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.”

Defcon presenters preview hack that takes Prius out of driver’s control


This one’s a treasure trove of CAN bus hacks that will scare the crap out of an unsuspecting driver — or worse. [Charlie Miller] and [Chris Valasek] are getting ready to present their findings, which were underwritten by DARPA, at this year’s Defcon. They gave a Forbes reporter a turn in the driver’s seat in order to show off.

You’ve got to see the video on this one. We haven’t had this much fun looking at potentially deadly car hacking since Waterloo Labs decided to go surfing on an Olds. The hacks shown off start as seemingly innocent data tweaks, like misrepresenting your fuel level or displaying 199 mph on the speedometer while the car is standing still. But things start to get interesting when they take that speed readout from 199 down to zero instantly, which has the effect of telling the car you’ve been in a crash (don’t worry, the airbags don’t fire). Other devilish tricks include yanking the steering wheel to one side by issuing a command telling the car to park itself when driving down the road. Worst of all is the ability to disable the brakes while the vehicle is in motion. Oh the pedal still moves, but the brake calipers don’t respond.

The purpose of the work is to highlight areas where auto manufacturers need to tighten up security. It certainly gives us an idea of what we’ll see in the next Bond film.

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All About the Google Autonomous Vehicle Project

There have been many self-driving cars made with different levels of success, but probably the most well-known project is the Google car.  What you may not have heard of, though is the autonomous Google cart, or golf cart to be exact. The first video after the break explains the motivation behind the cart and the autonomous vehicle project.  As with another autonomous vehicle we’ve featured before, they didn’t forget to include an E-stop button (at 1:03)!

In the second video (also after the break) Google’s Sebastian Thrun and Chris Urmson get into more of the details of how Google’s more famous autonomous Prius vehicles work and their travels around different towns in California. A safety driver is still used at this point, but the sensor package includes a roof-mounted 64-beam laser sensor, wheel encoder, radars, and a GPS sensor. With Google’s vast resources as well as their work with Streetview and Google maps, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this technology.  I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.

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Autonomous cars already drive the roads among us

Google’s showing off this autonomous car at the TED convention right now, but the hardware has already made automated trips from San Fransisco to Los Angeles. According to the commentary in the video after the break, the scene above shows the car “hauling Prius ass” on a closed course. The car learned this route while being driven by a person and now the vehicle is set to take riders through an aggressively driven loop in the cone-adorned parking ramp. But on the open road you do not need to teach it anything. It has no problem taking a GPS route and following the rules of the road while traveling from one waypoint to another.

The link above doesn’t include hardware information but they did point to a Times article which includes an infographic. The spinning box on the top of the car is 3D-mapping LIDAR with a 200 foot radius. There’s a rotary encoder on one of the wheels for precise movement data, radar sensors on the front and back bumpers, and a rear-view-mirror-mounted camera for image processing. It makes us wonder how the system performs when the car is coated in road-muck? Maybe you just add a dedicated wiper for each sensor.

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Hack a USB port into your 2010 Prius


[Rosenberger31] did a nice job of adding a USB port to his 2010 Toyota Prius. He removed the access door on the console where the traditional “cigarette lighter” 12 volt port is located. A Dynex 12-volt to USB adapter was piggy-backed onto the power lines and the USB connector was then fit into the blank accessory plate next to it.

There is no data connection here, the port only provides 5v regulated power to devices plugged into it. None the less, it is still a pretty nice looking alternative to having a power adapter hanging out of the dash all the times. If you try this, heed one of the warnings from the comments and make sure you add a switch if you vehicle powers the 12 volt port even when the car is not running.

This makes us wonder: will this void your warranty?

Geo Metro halved for better mileage

[Doug Heffron] modified this 1989 Geo Metro way back in 1993. Gas prices had just started breaking $1.00/gallon and he wanted to show manufacturers how to build a fuel efficient vehicle in such troubling times. The car already got 58mpg (Prius: 46mpg), but [Doug] decided he could do better with some aero modifications. The car was converted to tandem seating and stripped of any extra weight. In its final form, it got 75mpg, but then gas prices stabilized and it was laid to rest in a shed. You can find out more about the car and see photos from the build on its site (painful resizing).

[via Autoblog]

Hack your prius with prius batteries

Adding extra battery capacity to hybrids is becoming pretty common, but this one is better than the average lead acid trunk fest. The pack was built from three prius NiMH packs picked up from salvage yards. These batteries can’t simply be bolted together, but with some research and effort you can save some nickel from the junk yards and cut your fuel bill.