First Look: Macchina M2

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in car hacking. Newer tools are being released, which makes it faster and cheaper to get into automotive tinkering. Today we’re taking a first look at the M2, a new device from the folks at Macchina.

The Macchina M1 was the first release of a hacker friendly automotive device from the company. This was an Arduino compatible board, which kept the Arduino form factor but added interface hardware for the protocols most commonly found in cars. This allowed for anyone familiar with Arduino to start tinkering with cars in a familiar fashion. The form factor was convenient for adding standard shields, but was a bit large for using as a device connected to the industry standard OBD-II connector under the dash.

The Macchina M2 is a redesign that crams the M1’s feature set into a smaller form factor, modularizes the design, and adds some new features. With their Kickstarter launching today, they sent us a developer kit to review. Here’s our first look at the device.

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Bil Herd Asks OBD “How Fast am I Going?”

Whenever I end up with a new vehicle I ultimately end up sticking in a new GPS/Receiver combination for better sound quality and a better GPS.

I am quite at home tearing into a dashboard as I was licensed to install CB radios in my teens as well as being the local go-to guy for 8-track stereo upgrades in the 70’s. I have spent a portion of my life laying upside down in a puddle on the car floor peering up into the mess of wires and brackets trying to keep things from dropping on my face. If you remember my post on my Datsun 280ZXT, I laid in that same position while welding in a clutch pedal bracket while getting very little welding slag on my face. I did make a note that the next time I convert a car from an automatic to a manual to do so while things are still disassembled.image15

Swapping out a factory radio usually involves choosing whether to hack into the existing factory wiring wire-by-wire, or my preference, getting a cable harness that mates with the factory plug and making an adapter out of it by splicing it to the connector that comes with the new radio.

Usually I still have to hunt down a few signals such as reverse indicator, parking brake indicator, vehicle speed sensor and the like. In my last vehicle the Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) wire was supposed to be in the factory harness, but driving experience showed it must not be as the GPS would show me driving 30 feet to the right of the highway. That and the calibration screen on the GPS verified that it was not receiving speed pulses.

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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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Smart Brake lights and more with OpenXC

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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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Racing telemetry on a cockpit view

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[Martin] has a Lotus Elise and access to a track. Sounds like fun, huh? The only problem is that the dashcam videos he makes are a little bit boring. Sure, they show him flying around the track, but without some sort of data it’s really hard to improve his driving skills. After thinking about it for a while, [Martin] decided he could use his Raspberry Pi and camera module to record videos from the dashboard of his car, and overlay engine data such as RPM, throttle, and speed right on top of the video.

Capturing video is the easy part of this build – [Martin] just connected his Raspi camera module and used the standard raspivid capture utility. Overlaying data on this captured video was a bit harder, though.

[Martin] had previously written about using the Raspi to read OBD-II data into his Raspi. Combine this with a Python script to write subtitles for his movies, and he’s off to the races, with a video and data replay of every move on the track.

The resulting movie and subtitle files can be reencoded to an HD movie. Reencoding a 13 minute HD video took 9 hours on the Raspi. We’d suggest doing this with a more powerful compy, but at least [Martin] has a great solution to fix his slightly uninformative track videos.