Motobrain: A Bluetooth controlled PDU

motobrain

If you’ve ever considered modding your vehicle’s electrical system, [Josh Oster-Morris's] Motobrain PDU (power distribution unit) might make life easier by providing precision control and protection for auxiliary 12V outputs in your car, bike, boat, etc. Once the Motobrain is paired to a phone over Bluetooth, a companion app displays real-time telemetry and lets you program up to 8 output channels.

Each of these 8 outputs can be directly controlled in the app, but the real power lies in the 4 programmable inputs. Here you can tie systems together and dictate exactly how one should respond to the other, e.g. detecting high-beams and disabling the auxiliary light bar you added. There’s even a “delayed on” option. Programming also has PWM capabilities, so flipping a switch could raise the brightness of some lights over 4 levels of intensity. If those lights are LEDs, the Motobrain can also provide constant current to specification. Each circuit can supposedly handle 15A continuous current and has a programmable circuit breaker, which would make fuses optional.

You can watch an overview video after the break to get a better idea of how it all works, but stop by [Josh's] project blog to see all the features explained across multiple videos and blog posts as they are developed and tested.

Comments

  1. imnotyourbro says:

    Now this is much more relevant than the previous controlled power supply, namely, th Hydra. It costs roughly the same, but offers a lot more.

  2. pcf11 says:

    Thanks but I pass on automotive electronics unless it relates to the ignition system.

  3. matt says:

    A solution looking for a problem. I can see no situation in where I would ever need a bluetooth controlled 12V outlet in my car. To switch on my fog lights while i’m dicking around on my phone?

    • I don’t expect people to need or desire to use their phones with the Motobrain on a daily basis. The phone is not required for the Motobrain to function. The phone is the programming interface for a very smart 8-channel relay and circuit breaker box. The phone can also be used as a remote control, but the key feature is being able to link circuits together logically (rather than physically) to perform customized functions. You’d program the device with your phone and the PDU runs the program.

      One example of a customized function would be to program your aux lights to come on whenever your high beams are on. Or turn on an accessory circuit when your headlights are switched on. This is easily done with one of the PDU’s input wires connected to a signal voltage for your high or main beams, respectively. For a more complex example, you could tell the Motobrain to turn on an air horn when you press your horn switch, but only after you’ve held the switch for more than one second. To do this, you just need to connect an input wire to your vehicle’s horn signal, and then program it with your phone. This kind of thing would be great for those of us who’d like to have a normal horn for signaling as well as a bigger “Watch it jackass!” signal.

      • matt says:

        “One example of a customized function would be to program your aux lights to come on whenever your high beams are on. ”

        Why? If you’re going to be rewiring your car to add aux lights, why wouldn’t you just add the aux lights to the same circuit as the high beams? What, you might need to upgrade the fuse in the fuse box, or possibly install larger gauge wire? Its not going to be that much work, and compared to your $260+ sticker price, this certainly doesnt add enough value to justify the expense. It doesnt even look like it comes with a IP67 rated enclosure or waterproof connectors.

        ” Or turn on an accessory circuit when your headlights are switched on. ”
        Why? Because I only want my power inverter to activate when my head lights are on?

        “For a more complex example, you could tell the Motobrain to turn on an air horn when you press your horn switch”
        How many people actually put air horns in their cars/SUVs for one? And of those people who would really want it to turn on after 1 second rather than immediately?

        As I said before, a solution looking for a problem.

        • matt says:

          Well I guess I was mistaken and you do have a “waterproof” enclosure, although the part of not being rated for high temperatures is a bit troubling since most people would probably want to mount it in the engine bay. Does BlueTooth even work if it is mounted in the engine bay? Also what happens if you mount this in proximity something which generates RFI such as the ignition system? I dont see any mention that the polyurethane enclosure is shielded at all. And how much current does this draw when the car is turned off?

