R/C Hot Rod Built Completely From Scratch

[ossum]’s R/C hot rod shows what’s possible when a talented hacker takes full advantage of all the modern resources available to them. The results are stunning.

[ossum] had a stack of Amazon and Shapeways credits lying around after winning a few competitions. He had this dream of building an R/C car for a while, and decided now was the time. After ordering all the needed parts from Amazon, he made an extremely nice model of the car in Fusion 360. The CAD model is a great learning resource. If you want to learn how to use reference photos, parts, and more to build a detailed and useful CAD model we recommend downloading it as a Fusion archive and scrubbing through the timeline to see how he did it.

Some of the parts were sent off for laser cutting. Others were 3D printed. The rest he made himself. Thanks to his model, they all went together well. You can see his R/C rod racing in the video after the break.

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Books You Should Read: The Car Hacker’s Handbook

I just had my car in for an inspection and an oil change. The garage I take my car to is generally okay, they’re more honest than a stealership, but they don’t cross all their t’s and dot all their lowercase j’s. A few days after I picked up my car, low and behold, I noticed the garage didn’t do a complete oil change. The oil life indicator wasn’t reset, which means every time I turn my car on, I’ll have to press a button to clear an ominous glowing warning on my dash.

For my car, resetting the oil life indicator is a simple fix – I just need to push the button on the dash until the oil life indicator starts to blink, release, then hold it again for ten seconds. I’m at least partially competent when it comes to tech and embedded systems, but even for me, resetting the oil life sensor in my car is a bit obtuse. For the majority of the population, I can easily see this being a reason to take a car back to the shop; the mechanic either didn’t know how to do it, or didn’t know how to use Google.

The two most technically complex things I own are my car and my computer, and there is much more information available on how to fix or modify any part of my computer. If I had a desire to modify my car so I could read the value of the tire pressure monitors, instead of only being notified when one of them is too low, there’s nowhere for me to turn.

2015 was the year of car hacks, ranging from hacking ECUs to pass California emissions control standards, Google and Tesla’s self-driving cars, to hacking infotainment systems to drive reporters off the road. The lessons learned from these hacks are a hodge-podge of forum threads, conference talks, and articles scattered around the web. While you’ll never find a single volume filled with how to exploit the computers in every make and model of automobile, there is space for a reference guide on how to go about this sort of car hacking.

I was given the opportunity to review The Car Hacker’s Handbook by Craig Smith (259p, No Starch Press). Is it a guide on how to plug a dongle into my car and clear the oil life monitor the hard way? No, but you wouldn’t want that anyway. Instead, it’s a much more informative tome on penetration testing and reverse engineering, using cars as the backdrop, not the focus.

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A Hot Rod Roadster From A Rusty Wreck

Within our community of hackers and makers you may sometimes encounter a belief that we have somehow regained a hold on the workshop lost by everyone else. But while it might be true that some of the general population may barely know one end of a screwdriver from the other it’s a huge overstatement to claim exclusivity. There are plenty of other scenes blessed with an astonishing level of engineering skill and from which breathtaking projects emerge, and it is a great pity that sometimes they exist in isolation from each other.

One such scene is that of car modification. By this we don’t mean the youths with their inadequately powered bottom-feeder cars adorned with deformed plastic, fake carbon fibre and farty exhaust pipe extensions from Halfords or Advance Auto, nor do we mean the silly-priced professional hotrods beloved of certain cable TV reality shows. Instead we mean the ordinary car hackers who take the unexciting and unloved of the automotive world into their garages and through a combination of vision and skill fashion it into something amazing. As an illustration of this art we’d like to introduce you to [ScaryOldCortina]’s “Mayday”. It’s a build from a few years ago, but no less impressive for the elapsed time.

A very rusty Austin Somerset indeed
A very rusty Austin Somerset indeed

If you are British the chances are your grandparents might have driven an Austin Somerset in the early 1950s. An unexciting mid-sized chassis-based saloon car that wasn’t badly designed but had all the inadequate rust protection you’d expect from a car of that era. A Somerset arrived in [ScaryOldCortina]’s garage that looked solid but turned out on inspection to be rusty enough that it could almost be disassembled with a hefty tug on some of the panels. He could have scrapped it, but instead he refashioned it into something a lot more exciting, a two-seater hotrod roadster. In a particularly impressive touch, he re-used most of the metal from the Somerset in its new body in a different form, for example its curved roof was cut in half to form the side panels of the new car.

The full build is in a very long thread on the Retro Rides car forum. If you read it from start to finish you’ll find an in-depth description of the minutiae of the 1950s British car parts bin, but if that will be a bit much for you we have some highlights.

When the car arrived, in his first post you can see just how far the rust had eaten into an outwardly complete vehicle and how easily he could strip away its panels. Fortunately the Somerset is a chassis-based car, so underneath the rusty bodywork was a rolling chassis which had miraculously escaped the worst of the corrosion. His vision for the car required the chassis to be shortened, but he was able to place the panels on the chassis to get an idea of what it might look line before getting out the cutter and welder and assembling the new body tub. A lot of hard work assembling the running gear into a roadworthy form and making its unlovely Austin “B” series engine into something a little more useful, and he was finally able to take it for a short test drive. The car passed all the relevant tests for British roadworthiness, and made a very cool piece of transport.

