Electric Vehicle Peripheral Controller For The Masses

This juicy hunk of printed circuits is an open source controller for the peripherals of an electric car. It’s the product of a capstone project working on a vehicle aimed at urban commuting. There wasn’t a suitable non-proprietary module for controlling a car’s peripherals so the team built their own.

As far as we can tell this is not responsible for driving the vehicle itself. We assume there’s another piece of hardware which reads from the accelerator pedal, drives the motors accordingly, and handles things like regenerative braking. But there’s a lot of other things in a modern vehicle that need to be taken care of as well. Head, tail, and turn indicator lights must be switched. All of the dashboard controls (like the turn signal lever and the wiper blade speed settings) need to be monitored. Something needs to drive the door locks, and a system that reads the door ajar sensors and switches the dome light on and off must be handled. This is where the controller pictured above really shines.

The team has released all of the hardware information. The code is not yet available, but will be as soon as they’ve cleaned it up enough to package the first release candidate.

66 thoughts on “Electric Vehicle Peripheral Controller For The Masses

  1. Forgive me for being a luddite, but I have a few quibbles with the use cases cited (turn signals, dome light, wiper blades). These are all very simple functions, for which a controller is needlessly complex.

    For the dome light, you have a NC switch in each door (which is held open when the door is closed), all in parallel. Your brake light is a simple switch affixed to the brake pedal. Your turn signals are operated by a single device (http://auto.howstuffworks.com/turn-signal2.htm)

    Do you really need to monitor the position of the turn signal lever?

    Sure, I like sticking microcontrollers in things as much as the next guy, but there’s definitely something to be said for KISS.

    1. While I agree, a microcontroller based system can sense problems with a system that a person cannot.

      This system allows upgrades, extra add-ons, etc. Being an electric car we also need to monitor more information than the average car.

      1. I’d say the turn signal system should have a programmable load detection – most modern cars use a flasher unit that uses this method to detect when a bulb has gone out. Making this programmable would be great for LED turn signals.

    2. Yes, actually – if you knew anything about how modern vehicles are wired. “Run wires between everything” went out the window a while ago.

      It’s a lot easier to place a module in a door and run power+data (ground is via chassis) than it is to run power for the door, switch wiring, alarm sense switches in the doorlock, etc.

      Among other things, you can run ONE beefier power cable instead of a billion little ones; end result, better power distribution to everything.

      Since each module can contain self-diagnostics, troubleshooting becomes much easier.

      1. Funny, I have the wiring diagram for my minivan. It has a computer in each door with this data network you talk about. The wiring diagram is 250 pages of very detailed info. Under the dash looks like a space shuttle cockpit. In comparison, I use to have the entire color code memorized for all chevy cars and truck threw some where in the late 90s. Hint, they used the same color for the same function on all of them. The new van does not have all THAT much more stuff in it! But it does have about 100 relays.

    3. If you look at the wiring harness of a vehicle, you’ll understand the drive to stick microcontrollers in everything. Instead of having wires going all over the place to connect up “simple” switches and dash controls. With more and more sensors in cars, things would only get worse.

      Modern cars do have microcontrollers in everything, and many of these microcontrollers are hooked up to a single two-wire CAN bus. Now instead of having hundreds of wires connecting different parts of the vehicles, there are just two. How’s that for KISS?

      A vehicle control unit can therefore simply sit on the CAN bus monitoring all the information flow for diagnostics purposes, or in modern vehicles, enact all the neat little features that define modern vehicles. For example the vehicle control unit might monitor the seat sensors when the vehicle is off to keep the lights on while someone is still inside the vehicle (avoids fumbling around in the dark), or display a little warning symbol and make a “ping” noise when it detects someone sitting in the front without a seatbelt on, and the vehicle is driving faster than a set speed (many cars do this). These are things that require some sort of centralised controller with access to the sensors.

      So yes, you should KISS, but don’t forget that more complex modern technology can do things simpler.

      1. Hundreds of wires in a car harness? I’ve wired up a couple cars and I always do it the same. I use one spool of one color wire (red) and I use wire marker tags on the individual wires to tell them all apart. Good way of keeping track of just how many wires are there too. Guess how many I usually use?

