Maintenance, Emissions, and Privacy: The OBD Story

The 90s were a pivotal time in world history, and 1996 was no different. You might have spent the year glued to the TV playing Super Mario 64, or perhaps you were busy campaigning for Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, or maybe you were so depressed that Princess Diana and Prince Charles divorced that you spent the whole year locked in your room, a prisoner of your own existential nihilism. Whatever you did, though, it’s likely that one major event passed you by without a thought: The standardization of on-board vehicle diagnostics (in the US), otherwise known as OBD-II.

In the 1970s, vehicles (in some western countries, at least) were subject to ever-increasing restrictions on emissions. Most companies began switching from carburetors to efficient fuel injection systems, but even that wouldn’t be enough for the new standards. Cars began to carry rudimentary computer systems to manage and control the influx of valves, meters, and sensors that became the new norm. And, as one would guess, every car company had their own standard for managing and monitoring these computer systems. Eventually they would settle on the OBD system that we have today.

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Raspberry Pi Adds A Digital Dash To Your Car

Looking for a way to make your older car more hi-tech? Why not add a fancy digital display? This hack from [Greg Matthews] does just that, using a Raspberry Pi, a OBD-II Consult reader and an LCD screen to create a digital dash that can run alongside (or in front of ) your old-school analog dials.

[Greg’s] hack uses a Raspberry Pi Foundation display, which includes a touch screen, so you don’t need a mouse or other controls. Node.js displays the speed, RPM, and engine temperature (check engine lights and other warnings are planned additions) through a webpage displayed using Chromium. The Node page is pulling info from another program on the Pi which monitors the CAN Consult bus. It would be interesting to adapt this to use with more futuristic displays, maybe something like a pico projector and a 1-way mirror for a heads-up display.

To power the system [Greg] is using a Mausberry power supply which draws power from your car battery, but which also cleanly shuts down the Pi when the ignition is turned off so it won’t drain your battery. When you throw in an eBay sourced OBD-II Consult reader and the Consult Dash software that [Greg] wrote to interpret and display the data from the OBD-II Consult bus, you get a decent digital dash display. Sure, it isn’t a Tesla touchscreen, but at $170, it’s a lot cheaper. Spend more and you can easily move that 60″ from your livingroom out to your hoopty and still use a Raspberry Pi.

What kind of extras would you build into this system? Gamification of your speed? Long-term fuel averaging? Let us know in the comments.

UPDATE – This post originally listed this hack as working from the OBD-II bus. However, this car does not have OBD-II, but instead uses Consult, an older data bus used by Nissan. Apologies for any confusion!

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Connecting Your Car to the Internet

Internet of Things? What about the Internet of Cars? It’s actually rather surprising how slow the auto industry is in developing all new vehicles to be connected to the net from the get go. Well if you can’t wait, you can always hack. [John Reimers] shows us how to use an Electric Imp combined with OBD-II to remotely monitor your vehicle.

Using the ever venerable OBD-II port on your vehicle (think USB for cars if you’re not familiar), you can pull all kinds of information off of your vehicle’s engine. Fuel economy, temperatures, load, timing, error codes, etc. There are many devices out there to do this for you, from auxiliary gauges like the ScanGauge II, to bluetooth OBD-II dongles which can send the data to your phone. Or you can build your own.

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Delicious Dash Pi Driving Data

A few weeks ago, [sentdex] described how Python has changed his life. In particular, it has allowed him to mine Bitcoin automatically, teach other people programming, and realize a full in-car computer for less than $100 using a Raspberry Pi.

It’s based on a model B, which he’s enclosed in a beefy Pi camera case  that sits on the dash of his Honda S2000. The screen is a $17 internet special with composite in, which keeps the BOM way down. A 3A switch wired into the ignition ensures that power to the Pi is not rudely interrupted.

A script takes the Pi directly into desktop mode when [sentdex] starts the car. His main goals for the project were setting up a dash cam and communicating with the OBD computer. The Pi pulls various data points including the throttle position, and the user moves through the list with the arrow keys of one of those roll-up keyboards.

In the future, he’d like to upgrade it to live graph the throttle position and add a sensor to show the brake position. Be sure to check out the walk-through/demonstration video after the break.

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Ceci N’est Pas Une Clock

[Justin] tipped us about his slick custom OBD-II gauge that could easily pass for an OEM module. He was able to use the clock area of his Subaru BRZ to display a bunch of information including the oil and coolant temperatures and the battery voltage.

The forum post linked above has a good FAQ-based explanation of what he did, but so many people have told him to shut up and take their money that he created an Instructable for it. Basically, he’s got a Sparkfun OBD-II UART board communicating with a pro Trinket. The display is an Adafruit OLED, which he found to be an ideal choice for all the various and sundry light conditions inside the average car.

[Justin] was able to reuse the (H)our and (M)inute buttons and reassigned them to (H)igh to show the peak reading and (M)ode to, well, switch between modes. The (:00) now resets the peak readings. He offers suggestions for acquiring the specific CAN codes for your car to make the data more meaningful. [Justin]’s code is safe in the many tentacles of Octocat, and you can check out his demo video below.

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CAN Hacking: Protocols

We’ve gone over the basics of CAN and looked into how CAN databases work. Now we will look at a few protocols that are commonly used over CAN.

In the last article we looked at CAN databases, where each bit of a message is mapped to a specific meaning. For example, bit 1 of a CAN message with ID 0x400 might represent whether the engine is currently running or not.

However, for more complex communications we need to use protocols. These can map many meanings to a single CAN ID by agreeing on a structure for sending and receiving data.

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Smart Brake lights and more with OpenXC


At a recent hack-a-thon event, [Al Linke] tapped into a vehicle’s OBD port with an OpenXC vehicle interface and hacked an LED screen in the rear window to display data based on events. If you haven’t heard of OpenXC, you can expect to read more about it here at Hackaday in the near future. For now, all you need to know is that OpenXC is Ford’s open source API for real-time data from your vehicle: specifically 2010 and newer model Ford vehicles (for now).

[Al] connected the OpenXC interface to his Android phone over Bluetooth, transmitting data from the OBD port to the phone in real time. From here, the Android can do some really cool stuff. It can use text to speech to announce how much your lead foot cost you, add sound effects for different car events, and even interact with additional devices. Although he managed all of those features, [Al’s] primary goal was to add an LED screen that displayed messages on the vehicle’s back window.

When the phone detected a braking event from the car, it directed the LEDs to light up with a “braking” image, adding some flavor to the process of stopping. He could also change the image to a “Thank You” sign with a waving hand, or—for less courteous drivers—an “F U” image with a slightly different hand gesture. You’ll want to check your local and/or national laws before attempting to strap any additional lighting to your vehicle, but you can watch [Al’s] car light up in the video below. For a more detailed look under the hood, he’s also provided an Instructables page.  If OpenXC catches on, the number of vehicle hacks such as the Remote Controlled Car may skyrocket.

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