Repairing a twisted prius display computer

This one is from way back in 2007, but the steps [hobbit] took to evaluate and repair a failed Prius Multi-Function Display (MFD) is a refresher course in how to go about fixing stuff that’s broken.

The 2004 / 2005 models of the Prius had peculiar problems with their MFD. Buttons and touch functions became sluggish and unresponsive, it wouldn’t display ECU data such as current and average fuel consumption, and couldn’t control stereo and air-conditioning. Lots of Prius users were reporting similar problems on the Priuschat forum.

The issues would usually arise long after warranty expired, and replacement units cost a couple of thousand dollars new. Toyota knew what the problem was (PDF link), but their fix involved swapping the defective units out.

[hobbit] managed to get a defective MFD unit from a friend, and because his own Prius still had a working MFD, he was able to carry out comparative tests on both units. The broken unit was generally laggy, and the buttons didn’t beep when pressed. Apparently, the AVCLan, a small data network between various components in the car, wasn’t reaching the MFD reliably. The MFD would send the “beep” command to the audio amplifier and wait for a confirmation that would never arrive. The system hung here until the MFD timed out.

In the end, the cause of the problem was the 60-pin micro connector that interfaces the two main boards of the MFD. Once the two are mated, tightening the mounting screws twisted the two boards ever so slightly, leading to flaky contacts.

The fix? [hobbit] tweaked all of the 60 pins outwards enough that they still made contact even when the connector housing got twisted. Comparing the defective MFD to the one in [hobbit]’s own car also demonstrated how the factory fixed the problem.

Thanks to [Nick] for sending in this tip, which he stumbled upon “while searching for ideas for a very small solder tip to repair something on my laptop.”

Tricking an Ancient Protocol To Play Tunes

A lot of technological milestones were reached in 2007. The first iPhone, for example, was released that January, and New Horizons passed Jupiter later on that year. But even with all of these amazing achievements, Volvo still wasn’t putting auxiliary inputs on the stereo systems in their cars. They did have antiquated ports in their head units though, and [Kalle] went about engineering this connector to accommodate an auxiliary input.

The connector in question is an 8-pin DIN in the back, which in the days of yore (almost eight years ago) would have been used for a CD changer. Since CDs are old news now, [Kalle] made use of this feature for the hack. The first hurdle was that the CD changer isn’t selectable from the menu unless the head unit confirms that there’s something there. [Kalle] used an Arduino Nano to fool the head unit by simulating the protocol that the CD changer would have used. From there, the left and right audio pins on the same connector were used to connect the auxiliary cable.

If you have a nearly-antique Volvo like [Kalle] that doesn’t have an aux input and you want to try something like this, the source code for the Arduino is available on the project page. Of course, if you don’t have a Volvo, there are many other ways to go about hacking an auxiliary input into various other devices, like an 80s boombox or the ribbon cable on a regular CD player. Things don’t always go smoothly, though, so there are a few nonstandard options as well.

Spark Plug Lights the Darkness

When you have an idea, just go build it. That’s the approach that [GordsGarage] takes with most of his projects, and he’s back in the machine shop again. This time it’s with a rather unique oil candle that uses a spark plug as inspiration. We have to say, the results are on fire.

thumbThe spark plug candle was fashioned out of a single piece of 6061 aluminum. To create the scale model, first the stock metal hit the lathe to create the “insulator” section of the plug. From there, he milled in the hex bolt section, then it hit the lathe again to create the threaded section. The inside was bored out to create space for the wick and oil, and then the electrode was installed just above the flame.

This is a pretty impressive scale model and has a great finished look. The only thing that isn’t to scale is the gap for the electrode which is completely necessary to keep the candle from getting smothered. It’s an interesting, unique idea too, which is something that [GordsGarage] excels at. And, if you want to scale his model up a little bit, perhaps you can find some inspiration from this other candle.

Homebrew ECU Increases Mazda Zoom

A big problem with most modern cars is the sheer number of parts and systems that are not user serviceable. This is a big departure from cars of just decades ago that were designed to be easily worked on by the owner. To that end, [Anthony] aka [fuzzymonkey] has tackled what is normally the hardest thing to work on in modern cars: the Engine Control Unit. (Older posts on this project can be found at [Anthony]’s old project log.)

Every sensor in any modern car is monitored by a computer called the Engine Control Unit (ECU), and the computer is responsible for taking this data and making decisions on how the car should be running. In theory a custom ECU would be able to change any behavior of the car, but in practice this is extremely difficult due to the sheer number of operations required by the computer and the very specific tolerances of a modern engine.