        I’ll give you a hint, it is far less than hundreds :) Closer to a half of a hundred. When I’m done everything works too. So I guess I’m using enough wires.

        Nah, for real hundreds of wires in a car harness is bull. I mean what do you have going on in your car a telephone network?

      2. Awesome, another colour-blind auto-electrician. And here I was thinking my father was the only one.

        Your clever scheme isn’t that clever, and anyone unfortunate to inherit your work will loathe you forever, and will wish you roast in Hell forever, glowing as red as that wire you’re using.

        As for the ‘hundreds of wire’, yeah, it only seems like it. Especially more-so if they’re all one colour.

        1. It didn’t bother the licensed electrician that was with me when we put the spool on his account. When I was done he even remarked that I’d done a better job than he thought I could. Which coming from him was high praise. So why should I care about what others think?

      3. Dodgy wiring is hard enough to sort out when the aired are properly colour coded. Using a single colour is just stupidity.

        Come back in few years time and tell us about your ‘older & wiser’ experiences.

        1. Where do you even think you can get all the wire colors it’d take to color code a car? How much do you think it’d cost just to buy the wire if you could? If you knew the answers to these questions you wouldn’t even suggest it.

          When I rewire a car I buy the good stuff and it only comes on 500 and 2,500 foot reels. It only comes in 12 standard colors too. One thing it don’t come is cheap though.

          If what you’re doing now is your idea of wisdom then I’d hate to be around when you were being foolish!

          Because only a fool would suggest that an individual rewire a car and use color coding. There is absolutely no upside and the downsides are many. I could list more but I’m sure even this will be lost on you.

          The only advantage you seem to be able to offer is a weak theory that color coding makes troubleshooting easier to do. OK quick, what color wire does your passenger side front directional use? Even if you knew I don’t see how it matters.

          90% of electrical problems in cars are bad grounds! But that Tony is a voice you are unfamiliar hearing, it is what experience sounds like. Personally I find it no harder to troubleshoot, and repair single color wirings than multiple colored ones. Either way I’m going to be ringing out lines with meters so it doesn’t matter to me. Just looking at an insulation jacket tells me nothing useful.

          BTW on the cars I wired I know what color my directionals are, they’re red :)

      4. “OK quick, what color wire does your passenger side front directional use?”

        Well, let me just check my wiring diagram. Not only does it show what goes where, but what colour it is as well. What an amazing concept!

        Sorry, using a single colour is stupidity no matter how you justify it. And let’s face it, your only justification is “I’m too cheap to do it properly”.

      5. Here’s an analogy.

        Hands up all those who have went to change something on your TV or PC setup, looked down on all the black cables and wondered “Hmmm, which one is the amplifier?”

        Then you guess wrong and unplug your router or cable box.

        This idiot thinks that’s how you should wire up a car.

      6. Yeah, that’s right, I am right.

        ‘thousand of dollars’? You only need a few colours; the left rear blinker doesn’t need to be a different colour to the others. Run orange for the blinkers, red for stop, white for reverse & running and so on.

        Sure, when looking at the distribution point for the lighting you’ll have 4 orange wires, 4 white, etc, but that’s a hell of a lot easier than seeing a couple of dozen red wires some sub-epsilon did.

        I can understand fixing a harness with whatever is laying around, but for a whole new harness?

        There’s a reason car companies don’t use your ‘saving costs’ idea, you’ll figure it out eventually.

        You should submit your car to ‘crap-a-day’.

        1. Car manufacturers have their reasons I have mine. Apparently you cannot grasp the difference.

          Your analogy sucks. Automotive wiring is not consumer plug and play.

          This sub-epilson may be an idiot but I have this:


          That there child is a 1966 P1800S that I’ve done a few things to over the years.

