[Geohot] Selling His “Self-Driving” Car Tech for $1k by New Year

This week [Geohot] announced the launch of his self-driving car hardware. This is the natural extension of his proof-of-concept shown off in December which he parlayed into a Silicon Valley startup called comma.ai. [Geohot], whose real name is [George Hotz], is well known for jailbreaking the iPhone and making Sony look like idiots when they retroactively crippled Linux support on PS3. He has hardware chops.

Initial self-driving add-on hardware only works with Honda and Acura models that already have lane-keeping assist features because those vehicles already have built-in front radar. The package, which replaces the rear view mirror, adds a front facing camera. Those lucky (or brave, foolish, daring?) beta users can trade $999 and $24/month for what is currently a green 3D printed enclosure with some smartphone-like hardware inserted.

The company has taken an interesting approach to acquiring data needed for this particular flavor of self-driving. [Hotz] is teasing a chance at beta test invites to those who contribute driving data to the company. This is as simple as downloading an app to your phone and letting it roll from your windshield as you go bumper to bumper from Mountain View to San Francisco. That’s right, the plan is to support just that stretch of the nation’s highway system — although [Hotz] did make a brazen estimate of 90% of commutes for 90% of users within a year. Hey, it’s a startup so it’s either that, selling to a bigger fish, or closing their doors.

That narrow route support is actually an interesting constraint. In fact, the company is most interesting because of its chosen constraints: a small subset of cars, a chosen stretch of highway, and dare we say sanity when it comes to self-driving expectations. Grandiose claims have the general public thinking a vehicle with no human driver will slide up to your stoop and take you anywhere you want to go. That is a dauntingly difficult engineering challenge (dare we say impossible). What [Hotz] is selling is a more stress-free commute, not a nap in the back seat. You still need to be paying attention at all times.

Will this system work? Undoubtedly the engineering is possible (Tesla is already doing it). The biggest question mark that remains is human nature. This system demands your attention even though you’re doing nothing. That seems unrealistic — users are bound to lapse in attention much more frequently than if they were the primary driver. The question then becomes, will people pay attention at the very rare yet very crucial moments, and can a system like this prevent more fatal accidents than it causes?

[via Engadget]

VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

[James Liang], an engineer at Volkswagen for 33 years, plead guilty today to conspiracy. He was an engineer involved in delivering Diesel vehicles to market which could detect an emissions test scenario and perform differently from normal operation in order to pass US emission standards.

A year ago we talked about the Ethics in Engineering surrounding this issue. At the time we wondered why any engineer would go along with a plan to defraud customers. We may get an answer to this after all. [Mr. Liang] will cooperate with authorities as the VW probe continues.

According to information in the indictment, none of this happened by mistake (as we suspected). There was a team responsible for developing a mode that would detect a test and pass inspection after the company discovered the engine could not otherwise pass. It’s not hard to see the motivation behind this — think of the sunk cost in developing an engine design. The team responsible for cheating the tests went so far as to push software updates in 2014 which made the cheat better, and lying about the existence of these software “features” when questioned by authorities (again, according to the indictment).

Parent To The Power Wheels Rescue

If the [realjohnnybravo] is the one from the show, it appears he finally managed to get a girlfriend, marry her, and produce at least one son. As the old schoolyard rhyme goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes filling the whole *!$&# backyard with brightly colored plastic garbage. One of these items, a Power Wheels quad bike,  suffered a blow from planned obsolescence leaving behind a traumatized child. [realjohnnybravo] decided to fix it.

He made frequent mention of how one could go to a store and purchase replacement gears for the toy. Perhaps it’s a German thing. Regardless, he shows experience with internet comments by justifying his adventure in gear manufacturing with, paraphrased, “I’m having fun and learning so back off you pedantic jerks.”

Resin casting is great, and is often overlooked vs 3D printing. He purchased some hardware store RTV silicone and some slow-cure resin. The faster cure resin would get too hot with this much volume and potentially burn.

Materials procured he took apart both gearboxes from the machine. He first made a silicone mold of the broken parts (from the good copies out of the working gearbox) and removed the master. Without a vacuum or pressure casting chamber, the molds came out a little rough and bubbly, but it’s nothing some work with a carpet knife can’t fix. For big gears like this it hardly matters. Next he poured the two part resin into the molds and waited.

After some finishing with regular woodworking tools the parts fit right into the voids in the defective gearbox. His son can once again happily whir around the lawn, until the batteries die anyway.

Yes, You Should be Hacking Your Car’s Data System

If you own a car, I would wager it’s the most complex device you own. Within you find locomotion, safety systems, and an entertainment system that may be using technology from several decades ago (but that’s a rant for a different article). Jalopy or Sweet Hotness, your ride has an underlying data network that is a ton of fun to hack, and something of a security dinosaur. Both were discussed by Craig Smith and Erik Evenchick during their talk on Car Hacking tools at Hope XI.

