The DMCA May Have Allowed Volkswagen to Hide ECU Software From the EPA

A lot of questions have been raised by the recent “dieselgate” scandal. Should automakers be held accountable for ethically questionable actions? Are emissions standards in the United States too restrictive? Are we ever going to stop appending “gate” onto every mildly controversial news story? But, for Hackaday readers, the biggest question is most likely “how did they get away with it?” The answer is probably because of a law a lot of hackers are already familiar with: the DMCA.

If you haven’t seen the news about Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scheme, we’ll get you caught up quickly. In the United States, EPA emissions testing is done in a very specific and predictable way. Using clever ECU software tricks, Volkswagen was able to essentially “detune” the engines of their diesel vehicles when they were being tested by the EPA. This earned them passing marks, while allowing them to provide a less-restrictive ECU profile for the normal driving that buyers would actually experience.

How could they get away with this simple trick when a brief look at the ECU software would have revealed it? Because, they were able to hide under the umbrella of the DMCA. The ECU software is, of course, not intended to be user-accessible, which means that Volkswagen is allowed to lock it down. That, in turn, means that the EPA isn’t allowed to circumvent that security without violating the DMCA and potentially breaking the law. This kept the EPA’s hands tied, and Volkswagen protected. They were only found out because independent testing (that didn’t follow EPA procedure) revealed vastly different emissions levels.

Is your blood boiling yet? Add this to the stack of reasons why the EFF is trying to end the DRM parts of the DMCA.

[via /.]

Ethics in Engineering: Volkswagen’s Diesel Fiasco

Every so often – and usually not under the best of circumstance – the field of engineering as a whole is presented with a teaching moment. Volkswagen is currently embroiled in a huge scandal involving emissions testing of 11 Million diesel cars sold in recent years. It’s a problem that could cost VW dearly, to the tune of eighteen Billion dollars in the US alone, and will, without a doubt, end the careers of more than a few Volkswagen employees. In terms of automotive scandals, this is bigger than Unsafe at Any Speed. This is a bigger scandal than the Ford Pinto’s proclivity to explode. This is engineering history in the making, and an enormously teachable moment for ethics in engineering.

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Trying to Set Things on Fire, You Know…for Science.

This video from [Just Think] caught our attention for open-flame testing of 6 different commonly used liquid fuels: Jet-A, diesel, heating oil, kerosene, avgas (100LL), and gasoline (or petrol, for our international readers). We love his low-tech approach to testing – just some mason jars and a back yard. The results are quite interesting.

He starts with testing Jet-A fuel. Yep, the same stuff you’d fill up your Boeing 737 with. We flinched for a second as he drops a match into it – then nothing happened. It’s a common misconception that jet fuel will sustain a flame by its self. It needs to be atomized to burn, as he shows in the video. He moves on to test both diesel and heating oil – making note that both are exactly same, except for color. Heating oil has a red dye added to it, to mark it “not for sale” for cars and trucks, as it’s not taxed. Neither would keep a flame.

Next up is kerosene, and it would just barely keep a flame. kerosene is commonly used as a replacement for diesel in extremely cold climates, were diesel fuel would gel and clog fuel systems. Finally, he tests avgas and gasoline. Both would sustain a flame quite well.

We think this small experiment is interesting, in that the results are kind of counter-intuitive. All these different fuels are used in different applications because of their different properties, and of course there is some really interesting science behind that, if you want to learn more.

We don’t need to tell you to be safe when working with fuels. Even though something like Jet-A fuel won’t carry a flame in a container on its own, doesn’t mean that it won’t burn aggressively when combined with other things (like clothing) and in other situations. So we’re filing this one under “don’t try this at home” – instead, sit back and enjoy the YouTube video after the break.

Continue reading “Trying to Set Things on Fire, You Know…for Science.”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source Diesel

There are plans for open hardware farming equipment that can be brought to third world countries to relieve the beasts of burden and increase the production of fields. Want an open source car? You can 3D print one. Just about anything you can strap a motor to has been replicated in open hardware; all you need to do is buy a motor and bolt it on.