          Bored 0.122 over with custom hand forged Venolia pistons, custom ground Crane cam 0.460 lift 300 degree duration, chrome moly push rods, double over springs, ported and polished, shaved head. Enlarged exhaust valves, dual Weber DCOE 45 carburetors with socked velocity stacks, complete Mallory electronic Hi-Fire ignition system with their distributor, custom windage pan, high flow oil pump, anti-cavitating water pump, hollow lathed flywheel, wrapped header pipe, Borla stainless steel muffler, Monza chrome tips, all stainless steel exhaust pipe for that matter, Bilstien shocks, variable rate springs, Teflon front bushings, completely rebuilt front end, American Racing Magnesium rims (I know they’re illegal) and a Momo steering wheel

          I forgot to mention a few other modifications but trust me they’re there too like the high flow Carter electric fuel pump, and an electric radiator fan. The car came stock with Recaro seats. The originals I believe.

          Top speed unknown at this time. She does at least a buck fifty though I know that much. It’ll light up 4th gear at 100 MPH It is a religious experience to drive.

          Consider yourself submitted.

          1. You might be an excellent mechanic and a wonderful engine-builder. Everyone has their talents, and I’m sure that it’s both terrifying joyous to drive that creation.

            One of my own talents is that I’m good at wiring and troubleshooting public-safety vehicles. And really, I can’t make heads nor tails of the car-geek talk that you went on about, but I can say this:

            Some ambulance builders wire everything with red and black wires. Some use a rainbow of colors.

            I’ll let you guess which method is easier, faster, cheaper, and (I dare say) safer to troubleshoot and modify.

          2. Determining which method is easier, faster, cheaper, and safer to troubleshoot would depend on who was doing the work, and the volume of the work to be done. In my case one color is the superior solution. In a facility staffed with less capable individuals that need to be supervised by equally disinterested management with multiple wiring jobs to be done colors would offer advantages while not incurring prohibitive waste.

            As I’ve stated previously one vehicle requires less than the length of one spool of wire to do. So every spool you purchase beyond one, in order to get an additional color adds to the cost. Unless you plan on using that wire with other jobs that additional cost is pure waste.

            If you’ve ever bought a spool of wire, and based on your comment I doubt you have, then you would know the cost of wire is quite high (~$110 a reel). If it was coming out of your pocket we wouldn’t even be having this conversation!

        1. So just exactly what are your qualifications? Because I’m here to tell you now that my work was throughly examined by a licensed electrician that specialized in industrial control wiring and he found no fault in it. He wasn’t the type to hold back on his opinions either. I didn’t like him personally but I have to respect him for his electrical abilities. So did the rest of the industry for that matter, as it generously rewarded him and he was able to retire at 40 a wealthy man!

          This is no run of the mill wire runner I’m talking about here. This guy designed and built assembly lines for factories and stuff. The machines! He wouldn’t even waste his time doing residential work. Or working for smelly housewives as he put it.

          So if it was good enough for him I imagine it should be good enough for anyone, including you!

          1. Yes, but the key there is “marked along the length”: Look at the wire at either end or in the middle, and you can identify it. Could be colors, could be printing, could be anything…as long as it is along the length, it works.

          2. And in older planes there where mostly no marking, other than maybe a tag on the end, or one used only the pin number in the connectors as identifier. And probably even more wires (analog systems) than todays digital.

    1. you open the door manually. all cars have a manual override from the internal handles.

      I can see the benefits in this, as a few light examples:
      -one touch = 3 flash lane change indicator
      -one pull on full beam flashes with dip beam off and toggles with dip beam on
      -rear wiper comes on when reverse and front wipers are on
      – variable intermittant wipe
      -auto wipers
      -auto lights
      -heated screens and wipers when ambient 5mph
      -interior lights activate when remote unlock
      -guide you home lights
      -energy conservation mode when battery gets low (no heated screens etc)

      95% of the above is standard on any car these days

      1. supposed to be

        -heated screens and wipers when ambient less than 4 degrees
        -central locking locks when speed greater than 5mph

        really shouldn’t use inequality signs in text to be parsed by a browser. :(

      2. you open the door manually. all cars have a manual override from the internal handles.

        Not all cars: Some cars have doors which can be double-locked, such that they cannot be opened from the outside or from inside: It’s a trap. The inside doorhandle doesn’t open the door, and the lock plunger feels as if it is connected to nothing but a weak return spring.