You should recognize both of these names. Eric Evenchick is a Hackaday contributor who has been traveling the world presenting talks and workshops on his open source car hacking hardware called CANtact. Craig Smith is founder of OpenGarages and author of the Car Hacker’s Handbook which we highly recommend. The pair made a great joint presentation; both were charismatic, using wit to navigate through the hardware, software, techniques, and goals you want to have in mind to jump into car hacking.

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Analog Guts Display GPS Velocity in this Hybrid Speedometer

A digital dash is cool and all, but analog gauges have lasting appeal. There’s something about the simplicity of a purely mechanical gauge connected directly to a vehicle’s transmission. Of course that’s not what’s hapenning here. Instead, this build is an analog display for GPS-acquired speed data.

The video below does a good job at explaining the basics of [Grant Stephens]’ build. The display itself is a gutted marine speedometer fitted with the movement from a motorcycle tachometer. The tach was designed to take a 4-volt peak-to-peak square wave input signal, the frequency of which is proportional to engine speed. To display road speed, [Grant] stuffed an ATTiny85 with a GPS module into the gauge and cooked up a script to convert the GPS velocity data into a square wave. There’s obviously some latency, and the gauge doesn’t appear to register low speeds very well, but all in all it seems to match up well to the stock speedo once you convert to metric.

There’s plenty of room for improvement, but we can see other applications where an analog representation of GPS data could be useful. And analog gauges are just plain fun to digitize – like these old meters and gauges used to display web-scraped weather data.

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EV History: The Lightning Precedes The Thunder

In 1988, a bunch of engineers from Hotzenwald, Germany, came together and decided that it is time for the future of mobility: A new, more modern and environmentally friendly car should put an end to fossils and emissions while still being fun to drive. “It should become a new kind of car. Smaller, lighter, cleaner – and more beautiful” is how future CEO Thomas Albiez described his mission. For the first time in automotive history, this series car would be designed as an all-electric vehicle from the start and set a new standard for mobility. The project was given the codename “Hotzenblitz” (“Hotzen Bolt”) to indicate how the idea came to them: Like a lightning bolt. The snarky regional term also came with a double meaning: Imaginary lightning bolts, used for insurance fraud.

hotzenblitz_chassis
Hotzenblitz frame construction (origin unknown, image source)

Unnoticed by the rest of the world, they founded Hotzenblitz Mobile. Industrial Designer Harold Schurz was contracted to design the chassis for the Hotzenblitz, which was then modeled into a prototype chassis. The self-funded team moved fast. An external motorsports company helped to develop the tubular steel frame, and soon their vision took on shape. After the team had fitted a motor and transmission into the frame, CEO Thomas Albiez himself installed the traction battery and drive train. The team felt confident with the result, and in July 1990, during an open house day in the office, they somewhat spontaneously decided to call Green Tech entrepreneur and chocolate mogul Alfred Ritter.

Alfred Ritter had experienced financial losses after the Chernobyl Disaster. Many agricultural regions, including several hazelnut plantations that were vital to Alfred’s chocolate business, were irreversibly lost to the fallout contamination. It was then when he turned to the green energy business, founding the Paradigma group to manufacture solar collector systems and pellet heaters. When Thomas and the team called, Alfred jumped on the idea of an electric car. In the same year, Alfred Ritter and his sister Marli Hoppe-Ritter became shareholders in the company and helped to finance the future of the Hotzenblitz.

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Custom Engine Parts from a Backyard Foundry

Building a car engine can be a labor of love. Making everything perfect in terms of both performance and appearance is part engineering and part artistry. Setting your creation apart from the crowd is important, and what better way to make it your own than by casting your own parts from old beer cans?

[kingkongslie] has been collecting parts for a dune buggy build, apparently using the classic VW Beetle platform as a starting point. The air-cooled engine of a Bug likes to breathe, so [kingkongslie] decided to sand-cast a custom crankcase breather from aluminum.

Casting solid parts is a neat trick but hardly new; we’ve covered the techniques for casting plastic, pewter, and even soap. The complexity of this project comes from the fact that the part needs to be hollow. [kingkongslie] managed this with a core made of play sand and sodium silicate from radiator stop-leak solution hardened with a shot of carbon dioxide. Sure, it looks like a Rice Krispie treat, but a core like that will stand up to the molten aluminum while becoming weak enough to easily remove later. The whole complex mold was assembled, beer cans melted in an impromptu charcoal and hair-dryer foundry, and after one false start, a shiny new custom part emerged from the sand.

We’ve got to hand it to [kingkongslie] – this was a nice piece of work that resulted in a great looking part. But what we love about this is not only all the cool casting techniques that were demonstrated but also the minimalist approach to everything. We can all do stuff like this, and we probably should.

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