s going on behind of a car to a screen much better than a mirror could ever do.

There are countless options available, but based on the number of positive reviews received on Amazon and its funky name we chose the LeeKooLuu (ad).

The system comprises a 4.3-inch LCD screen, the camera itself, and a video cable that is 23.5 ft long (7 meters). Setting it up is easy: install the camera at the rear of the car, the screen inside and link the two using the cable. (if you’re not into drilling holes into your car to run a cable, there are also wireless systems available).

The images sent to the screen are color and come in HD, the camera itself is IP69 waterproof and can even see at night thanks to the built-in LEDs.

LeeKooluu is $38.99 on Amazon.

Touchscreen display (ad) – no modern-day car can be sold without a decent touchscreen. For most car owners though, the age of their vehicles makes a screen possible only if a smartphone is brought in the equation.

In a separate guide a while back we covered some of the best Android Auto / Apple CarPlay multimedia systems now on the market. You can have a look by pressing this link (ad).

Driver-Assist dashcams (ad) – There’s a great deal of dashcams available now, but only few of them come with the ability to double as assistance systems for the car and driver.

Garmin Dash Cam 55
The Garmin Dash Cam 55 (ad) is one such hardware. Aside from the regular features a camera should have, the Garmin comes complete with red light and speed limit warnings, forward collision warning, and even lane departure warning.

And yes, it does this for all cars, regardless of model, make or year, for $169.85.

Heads-up Display (ad) - Another gizmo you can add to the car to make it appear smarter is a heads-up display. There are countless systems available, and despite the fact they in no way come even close to factory fitted systems, they are a valid choice for low-budget customers.

The need to have a HUD installed derives from the need to keep the eyes on the road at all times. Most aftermarket HUDs meet this requirement, but not all display info directly on the windscreen.

Those that do, like the Sherox (ad), usually employ some type of reflective film. The system comprises the film, the HUD module, some stickers to attach the module to the dashboard and an OBD line to link it to the car itself.

Once linked to the car and fitted on the dashboard, in front of the steering wheel, the Sherox shows info about speed, water temperate, battery voltage and mileage right in front of the driver’s eyes.

The Sherox HUD sells for $46,95 on Amazon.

Personal Assistant (ad) - Over the past few years, the world of personal assistants has moved to conquer not only our phones, but also our homes, offices and cars. Depending on what car you own, you might already be driving accompanied by a factory-sanctioned assistant, but in case you’re not, here’s our suggestion for you: the Echo Auto.

Introduced in September 2018 to take over a growing market segment, the Echo brings Alexa to your car with a dedicated device.

The Echo is powered by the car’s 12V power outlet or USB port and connects to the stereo system through a 3.5 mm audio jack or Bluetooth connection.

The Echo Auto (ad) still needs the Alexa smartphone app to access music, navigation or calling.

The Echo Auto is priced at $24.99 on the Amazon website.

Editor's note: Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, and we may receive a commission when you buy one of these products. Nevertheless, this does not impact our choice of products or the information provided here.


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