Happily though it’s the first to feature so much rust this is not the first Hackaday story involving the hacking of ancient automobiles. We recently had a look at the hacking potential of Volkswagen’s iconic Beetle, we’ve examined the work of professional TV hot-rodders when challenged over their authenticity, we’ve taken a look at Cuba’s surviving pre-revolutionary American cars, and we’ve featured a crazy project involving a Mini and a Toyota Celica.

Fight That Tesla Envy With A Tablet Dash For Your Car

[Aykut Çelik] uses some strong words to describe how he feels about his VW Polo’s current radio set-up. Words like, “useless,” are bandied about. What is a modern man supposed to do with a car that doesn’t have built-in navigation or Bluetooth connectivity with phones? Listen to the radio? There are actual (mostly) self driving cars on the road now. No, [Aykut] moves forward, not backwards.

To fix this horrendous shortcoming in his car’s feature package, he set out to install a tablet in the dash. His blog write-up undersells the amount of work that went into the project, but the video after the break rectifies this misunderstanding. He begins by covering the back of a face-down Samsung tablet with a large sheet of plastic film. Next he lays a sheet of fiberglass over the tablet and paints it with epoxy until it has satisfactorily clung to the back of the casing. Afterwards comes quite a bit of work fitting an off-the-shelf panel display mount to the non-standard hardware. He eventually takes it to a local shop which does the final fitting on the contraption.

The electronics are a hodgepodge of needed parts: An amplifier, to replace the one that was attached to the useless husk of the prior radio set; a CAN shield for an Arduino, so that he could still use the steering wheel buttons; and a Bluetooth shield, so that the Arduino could talk to the tablet. Quite a bit of hacking happened, and the resulting software is on GitHub.

The final assembly went together well. While it’s no Tesla console. It does get over the air updates whenever he feels like writing them. [Aykut] moves forward with the times.

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Self-Driving Cars Get Tiny

There’s a car race going on right now, but it’s not on any sort of race track. There’s a number of companies vying to get their prototype on the road first. [Anurag] has already completed the task, however, except his car and road are functional models.

While his car isn’t quite as involved as the Google self driving car, and it doesn’t have to deal with pedestrians and other active obstacles, it does use a computer and various sensors to make decisions about how to drive. A Raspberry Pi 2 takes the wheel in this build, taking input from a Pi camera and an ultrasonic distance sensor. The Pi communicates to another computer over WiFi, where a neural network operates to make decisions about how to drive the car. It also makes decisions based on a database of pictures of the track, so it has a point of reference to go by.

The video of the car in action is worth a look. It’s not perfect, but it’s quite an accomplishment for this type of project. The possibility that self-driving car models could drive around model sets like model railroad hobbyists create is intriguing. Of course, this isn’t [Anurag]’s first lap around the block. He’s already been featured for building a car that can drive based on hand gestures. We’re looking forward to when he can collide with model busses.

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Hand Gestures Drive Car

There are a number of ways to control an automobile without using the pedals, and sometimes even without using the steering wheel. Most commonly these alternative control mechanisms are installed in vehicles whose owners are disabled in some way, but [Anurag] has taken this idea of alternative control one step further. He has built a car that can be driven by hand gestures alone.

On a remote controlled car, a Raspberry Pi 2 was installed that handles processing and communication. A wireless network is created on the Pi, and a laptop connects to the Pi over the network. The web camera on the laptop regularly captures frames at 15 fps to check for the driver’s hand gestures. The image is converted to gray scale, thresholded, contours are obtained, and the centroid and farthest points are obtained.

After some calculations are done, a movement decision is taken. The decision is passed to the Pi, which in turn, passed that to the internal chip of the car. All of the code is available on the project’s github page. [Anurag] hopes that this can be scaled up to full sized cars in the future. We’ve seen gesture-based remote controls before that rely on Sonar sensors, so it’s interesting to see one that relies strictly on image processing.

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Car Idle Alarm Helps You Stop Wasting Gas While Tweeting

[TVMiller] has a bone to pick with you if you let your car idle while you chat or text on your phone. He doesn’t like it, and he wants to break you of this wasteful habit – thus the idle-deterrence system he built that he seems to want on every car dashboard.

In the video below, the target of his efforts is clear – those who start the car then spend time updating Twitter or Instagram. His alarm is just an Arduino Nano that starts a timer when the car is started. Color-coded LEDs mark the time, and when the light goes red, an annoying beep starts to remind you to get on with the business of driving. The device also includes an accelerometer that resets the timer when the vehicle is in motion; the two-minute timeout should keep even the longest stop light from triggering the alarm.

[TVMiller] plans an amped-up version of the device built around an MKR1000 that will dump idle to moving ratios and other stats to the cloud. That’s a little too Big Brother for our tastes, but we can see his point about how wasteful just a few minutes of idling can be when spread over a huge population of vehicles. This hack might make a nice personal reminder to correct wasteful behavior. It could even be rolled into something that reads the acceleration and throttle position directly from the OBD port, like this Internet of Cars hack we featured a while back.

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