        On the E36 BMW, for instance:

        Turning the key in the outside door lock double-locks all of the doors. Nothing inside can escape without a key, a remote, a brick, or outside help. Again, it’s a trap.

        Meanwhile, using the inside lock-plunger to activate the locks works in a more-or-less regular fashion: Pull the inside handle once on a locked door, and it mechanically unlocks. Pull again and it opens.

        Some GMs have had this function, as well (or at least my wife’s 1996 F-body did).

        (The double-lock function can also be accessed electrically by simultaneously applying 12V to both the lock and unlock wires at the appropriate point…incidentally, the same on the E36 and the 4th-gen F-body)

  2. The big shame in all of this is that they designed an open-hardware controller, but the motors they’re using aren’t just ‘closed’ – they actually require a signed NDA!

  3. May be I miss sometning, but all that functions can be done in obvious way. It’s even not a problem just to grab all that stuff ( licensed for road, meanwhile ) for free (or for few bucks) at junkyard. And they are already in place if you just convert a gas car to electric.

    The only interesting and unobtainable thing in electric vehicle is motor controller. That thing will be a hack. This thing – is not.

    1. Unobtainable? I can go grab an three phase motor driver (admittedly it would cost a few thousand), that is based on the CANOpen protocol, and I can feed it speed or torque demands via CAN messages.

      1. I can go grab an three phase motor driver

        What’s the power of that device? I hope it’s at least 50-70kW, we talk about electric car, not about bicycle or toy, isn’t it? What is the voltage? How common it is? Is it possible to repair it in case of damage? Do you get schematic with it?
        How about -50 – +85 C temperature, humidity, vibration resistance?

  4. This looks cool. The main device has a good set of inputs and outputs, and with the CAN bus it’ll be easy to add other “smart” modules.

    To the naysayers… Modern cars already use devices like this. Electromechanical blinkers are gone, throttle cables are gone, interiors are LED-lit, and many of the other parts of your cars are “smart” and can be queried to find problems. A device like this will allow hobbyists to do the same, but with their own configurations and their own features. How can this possibly be a bad thing?

    1. Electromechanical blinkers are gone

      Electromechanical blinkers _IS_ a real hack. Simpliest and really cool way to get everything you need – sound notification, bulb failure detection and high reliability with minimum components.

      I’m shure that modern cars is overcomplicated without any reason, it’s like creating simple low frequency filter using expensive DSP, instead of one resistor and one capacitor.

      1. You’re right, it was a good solution. But the microcontroller is needed for so many other things, it might as well be used for turn signals, too. Otherwise you’re just adding an extra point of failure.

      2. You call it a second point of failure, other people call it resilency. When that MCU dies, everything that it is attached to dies with it. With seperate systems, you can continue to use your car if one of the many systems fails.

    2. Removing throttle cables was a bad idea, I drove a 2002 Camrey that had a servo on the throttle body, it wasnt fast enough and caused lag whenever you would step on the gas hard. It was also a pain in the ass to get a second person to hold down the gas pedal when I needed to clean the thorttle body.

  5. As much as I may like electronics my liking of them stops when I hit the road. The only thing I like electronic in a car is the ignition system. Because filing points sucks! Past that I don’t want anything else electronic in a motor vehicle I operate.

    1. EFI and even computer controlled automatic transmissions are ok in my book as those greatly improves drivability
      But when they start running the parking brake electronically,the windows,the throttle, or having the AC controls integrated into the radio I feel a capital offense has been committed.

      Some are annoying such as AC controls that require navigating a menu and others such as a computer controlled parking brake are very dangerous as that must work even in the event of a total electrical failure which is actually fairly common on a car.

      Yes I know high end planes are full flyby wire but they also cost tens of millions of dollars and everything is redundant.

      1. The first car I ever owned was EFI, it was also the last car I ever owned with EFI. I’ve since come to appreciate the genius of Giovanni Battista Venturi. Give me carburetors any day! I’d much rather be blown than injected. I’ve had a couple of cars with a bizarre “electronic” over drive unit attached to them too. I never had the guts to engage one of those while in motion. Things had a solenoid that locked up a planetary, I don’t know but there’s just something about throwing a solenoid on my drive train at speed that has always given me some pause. These are old cars, and I’ve just never seen the stuff work. I also didn’t want to be around if it didn’t work either!

