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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Raspberry Pi Learns how to Control a Combustion Engine

For his PhD at the University of Michigan, [Adam] designed a Raspberry Pi-based system that controls an HCCI engine, a type of engine which combines the merits of both diesel and gasoline engines. These engines exhibit near-chaotic behavior and are very challenging to model, so he developed a machine learning algorithm on a Raspberry Pi that adaptively learns how to control the engine.

[Adam]’s algorithm needs real-time readings of cylinder pressures and the crankshaft angle to run. To measure this data on a Raspberry Pi, [Adam] designed a daughterboard that takes readings from pressure sensors in each cylinder and measures the crankshaft angle with an encoder. The Pi is also equipped with a CAN transceiver that communicates with a low-level engine control unit.

RasPi HCCI Engine Control[Adam]’s algorithm calculates engine control parameters in real-time on the Pi based on the pressure readings and crankshaft position. The control values are sent over CAN to the low-level engine controller. The Pi monitors changes in the engine’s performance with the new values, and makes changes to its control values to optimize the combustion cycle as the engine runs. The Pi also serves up a webpage with graphs of the crankshaft position and cylinder pressure that update in real-time to give some user feedback.

For all the juicy details, take a look at [Adam]’s paper we linked above. For a more visual breakdown, check out the video after the break where [Adam] walks you through his setup and the awesome lab he gets to work in.

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Monitoring the Engine Control Unit

Is there a place in the dashboard of your high performance automobile for this Engine Control Unit feedback panel? There’s several methods of showing information at work here. The row of LEDs at the top of the bezel provide RPM feedback. The two red LEDs with chrome bezels are alarm indicators. But that big OLED display is the centerpiece of the unit. Not only can you scroll through a myriad of display options, but the screen packs more than enough contrast to be readable during the day. It looks like [Mathieu] is selling these units and has decided not to release source code because of this, but there’s a schematic available and a video after the break shows the menu system from which you can draw inspiration.

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