But what about the motors themselves? For his entry to The Hackaday Prize, [Shane] is designing an open source engine. It’s small, it’s a two-stroke, and it’s diesel, but it’s completely open hardware; a great enabling project for all the open source dirt bikes and microcombines.

The design of [Shane]’s engine is based on the Junkers Jumo 205; a weird engine that had opposing pistons in one cylinder. This allows the engine to have variable compression, allowing for a wide variety of fuels to be used. If you have kerosene, that’ll work with this engine. French fry oil will as well. It’s exactly what you need for an engine that could be used for anything.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Retrotechtacular: The Diesel Story

The diesel engine was, like many things, born of necessity. The main engine types of the day—hot bulb oil, steam, coal gas, and gasoline—were not so thermally efficient or ideal for doing heavy-duty work like driving large-scale electrical generators.  But how did the diesel engine come about? Settle in and watch the 1952 documentary “The Diesel Story“, produced by Shell Oil.

The diesel engine is founded on the principle of internal combustion. Throughout the Industrial Age, technology was developing at breakneck pace. While steam power was a great boon to many burgeoning industries, engineers wanted to get away from using boilers. The atmospheric gas engine fit the bill, but it simply wasn’t powerful enough to replace the steam engine.

hot bulb oil engineBy 1877, [Nikolaus Otto] had completed work on his coal gas engine built on four-stroke theory. This was the first really useful internal combustion engine and the precursor of modern four-stroke engines. It was eventually adapted for transportation with gasoline fuel. In 1890, the hot bulb oil engine was developed under the name Hornsby-Akroyd and primarily used in stationary power plants. Their flywheels had to be started manually, but once the engine was going, the bulb that drove combustion required no further heating.

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Step Right Up or Cower In Fear; the 7-Story Car-Juggling Robot Is Here

Sometimes we see a project that’s just as frightening as it is awesome. The Bug Juggler is a prime example of this phenomenon. A seven-story diesel-powered humanoid robot is one thing, but this one will pick up two VW Beetles, put one in its pocket, pick up a third, and juggle them. Yes, juggle them.

The Bug Juggler will be driven by a brave soul sitting in the head-cage and controlling him through haptic feedback connected to high-speed servo valves. A diesel engine will generate hydraulic pressure, and the mobility required for juggling the cars will come from hydraulic accumulators.

The project is in the capable hands of team members who have built special effects, a diesel/hydraulic vehicle for hauling huge sections of pipe, and mechanisms for Space Shuttle experiments. In order to attract investors for the full-scale version, they are building an 8-foot tall proof-of-concept arm assembly capable of tossing and catching a 250lb. mass.

If you prefer to see Beetles crushed, check out Stompy, the 18-foot rideable hexapod. Make the jump to see an animation of the full-scale Bug Juggler in action. Don’t know about you, but we wouldn’t stand quite so close to it without a helmet and some really good health insurance.

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Hackaday Links: November 3, 2013


[Michael] just missed the deadline for the Trinket Contest but we still think his tablet is pretty cool. He says it predates the iPad and uses a custom aluminum case, a SoC he ripped from a Gecko Edubook, powered by eight NiMH batteries. Check out the front, the guts, and the sides.

Speaking of portable power sources, After doing a teardown of a 12V 6800 mAh Li-Po battery [Howard] strapped some prototyping equipment to either side of it and now he’s got a prototyping power supply that’s easy to take with him.

Blinky goodness doesn’t have to look hacked together (even if it is). This Raspberry Pi logo looks like a professional sign! It was cut from foam and plastic, primed and painted, then stuffed with addressable LED strips.

While we’re on the topic of refined RPi projects, check out this Raspberry Pi MAME cabinet. It’s a bit bigger than the Galaga cabinet we saw recently but still small enough to keep around the house without getting in the way.

If you’re a fan of automotive hacks you should check out this effort to build an Electronic Diesel Control.

We’ve been saving the gnarliest link for last. [Matthew] laments that his missed Halloween to show off this project. But we don’t think an almost-entirely wooden spider-like walker needs to be paired with a holiday. It’s very cool and somewhat operational, but still needs help working out all of the kinks. Our favorite moment in the video is when [Matthew] exclaims “It wants to live!”.