          • Blufires says:

            Here in far north Queensland, Australia, people will LOVE this. They already spend tens of thousands on suspension upgrades, $2k on bullbars, and hundreds of dollars on auxillary lights because they go camping, fishing and hunting in their Land Cruisers for weeks at a time, hundreds of miles from the closest road.

            There’s other great uses for this device which would actually be quite helpful. For example, turning off all accessories when the battery gets low to prevent getting stuck in the forest with no way to get home. It could be used as a solar charging controller for the 4wd camper’s battery. It could be used to read the low fuel light, and automatically power a pump to top it up from the auxillary tank. It could automatically turn on the fog lights and reversing lights when you power up the winch, so you can see what you’re doing under the bullbar.

            Other bits of hardware this needs to really create a splash are a photocell ($1) to add sunlight sensing for automating the lights, and a rain sensor for the windscreen wipers/fog lights. Maybe add some places to put temperature sensors so it can also be used to control thermofans to keep the engine cool, a big concern on a 4wd since they’re working hard but moving very slowly, usually in a hot climate. Temperature sensors could also automatically enable a fuel line heater to stop your diesel freezing in northern Canada/Finland/Iceland. Definitely need to add outputs for external larger relays (refered to as solenoid switches by some) to allow switching of multiple batteries, which almost every serious 4wd has.

            Honestly this peice of equipment won’t be popular in big cities, but people will love it in the deep south, rural Canada, nordic countries and everywhere in Australia.

          • The Motobrain should not be placed under the hood. It is really too hot in there for high current semiconductors. Conveniently there are a lot of good places to put this in the kinds of customized vehicles for which the product is intended.

            The RF sensitive components are in a shielded can which will be inside the potting compound.

            The wire supplied is more than adequate to the task for which it is intended and it is not a wear item. I only provide a short pig tail so the log runs are for the end user to run with a wire of their choice.

            The Motobrain draw 6mA in idle mode. When you have any outputs on, it draws 11mA plus how ever much current you are burning on your outputs. The plan now is to have the Motobrain remain idle for a couple days after the vehicle is shut down before it shuts off and requires the key to switched to on to reset the idle clock.

            I’d ask you to watch these videos to get a better idea of the flexibility of the programming system. It is powerful.

    • I don’t expect people to need or desire to use their phones with the Motobrain on a daily basis. The phone is not required for the Motobrain to function. The phone is the programming interface for a very smart 8-channel relay and circuit breaker box. The phone can also be used as a remote control, but the key feature is being able to link circuits together logically (rather than physically) to perform customized functions. You’d program the device with your phone and the PDU runs the program.

      One example of a customized function would be to program your fog lights to turn off whenever your high beams are on. Or turn on an accessory circuit when your headlights are switched on. This is easily done with one of the PDU’s input wires connected to a signal voltage for your high or main beams, respectively. For a more complex example, you could tell the Motobrain to turn on an air horn when you press your horn switch, but only after you’ve held the switch for more than one second. To do this, you just need to connect an input wire to your vehicle’s horn signal, and then program it with your phone. This kind of thing would be great for those of us who’d like to have a normal horn for signaling as well as a bigger “Watch it jackass!” signal.

  4. nom says:

    Does anyone know which software was used to create this video?
    the effects/transitions looks good

  5. Chris C. says:

    Odd that no one, even the creator, has a particularly compelling example of usage that couldn’t be accomplished with common wiring and relays. Yet it has 56 backers, so someone must think it’s useful.

    I noticed the label on the side says “Motobrain.NET”. Does this mean it’s based on the .NET platform? Is that development environment accessible directly, should someone want to create a more complex behavior than possible with the GUI?

    • as3 says:

      Could also be the top level domain like .com (->motorbrain.com).

    • I would argue that PWM, constant current, and logically linking of circuits so that the state of one can affect the state of others is something you can accomplish with “common wiring and relays”. Perhaps you are just not well informed about the gizmo?

      • arg… NOT something you can accomplish…

      • Chris C. says:

        I’m aware of those features. But it appears you didn’t read or understand what I said.

