Talking Car Automation Computer is like KITT without the Sass

It’s a wonder that drivers are given so little insight into what’s going on under the hood. We mostly have the illusion of insight in the form of gauge, idiot lights, and when things get real, our eyesight and sense of smell. The older a car gets, the more important it is to be aware of the condition of its systems.

[Mjtrinihobby] drives a beat-up 1999 Honda Civic. He likes creating automation systems as a hobby and figured that his car would make an excellent test subject. [Mjtrinihobby] began this project with several features in mind. He wanted more control over several of the car’s systems—the A/C, lights, the fuel level, and the blower motor in the cabin to name a few—and a compact, user-friendly way to interface with them that could handle road shock and the heat of the climate he calls home.

He chose a Windows 8.1 netbook with a touchscreen display for the user interface. The netbook is running FlowStone, which is a robust graphical programming language with a long list of applications. A LabJack data acquisition board (DAQ) handles the communication between the car’s systems and the netbook.

This is much more than just a cool way to control the climate and make the headlights come on when darkness falls. For instance, [Mjtrinihobby]’s system continuously monitors the alternator’s voltage. If it measures between 7 and 12V, a friendly voice warns about possible alternator failure and disables high-draw accessories so the car has a fighting chance of making it to the mechanic.

Be sure to check out the demonstration video after the break. If OBD-II car hacks are more your speed, try building an RGB tachometer.

26 thoughts on “Talking Car Automation Computer is like KITT without the Sass

  1. Now a better hack would be buying an ultra modern car with all it’s touch screen accessories and ripping out the trouchscreen and replacing it with buttons that you can blindly use without taking your eyes off the road.

    1. “without taking your eyes off the road”

      EXACTLY… how about focusing on what should be the #1 priority task of EVERY driver ! – that is, PAY ATTENTION TO DRIVING !!!! not futzing with other $hit taking your attention away from the road ahead..

      For pilots out there, I’m sure everyone has had the experience with (well good) CFI’s that fling a door open on takeoff to see how distracted you get – to emphasize the point “FLY THE AIRPLANE!!!”

      In this case it should be DRIVE THE DAMN CAR !

        1. I agree and disagree. Torn between technology and safety. I believe the best solution to car technology is a totally voice controlled system. A car that simply listens all the time. Of course the paranoid tin foil hats put there would say it could be used to eavesdrop. Maybe stick to a hot word. Say you want to see the temperature. Say “[Word] set the cabin to 70,” and it says back “Cabin set to 70 Degrees Fahrenheit.” It’s similar to Siri or Google. Your ears aren’t used for driving. That’s why music is playing most of the time. It requires very little thought to process what you hear. If there was a way to plug in a can bus module that could integrate a small android OS, we might have something interesting.

          1. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be implemented at all, only that care should be taken not to burden the operator with too much information. While indeed one can listen to the radio while driving, listening to a backseat driver constantly can be distracting.

          2. The one problem I can see is if in the course of conversation with your passenger the system misinterprets what you say and hears something like “pull the handbrake” or some ridiculous thing like that.
            Just sayin’.

          3. >totally voice controlled system
            No thank you. My current vehicle only allows you to Bluetooth pair to a phone via voice and it takes at least 3 tries through 6 menu leves, probably 15 minutes of distraction. That and the dam navigation doesn’t allow certain operations while driving. Im usually with my wife and I’m sure it’s not a problem to distract the passenger. That and if you do pair a phone it will announce over the music that you have a voice message and instructions to read it, a 10 second message EVERY TIME.

          4. “Your ears arnt use for driving “:o

            They provide valuable information on what is going on around you that you can’t see. Did you hear that police/ambulance/fire siren or the other vehicle blowing their horn (there’s something wrong with that phrase :o)

            Changes in road surface, on comming traffic etc.

            The car should be an extension of your body, intimately linked to each of your senses.

      1. I think you guys are both correct. The car I have is a base model, and I’m actually glad of that because the upper level models came with all that touch-screen nonsense. Instead of that, I have sensible controls that fall easily to hand without me having to take my eyes off the road, but somehow work just as well as the computerized systems without all of the inherent unreliability.

      2. James-bogus bond. Since when did the creator of that system mention that he drives with his eyes on the automation pc? Never that’s what. You come about talking trash when this guy obviously created an amazing piece of tech to work in his car. I’m sure you can’t even change the batteries in your TV remote but you come with this high and mighty crap about distraction. So when you James-bogus bond are in YOUR CAR (if you can afford one) you are gonna be distracted by the radio, the dashboard, the boy/chic on your passenger seat? Come on dude, stop the slandering of things you know nothing about.

    2. Well, guys I must chime in here.

      First of all you can tell that this Civic isn’t a US model because the steering wheel is on the right side, and in fact he lives in Trinidad, and I am sure they have less traffic then any main land country. So, while keeping your eyes on the road is important, I think you are definitely over reacting.

      Secondly, why are you bashing on this build that took 7 months to implement even after 3 catastrophic failures. You should really read through the Instructable that is linked in this article before making such harsh comments, like you have.

      1. The objections go to the principles involved. Having recently moved from an old analogue car to one with two digital screens including a touchscreen, I entirely agree that digital touchscreens are a step backwards for car safety. This isn’t OP’s fault, and it is a cool hack, but sociologically… nope.

      2. “and in fact he lives in Trinidad, and I am sure they have less traffic then any main land country.”

        You’ve never been to a country like that have you? Yes there’s less traffic. There’s also no predictability and no respect for rules of the road. I was in Trinidad once. I pointed our taxi driver to the place across the street and told him here’s fine. Nope. He took me where I wanted to go and did a 3 point turn. … on the main street. I heard locked tires from both directions. It’s just something that happens. Give way? To what? I’m driving here!

        Places like this require you to keep your eyes on the road even more than normal!

    3. A lot of guys already do better than this. Look at the mp3car forums. Really clean integrations using nanoATX motherboards and a lot of ODB data. Speech synthesis and voice recognition is really easy with linux or Windows.

      This is just a early test of a decent car computer, taping a laptop to the dash is a great way to test your early alpha design.

  2. The work done so far is great. Integrating into the vehicle and augmenting its capabilities is great.

    the development of vehicle instrumentation is an interesting study in its self.

    My daughters VW beetle (1975) has only the basics – speed, oil pressure, generator.

    now look at the array of lights and buzzers that fill the dash. How much of it do we really need

  3. The user interface though needs a bit of fine tuning – much larger fonts and buttons.

    Even possibly dedicated sections of the screen for specific purposes – to minimize the need to look at the screen to activate various functions.

    In the 70s and 80sSAAB had a philosophy that the controls like the radio should be mounted high in the dash to minimize the visual deviation to reach the controls.

    The more recent offerings under the influence of GM I suspect moved the controls further down the dash.

  4. I had to wince at this out the summary ” The older a car gets, the more important it is to be aware of the condition of its systems.” Er no. Just no. If its old enough, just maintain it regulary and it will be ok.
    I mostly drive a 80’s land rover 90. It has the legal minimum in instrumentation. I don’t think its important at all that I need to be aware of the condition of each and every one its systems on some dash display because I know when its not happy without a ecu getting involved from things like engine note and how it feels etc, and its blissful to turn a physical key and it just work without distraction.
    Meanwhile I bought my wife a 2015 renault clio, button start, touch screen, speed limiter, built in gps + mapping, cruise control, all the toys. I actively hate how much all the gadgets distract you from driving + you have to take your eyes off the road and to the centre of the car to operate the touchscreen, its placement is terrible. The inlaws have a car with a electronic handbrake, that I really don’t get on with at all. I don’t understand how you can gently modulate or feel a button and its just dumbed it down that bit more + they can’t drive a “normal” car now because they rely on the crutch.
    We have experimented with in car stuff over the years and the camper van has its own wifi points and linux server and a lot of other homebrew bits. But now its all in the back, the only thing in the drivers view is the legal minimum + a small screen where the rearview mirror would be in a car connected to a rearview camera on the rear thats active all the time when the ignition is on.

  5. James-bogus bond. Since when did the creator of that system mention that he drives with his eyes on the automation pc? Never that’s what. You come about talking trash when this guy obviously created an amazing piece of tech to work in his car. I’m sure you can’t even change the batteries in your TV remote but you come with this high and mighty crap about distraction. So when you James-bogus bond are in YOUR CAR (if you can afford one) you are gonna be distracted by the radio, the dashboard, the boy/chic on your passenger seat? Come on dude, stop the slandering of things you know nothing about.

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