How To Build Your Own Convertible (For Under $500)

It’s a common sight in the farming areas of the world — a group of enterprising automotive hackers take a humble economy car, and saw the roof off, building a convertible the cheapest way possible. Being the city dwelling type, I always looked on at these paddock bashing antics with awe, wishing that I too could engage in such automotive buffoonery. This year, my time would come — I was granted a hatchback for the princely sum of $100, and the private property on which to thrash it.

However, I wasn’t simply keen to recreate what had come before. I wanted to take this opportunity to build a solution for those who had suffered like me, growing up in the confines of suburbia. Surrounded by houses and with police on patrol, it simply isn’t possible to cut the roof off a car and drive it down to the beach without getting yourself in altogether too much trouble. But then again, maybe there’s a way.

The goal was to build the car in such a way that its roof could be cut off, but remain attached by removable brackets. This would allow the car to be driven around with the roof still attached, without raising too much suspicion from passing glances. For reasons of legality and safety, our build and test would be conducted entirely on private property, but it was about seeing what could be done that mattered.

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A Retro Car Stereo With Arduino Inside

For some car enthusiasts whose passions run towards older vehicles, only originality will do. [RetroJDM] for instance has an RA28 Toyota Celica from the mid 1970s for which he has gone to great lengths to source a pristine center console to replace a damaged original.

There is only one problem with the center console on a 1970s Toyota, it doesn’t have a DIN cut-out for the standard-sized car radios that have become universal in the decades since its manufacture. Instead it has a cut-out for a Toyota-specific radio in the old style with holes for volume and tuning knobs to either side of a protruding center unit that would have contained a tuning dial and a slot for cassettes or maybe 8-track cartridges.

His solution is an interesting one, he’s put together his own car stereo in an enclosure suitable for the Toyota cut-out. Inside the radio there is an Arduino Mega controlling the breakout boards for an Si4703 FM tuner and a VMusic3 MP3/USB music player, and a PT2314 audio processor. For display there is a set of retro LED seven-segment modules, and an MSGEQ7 spectrum analyser. The result is a modern radio with FM, line-input, and MP3 player, with all the functions you’d expect. There is no onboard amplifier though, but this function is fulfilled by an external unit.

The finished unit is topped off with a very professional front panel, which you can see in his demo video below the break.

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Chess Set From Car Parts

Chess has been around for an awfully long time, automobiles less so. However, there’s no reason the two can’t be combined, like in this chess set fashioned from automotive components.

The project was made as a gift, and is the sort of thing that’s quite accessible for an interested maker to attempt at home. Parts used to build the set include valves, valve springs, spark plugs, castellated nuts and pipe fittings. As the parts don’t actually need to be in good working condition, a haul like this could likely easily be had for less than $50 from the local pull-it-yourself wrecking yard — or free if you know a mechanic with some expired engines lying around.

The metalworking side of things involves trimming down and welding together the parts, before polishing them up and applying a coat of paint to create the white and black, or in this case, gold and black pieces.

Overall, it’s a fun weekend project that could be tackled in any number of ways depending on your creativity and taste. For a different take, check out this 3D laser cut chess set.

Ever hear of the Ford Cylon?

OK, we haven’t heard of a Ford Cylon either. However, there is now a Mustang Cobra out there that has been given a famous Cylon characteristic. [Monta Elkins] picked himself up an aftermarket third brake light assembly, hacked it, and installed it on said Mustang.

The brake light assembly contains 12 LEDs, which unfortunately, are not individually addressable. Additionally, by the looks of it, the brake light housing was not meant to be opened up. That didn’t get [Monta] down though. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, but he chose to use a hot knife to open the assembly, which worked quite well. A rotary cutter tool was used to cut the traces between the LEDs allowing them to be individually controlled with an Arduino. A Bluetooth module allows him to control the new brake light from his smartphone. There are different modes (including a special mode that he shows off at the end of the video) that can be selected via a Bluetooth Terminal app.

There is no schematic or code link in the video itself or the description, but [Monta] did hit the high points. Therefore, it shouldn’t be too hard to replicate.

This isn’t the first brake light hack we’ve featured. This one goes way beyond just animated lightsThis one requires no programming. Rather wear your brake light? We’ve got your back(pack).

Blackberry Eyes Up Car Anti-Virus Market

[Reuters] reports that BlackBerry is working with at least two car manufacturers to develop a remote malware scanner for vehicles, On finding something wrong the program would then tell drivers to pull over if they were in critical danger.

The service would be able to install over-the-air patches to idle cars and is in testing phase by Aston Martin and Range Rover. The service could be active as early as next year, making BlackBerry around $10 a month per vehicle.

Since the demise of BlackBerry in the mobile phone sector, they’ve been hard at work refocusing their attention on new emerging markets. Cars are already rolling computers, and now they’re becoming more and more networked with Bluetooth and Internet connections. This obviously leaves cars open to new types of attacks as demonstrated by [Charlie Miller] and [Chris Valasek]’s hack that uncovered vulnerabilities in Jeeps and led to a U.S. recall of 1.4 million cars.

BlackBerry seem to be hedging their bets on becoming the Kingpin of vehicle anti-virus. But do our cars really belong on the Internet in the first place?

Solar Powered Camper is a Magic Bus Indeed

There’s no doubt that Volkswagen’s offerings in the 1960s and early 1970s were the hippie cars of choice, with the most desirable models being from the Type 2 line, better known as the Microbus. And what could be even hippier than
converting a 1973 VW Microbus into a solar-electric camper?

For [Brett Belan] and his wife [Kira], their electric vehicle is about quality time with the family. And they’ll have plenty of time, given that it doesn’t exactly ooze performance like a Tesla. Then again, a Tesla would have a hard time toting the enormous 1.2 kW PV panel on its roof like this camper can, and would look even sillier with the panel jacked up to maximize its solar aspect. [Brett] uses the space created by the angled array to create extra sleeping space like the Westfalia, a pop-top VW camper. The PV array charges a bank of twelve lead-acid golf cart batteries which power an AC motor through a 500-amp controller. Interior amenities include a kitchenette, dining table, and seating that cost as much as the van before conversion. There’s no word on interior heat, but honestly, that never was VW’s strong suit — we speak from bitter, frostbitten experience here.

As for being practical transportation, that just depends on your definition of practical. Everything about this build says “labor of love,” and it’s hard to fault that. It’s also hard to fault [Brett]’s choice of platform; after all, vintage VWs are the most hackable of cars.

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Reverse Engineering An Ultrasonic Car Parking Sensor

It has become a common sight, a must-have feature on modern cars, a row of ultrasonic sensors embedded in the rear bumper. They are part of a parking sensor, an aid to drivers for whom depth perception is something of a lottery.

[Haris Andrianakis] replaced the sensor system on hs car, and was intrigued enough by the one he removed to reverse engineer it and probe its workings. He found a surprisingly straightforward set of components, an Atmel processor with a selection of CMOS logic chips and an op-amp. The piezoelectric sensors double as both speaker and microphone, with a CMOS analogue switch alternating between passing a burst of ultrasound and then receiving a response. There is a watchdog circuit that is sent a tone by the processor, and triggers a reset in the event that the processor crashes and the tone stops. Unfortunately he doesn’t delve into the receiver front-end circuitry, but we can see from the pictures that it involves an LC filter with a set of variable inductors.

If you have ever been intrigued by these systems, this write-up makes for an interesting read. If you’d like more ultrasonic radar goodness, have a look at this sweeping display project, or this ultrasonic virtual touch screen.