The custom ECU that Anthony has created for his Mazda MX-5 (a Miata for those in North America) is based on the PIC18F46K80 microcontroller, and there are actually two units involved. The first handles time-sensitive operations like monitoring the engine cam position and engine timing, and the other generates a clock signal for the main unit and also monitors things like cooling temperature and controlling idle speed. The two units communicate over SPI.

[Anthony]’s custom ECU is exceptional in that he’s gotten his car running pretty well. There are some kinks, but hopefully he’ll have a product that’s better than the factory ECU by allowing him to change anything from throttle response and engine timing to the air-fuel ratio. There have been a few other attempts to tame the ECU beast in the past, but so far there isn’t much out there.

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Instrument Cluster Clock Gets The Show On The Road

While driving around one day, [Esko] noticed that the numbers and dials on a speedometer would be a pretty great medium for a clock build. This was his first project using a microcontroller, and with no time to lose he got his hands on the instrument cluster from a Fiat and used it to make a very unique timepiece.

The instrument cluster he chose was from a diesel Fiat Stilo, which [Esko] chose because the tachometer on the diesel version suited his timekeeping needs almost exactly. The speedometer measures almost all the way to 240 kph which works well for a 24-hour clock too. With the major part sourced, he found an Arduino clone and hit the road (figuratively speaking). A major focus of this project was getting the CAN bus signals sorted out. It helped that the Arduino clone he found had this functionality built-in (and ended up being cheaper than a real Arduino and shield) but he still had quite a bit of difficulty figuring out all of the signals.

In the end he got everything working, using a built-in servo motor in the cluster to make a “ticking” sound for seconds, and using the fuel gauge to keep track of the minutes. [Esko] also donated it to a local car museum when he finished so that others can enjoy this unique timepiece. Be sure to check out the video below to see this clock in action, and if you’re looking for other uses for instrument clusters that you might have lying around, be sure to check out this cluster used for video games.

The mechanics in dashboards are awesome, and produced at scale. That’s why our own [Adam Fabio] is able to get a hold of that type of hardware for his Analog Gauge Stepper kit. He simply adds a 3D printed needle, and a PCB to make interfacing easy.

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Too Hot for Fido? Get Alerted!

Meet project Oro, the temperature monitoring watchdog. Err… the watchdog monitoring temperature probe. Well, it’s both actually!

[Richard Deininger] built the project after having the AC system go down in his company’s server room. That environmental cooling is imperative if you don’t want your server hardware turned to slag. The idea is a separate piece of hardware that monitors the room temperature and will alert the on-call staff if it climbs too high. He was successful, and showing the hacked hardware around the office came up with a second idea: a temperature sensor for your car to ensure it’s not too hot for your dog.

Anyone who has a canine friend living with them knows you don’t utter the word “ride” out loud lest a barking, whimpering, whining frenzy ensue. But jingle those keys and they’ll be at the door in no time. During the summer you can still take them with you for short errands thanks to the peace of mind [Richard’s] build provides. It’s simply an Arduino, DHT22 temp/humidity probe, and a SIM900 GSM modem. Set your temperature threshold and you’ll get an alert if temperatures are climbing to unsafe levels for Fido.

While you have your tools out, we recommend building auto-watering and auto-feeding systems for the family pets. What’s that? You hate domesticated animals? There’s a hack you can use to chase them from your yard.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Building A Car, From Scratch, Out Of Foam

Want an impressive example of what a few people can do in a garage? How about building an electric car, from scratch, starting with a gigantic chunk of foam?

The Luka EV from [MW Motors] had a few project aims: it should be all-electric, naturally, with a top speed of 130km/h or 80mph. It should have a range of over 300km, and it should look good. That last line item is tricky; it’s not too hard to build an electric car, but to make one look good is a challenge.

The design of the car actually started out as a digital file. A large block of foam was acquired and carefully carved into the desired shape. This foam is covered fiberglass, and parts are pulled off this fiberglass mold. This is a great way to do low-volume production – once the molds are complete, it’s a relatively simple matter to build another body for a second Luka EV.

With all the lights, accessories, windows, and trim installed, it’s time to put this body on a chassis. This was welded out of square tube and serves as a test rig that can be independent of the mess of fiberglass. In the chassis are batteries, suspension, motor controllers, and wheels loaded up with hub motors. It works well, even with one motor.

There’s a lot more to this project, including a great guide on building a road legal car in the UK. The team isn’t based in the UK, but it’s a much more friendly environment for ‘small series’ vehicles. The requirements are easy to meet – “have a horn”, for example – but there are a lot of them.

Already the car is beautiful, and that’s just with it sitting on a trailer. We can’t wait to see this thing hit the road.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: