Solar Powered Camper is a Magic Bus Indeed

There’s no doubt that Volkswagen’s offerings in the 1960s and early 1970s were the hippie cars of choice, with the most desirable models being from the Type 2 line, better known as the Microbus. And what could be even hippier than
converting a 1973 VW Microbus into a solar-electric camper?

For [Brett Belan] and his wife [Kira], their electric vehicle is about quality time with the family. And they’ll have plenty of time, given that it doesn’t exactly ooze performance like a Tesla. Then again, a Tesla would have a hard time toting the enormous 1.2 kW PV panel on its roof like this camper can, and would look even sillier with the panel jacked up to maximize its solar aspect. [Brett] uses the space created by the angled array to create extra sleeping space like the Westfalia, a pop-top VW camper. The PV array charges a bank of twelve lead-acid golf cart batteries which power an AC motor through a 500-amp controller. Interior amenities include a kitchenette, dining table, and seating that cost as much as the van before conversion. There’s no word on interior heat, but honestly, that never was VW’s strong suit — we speak from bitter, frostbitten experience here.

As for being practical transportation, that just depends on your definition of practical. Everything about this build says “labor of love,” and it’s hard to fault that. It’s also hard to fault [Brett]’s choice of platform; after all, vintage VWs are the most hackable of cars.

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Audi Engineer Exposes Cheat Order

In an interesting turn of events last week in a German court, evidence has materialized that engineers were ordered to cheat emissions testing when developing automotive parts.

Last Tuesday, Ulrich Weiß brought forward a document that alleges Audi Board of Director members were involved in ordering a cheat for diesel emissions. Weiß was the head of engine development for Audi, suspended in November of 2015 but continued to draw more than half a million dollars in salary before being fired after prior to last week’s court testimony.

Volkswagen Group is the parent company of Audi and this all seems to have happened while the VW diesel emissions testing scandal we’ve covered since 2015 was beginning to come to light. Weiß testified that he was asked to design a method of getting around strict emissions standards in Hong Kong even though Audi knew their diesel engines weren’t capable of doing so legitimately.

According to Weiß, he asked for a signed order. When he received that order he instructed his team to resist following it. We have not seen a copy of the letter, but the German tabloid newspaper Bild reports that the letter claims approval by four Audi board members and was signed by the head of powertrain development at the company.

Hackaday was unable to locate any other sources reporting on the letter other than the Bild article we have linked to (also the source used in the Forbes article above). Sources such as Die Welt reference only “internal papers”. If you know of other reporting on the topic please leave a comment about it below.

 

VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

[James Liang], an engineer at Volkswagen for 33 years, plead guilty today to conspiracy. He was an engineer involved in delivering Diesel vehicles to market which could detect an emissions test scenario and perform differently from normal operation in order to pass US emission standards.

A year ago we talked about the Ethics in Engineering surrounding this issue. At the time we wondered why any engineer would go along with a plan to defraud customers. We may get an answer to this after all. [Mr. Liang] will cooperate with authorities as the VW probe continues.

According to information in the indictment, none of this happened by mistake (as we suspected). There was a team responsible for developing a mode that would detect a test and pass inspection after the company discovered the engine could not otherwise pass. It’s not hard to see the motivation behind this — think of the sunk cost in developing an engine design. The team responsible for cheating the tests went so far as to push software updates in 2014 which made the cheat better, and lying about the existence of these software “features” when questioned by authorities (again, according to the indictment).

Parallel Compressors for Sandblasting without Crashing Your Grid

[Hannah] is restoring a 1962 Volkswagen Bug. The goal is to get the car on the road in time for her driver’s test. This is no easy task, as the lower 3 inches of all the body work is rusted out, and the engine is…. well, missing. Basically, the car needs a frame off restoration. This means that [Hannah] will have a lot of metal bodywork to clean up. One of the easiest ways to do that is sandblasting.

Large scale sandblasting is a bit different from most air-powered operations. Sandblasting needs only a modest air pressure, but a high air flow. [Hannah] need 25 Sustained Cubic Feet Per Minute (SCFM) at 80 PSI for sandblasting. Most compressors can easily supply that pressure, but 25 SCFM is asking quite a lot. She could go with an expensive 3 phase unit, or rent a diesel screw compressor. However, [Hannah] decided to connect 4 compressors in parallel to give her the flow she needed.

Connecting the air outputs in parallel is easy. The problem is the electricity. Each compressor is rated for 9 amps while running. They draw quite a bit more while starting up. The compressors have to be wired to individual 15 amp circuits to avoid blowing fuses. They also need to be started in sequence so they don’t pull down the AC for the entire house while starting.