        Over the years I’ve had a lot of experience with electronics failing in motor vehicles. The environment is harsh and connections fail, or components burn out, and I never like having to troubleshoot electronics in the first place, let alone in a car.

        Once burned twice shy.

  6. In just a few years we will have many magnitudes of more tech stuffed into our cars. The true Automobile is being developed now. Not having a cable or linkage on the throttle is scary enough! I heard a story about someone that had to go great lengths to get manual windows on a new pickup truck, special order rigamarole required. That techy stuff just don’t cut it in the field. It rains sometimes, work’s gotta get done. You can wipe the seat off and get in and drive.

    1. I have had both old style throttle linkage and throttle cables fail, fortunately it wasn’t in traffic.Not sure why anyone would go through a great effort to obtain manual window regulators with new vehicle. Electric regulators work or they don’t. In the event of a failure doesn’t much of a hack to keep in the raised position. Most who work out in the field in all the seasons understand bring able to open or close the window is important & a safety factor. To me what’s scary are tractors that don’t have a mechanical connection from the steering wheel and the wheels relying %100 on the tractor hydraulics. I tested it once by killing the engine at a low ground speed, no steering. Why they didn’t engineer the pump so it could be operated by the engine or by the drive wheels or use 2 pumps I don’t understand.

  7. Computer controlling everything from the lights to the wipers to the door locks and windows hasn’t reduced the amount of wiring in vehicles, it’s increased it.

    In the 80’s there were magazine articles about the future of this where everything would be on a multiplexed wiring bus so that all the “smart” components would communicate and receive power over a single set of wires.

    Ha. Ha. Look at the complexity of the wiring in vehicles with CAN. More wiring and the “smart” parts are all hideously expensive.

    A dedicated wiring and switch circuit for power windows and locks is cheap, simple and cheap and simple to diagnose and repair.

    Same goes for lighting. Operate a switch, lights turn on! No silicon required except for the glass in the light bulbs.

    Want auto off headlight delay? A simple timer built into the light switch with a rotary rheostat to set the delay time is inexpensive and reliable. Once again no need to connect to a “body control module” as those computers controlling everything except the engine and transmission are often called.

    Instead of less wire, more and longer wires run from switches to the BCM and to the things the BCM controls. The “old school” systems usually ran wires the shortest paths possible.

    One of the extreme opposite examples was the 3rd generation Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable. Their radios and amplifiers were in the trunk and the “radio” in the dash was just a head unit with cassette tape drive. There were two versions, one with mechanical electric and vacuum switches and one with automatic electronic climate controls.
    Many looooong wires ran from the head unit back to the radio box then more looooong wires ran from it out to the speakers. I figure that setup used about 3x as much wire as it would had the cars used a normal radio in the dash. The (ir)rationale for that mess was the optional (but extremely rarely ordered) in trunk 6 disc CD changer. Ford tried so hard to push this that the 3rd gen Taurus and Sable never had a single disc in dash CD player option.

    The “pinnacle” in electronic integration idiocy happened with the 2010 Camaro. The computer is built into the *radio*. Remove the radio and NOTHING WORKS. Can’t even turn on the lights or start the engine.

    Metra, a major manufacturer of aftermarket vehicle entertainment installation products, came to the rescue. They’ve developed a kit with an LCD screen, buttons and electronics to replicate all the non-radio functions of Chevrolet’s all-in-one monstrosity. Cost? Around $250 USD, plus whatever equipment you choose to mount in the large space the kit provides.

    All this is the kind of garbage that results when vehicle manufacturers let the engineers have free reign and nobody ever listens to anyone saying anything about cost and practicality, if there even are any such persons in the automotive industry anymore.

    ONE improvement I’d love to see is a better turn signal automatic canceling system where the canceling would only happen once the wheels are returned to close to straight. Since the first auto canceling turn signals, the blinking things will turn off just as soon as you start to turn the steering wheel back towards straight.