        I said no “particularly compelling example of usage” was provided. When asked by another, your first example was turning on one set of lights when another came on – but that is indeed easily accomplished with hard wiring, or a relay.

        Engaging a secondary horn after a time delay seems an unlikely application, but that too can be accomplished with a cheaper, time-delay relay module.

        PWM and constant current are neat features, but the majority of automotive accessories have inherent current limiting, and many you wouldn’t need or want to PWM.

        Projects of this nature are generally born from a legitimate need by the creator for something that doesn’t exist, or better than what exists; and then evolve to a salable product. So yes, I find it odd that YOU can’t provide a compelling usage example, which you should be able to easily do if you have at least a prototype version on your OWN vehicle, and it’s doing something both useful and worth the price.

        [Blufire] finally came up with some good usages. But some of those are dependent on uncommitted analog inputs, which your product description doesn’t include. Or complex behaviors, which your GUI-based “proprietary input interface” may or may not explicitly support.

        That’s why I asked if your product had a lower-level programming or scripting interface. A simple and direct question, which you did not answer. Either a “yes it does”, or a “no but it’s a good idea and it could be added” would have been a selling point. Instead you questioned my familiarity with your gizmo, when I was trying to get more familiar with it. That makes sense, how?

        If our exchange is representative of communications with you, I feel sorry for any your customers who have tech support questions.

        • I’ve explained this product in great detail on forums related to the people who I expect to be customers some day. Many of the ideas for this came directly from those interactions. I know what the target audience wants because I asked them directly and this is the product they described. Please understand my reticence to blather on about the gizmo here when the everything people need to know is available elsewhere, just a Googleing away. Start here if you want to learn more. http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=827565

          To respond to you directly, I think you under value proposition I am making and over value the alternatives you state. It is a difference of opinion clearly and not easily argued on a factual basis. That said, when you consider how many $80 application specific gizmos people buy (1 channel at a time) to perform the functions this thing does, the Motobrain is a significant discount. I know many people who spend much more than the cost of this gizmo and get a lot less for their money. Don’t like it? Don’t back it. This is a purely voluntary exchange.

          Blufire is correct on many levels. All those sensors he is speaking of could be used with the current set of input sense wires with a little or no effort to make the ouput digital (12V or GND depending on state). I do have plans for an add on unit to add more digital and analog IO but it will have to wait until the PDU is out the door. He is also correct that this is not designed for soccer moms in their minivans (he said city people but I am narrowing his statement a bit for my own benefit). It is a niche product for people who have special vehicle needs. Motorcycles that tour, off road vehicles, van conversions, snow machines, boats, race cars, classic cars. That audience understands the value proposition because they live with the tribulations of a world without a device like this one. Is the Motobrain going to change the world? Nope. Will it make the lives of people in the groups I describe much easier? Yes, I believe it will.

          • Chris C. says:

            Despite your “reticence to blather on about the gizmo here”, I’d say given your word count here in response to me and others, you have effectively done so.

            Including responding to me twice, now at length; yet both times ignoring my original and repeated question, of whether this has a lower-level programming interface. It’s a simple question, with no good reason why you shouldn’t have directly answered, rather than suggesting anyone interested should search a 34 page thread!

            Instead you’ve focused on defending the value of your device. Which you are certainly entitled to do, but you’ve done so rather erroneously, as I never stated it was valueless. I’m sure that given the right application, that utilizes the bulk of its capabilities, it is an excellent tool. I simply said it was odd that YOU, the creator, did not provide a specific example of such an application; only examples that would indisputably be better served by existing and cheaper methods.

            And if the person supporting a device cannot understand simple statements or answer simple questions, that does diminish its value. Qualities you have now demonstrated, and which are as you say, only a Googling away. Best of luck to you and your customers.

  6. Gnarp says:

    Rely good product:) I see a good use for solar application! Then you can handle big battery banks and monitor the states of the batteries and control your house lights with the phone:P
    Will back it up, some serious enginering under the hood:P peace

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