Hannah could have used any sort of delay for this, but she chose an Arduino. The Arduino’s wall wart is wired up to the master compressor. Turning on the master powers up the Arduino which immediately starts a 2 second delay. When the delay times out, the Arduino fires up the second compressor. After several delay loops, all 4 compressors are running together.

hannah-schThe Arduino’s GPIO pins can’t handle 9 amp AC loads, so [Hannah] wired them to TIP120 transistors. The TIP120s drive low power relays, which in turn drive high current air conditioning relays. The system works quite well, as can be seen in the video below the break.

If you’re interested in air compressor projects, check out this setup made from an old refrigerator compressor. For more background on the TIP120, check out this article about these useful transistors.

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32C3: Dieselgate — Inside the VW’s ECU

[Daniel Lange] and [Felix Domke] gave a great talk about the Volkswagen emissions scandal at this year’s Chaos Communication Congress (32C3). [Lange] previously worked as Chief architect of process chain electronics for BMW, so he certainly knows the car industry, and [Domke] did a superb job reverse-engineering his own VW car. Combining these two in one talk definitely helps clear some of the smog around the VW affair.

[Lange]’s portion of the talk basically concerns the competitive and regulatory environments that could have influenced the decisions behind the folks at VW who made the wrong choices. [Lange] demonstrates how “cheating” Europe’s lax testing regime is fairly widespread, mostly because the tests don’t mimic real driving conditions. But we’re not sure who’s to blame here. If the tests better reflected reality, gaming the tests would be the same as improving emissions in the real world.

As interesting as the politics is, we’re here for the technical details, and the reverse-engineering portion of the talk begins around 40 minutes in but you’ll definitely want to hear [Lange]’s summary of the engine control unit (ECU) starting around the 38 minute mark.

[Domke] starts off with a recurring theme in our lives, and the 32C3 talks: when you want to reverse-engineer some hardware, you don’t just pull the ECU out of your own car — you go buy another one for cheap online! [Domke] then plugged the ECU up to a 12V power supply on his bench, hooked it up, presumably to JTAG, and found a bug in the firmware that enabled him to dump the entire 2MB of flash ROM into a disassembler. Respect! His discussion of how the ECU works is a must. (Did you know that the ECU reports a constant 780 RPM on the tacho when the engine’s idling, regardless of the actual engine speed? [Domke] has proof in the reverse-engineered code!)

The ECU basically takes in data from all of the car’s sensors, and based on a number of fixed data parameters that physically model the engine, decides on outputs for all of the car’s controls. Different car manufacturers don’t have to re-write the ECU code, but simply change the engine model. So [Domke] took off digging through the engine model’s data.

Long story short, the driving parameters that trigger an emissions reduction exactly match those that result from the EU’s standardized driving schedule that they use during testing — they’re gaming the emissions tests something fierce. You’ve really got to watch the presentation, though. It’s great, and we just scratched the surface.

And if you’re interested in our other coverage of the Congress, we have quite a collection going already.

Tech Journos Link Samsung To Volkswagen, Somehow

On Thursday The Guardian published information linking Samsung to the current Volkswagen emissions fiasco. Samsung is accused of installing a ‘defeat device’ on some televisions that uses less energy during official testing conditions than would be found during real-world use.

“The apparent discrepancy between real-world and test performance of the TVs is reminiscent of the VW scandal that originated in the US last week,” wrote [Arthur Nelson] of The Guardian. This report was based on an unpublished lab test by the research group ComplianTV which found discrepancies between real-world and test performance when measuring power consumption. According to ComplianTV, this is due to the ‘motion lighting’ setting included in some Samsung TVs. Samsung vehemently denies this ‘motion lighting’ saying that it is not a method of cheating the consumption tests.

Typical results recognized during testing. Source
Typical results recognized during testing. Source

Not one to let a good controversy go to waste, the BBC reports a Samsung TV will reduce its power draw shortly after the start of the test. A graph of the power draw of a TV – not explicitly a Samsung television – demonstrating this functionality was found in a PDF of a ComplianTV workshop from last year labeled as, “Typical results recognized during testing” with a decrease in power consumption being a recognized behavior when the appropriate test video was found.

This is not the first time ComplianTV tested a Samsung TV equipped with a ‘motion lighting’ setting. Earlier this year, ComplianTV measured the power consumption of the Samsung UE55H8090 television, and found this TV was compliant with energy regulations. Incredibly, all Samsung TVs listed on the ComplianTV database were found to be compliant with the relevant energy directives.

Samsung’s rebuttal to the Guardian article states the ‘motion lighting’ technology is an ‘out of the box’ feature, active in both the lab and at home. Unlike Volkswagen’s ‘defeat device’ for their diesel engines which is only active during emissions testing, the ‘motion lighting’ technology is active whenever it is enabled in the TV’s settings menu.

Anyone in the US who has shopped for a television in the last four years will have noticed cost-per-year estimates for operating the appliance. This is only an issue if the televisions don’t actually meet that advertised benchmark. Until we see a published study we’re raising our eyebrows at The Guardian, easily one of the most trusted journalistic institutions on the planet, and reserving judgement for Samsung.

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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