    Something like a Hall effect sensor with a very simple bit of electronics to monitor when the wheel has been turned more than one revolution would be ideal, could mount on the steering column and would require no long wire run to a BCM or master-control-radio-computer.

    1. E36 BMW cancels turn signals once the wheel is close to straight, apparently by strictly mechanical means. I’ve had the wheel off a few times, though never had any reason to investigate the turn signal cancel…but there really isn’t much magnets-and-miracles stuff going on inside of that particular steering column.

      So this concept dates back to (at least) 1991, and was in production until (at least) 1999.

      It is lovely.

    2. Yeah, the future was awesome – ‘Only one wire!’. I still remember the magazine ads.

      Maybe one day we’ll get a 1 cent CAN chip. Micro-controllers are heading that way, so maybe. One plus these days is with integrated modules like tail-lights you only need one CAN module and being LED power switching is cheap.

      Still, that leaves lots of sensors and switches that were supposed to be CAN but are still wired.

      CAN sensors are big in industry though, so the hope is still there.

      The domestic stuff is going WiFi, like the recent ‘control you light from your phone’. Gah.

  8. 1990 cadalac with power everything == 25 or so wires to EACH door! now find the bad wire, while holding each switch on each door… hmm need help? haha
    the only way to do it _ALONE_ is to get 10ft of wire * 25 conductors * 2 doors (same side is local) and several(40?) test lamps, also a way of remembering what each test light is for! aka paper and pen

    NOW enter the 2010 cadalac! with power everything == power, power_gnd, digital_gnd, acc_on(or main_on), canbus+, canbus-

    1. NOW enter the 2010 cadalac! with power everything == power, power_gnd, digital_gnd, acc_on(or main_on), canbus+, canbus-

      And if canbus+ and canbus- will be occasionally short circuited in the door harness – the “2010 cadillac” will be completely dead :) And you will have to check all CANbus wires everywhere in car to find a bug. Nice. :)

      1. good thing, wouldnt want some drunk psyco driving off after a drunk hit-and-run with half his door hanging off… could fall off and fly into pedestrians or even houses at high speed! just thought i’d have a laugh and say that.

        PS: very interesting problem indeed (the short), one way to control that is to include resistors in each majour wiring harness (data wires going to “over there”…), then just voltmeter the data test points :) (measure across series resistor)


        you know what it feels like getting hit in the head with a lead car battery going 25 klm/h ??? ouch! lol

      3. Having key systems stop working because a of a short in the door sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen and an extremely poor implementation of a vehicle bus.

        For example if the engine shuts down on a highway on ramp it can result in severe injury and even death.
        I also sure the touch screen AC controls have already caused numerous traffic accidents some them fatal since their introduction.

  9. im only an auto electrician but i see two uses for this. One as a controller for conversions and fresh builds. And the second to replace some lacklustre factory body control modules. I like it. This one brought out thearmchair techs! As for canbus reducing cable count, not really. Using thinner cable and single filament tail light bulbs that are pwm controlled and volt sensing is cheaper to do. Scale of cost is ridiculous when it comes to car making. I like this product?

  10. How many posters have worked on cars? Particularly electrical systems? That guy with the caddy whod need 250 feet of cable and forty bulbs to test should be making fairy lights. You guys scare me!

    1. I have and vehicle body control modules are often a major source of headaches during a repair.

      The main advantage of a control modules is you can use a thinner control wires and you can have preferences for things like seat position but they do little to help reliability.

    2. “fairy lights”

      who the heck told YOU about my “fairy lights” project???
      lmao had to XD

      PS: car windows should act like a 2 band graphic eq, in stereo XD oh the horror! and the windows should be edge(bottom) lit XDXDXD

  11. Suddenly I realize I should do something like this for my electric motorcycle project. It’ll be handy to use this as a reference for regenerative braking at the very least.

  12. Luky, who’s in the automotive engineering field, contacted me about this design. He did an in-depth analysis of the design and he offered a lot of good ideas for the next generation. See the Future section to learn more.

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