When Your Car Breaks Down, Simply Hack It Into A Simulator

When [Nishanth]’s Subaru BRZ came to a sudden halt, he was saddened by the wait to get a new engine installed. Fortunately, he was able to cheer himself up by hacking it into a car simulator in the mean time. This would have the added benefit of not being limited to just driving on the Road Atlanta where the unfortunate mishap occurred, but any course available on Forza and similar racing games.

On paper it seemed fairly straight-forward: simply tap into the car’s CAN bus for the steering, throttle, braking and further signals, convert it into something a game console or PC can work with and you’re off to the races. Here the PC setup is definitely the cheapest and easiest, with a single part required: a Macchina M2 Under the Dash kit ($97.50). The XBox required over $200 worth of parts, including the aforementioned Macchina part, an XBox Adaptive Controller and a few other bits and pieces. And a car, naturally.


The Macchina M2 is the part that listens to the CAN traffic via the OBD2 port, converting it into something that resembles a USB HID gamepad. So that’s all a matter of plug’n’play, right? Not so fast. Every car uses their own CAN-based system, with different peripherals and addresses for them. This means that with the Macchina M2 acquired, [Nishanth]’s first task was to reverse-engineer the CAN signals for the car’s controls.

At this point the story is pretty much finished for the PC side of things, but the XBox One console is engineered to only accept official peripherals. The one loop-hole here is the Adaptive Controller, designed for people with disabilities, which allows the use of alternative inputs. This also enables using a car as an XBox One controller, which is an interesting side-effect.

One final gotcha with the XBox version was that the Adaptive Controller doesn’t allow one to control the triggers from its USB port, so they had to use the 3.5 mm (analog) inputs on the controller via an additional circuit to add this functionality. With that out of the way, they were ready to try out some games.


15 thoughts on “When Your Car Breaks Down, Simply Hack It Into A Simulator

  1. The car in the video is a Subaru Forester, not a Subaru BRZ?? But that’s a very cool project, I think it would be pretty neat with a 360 degree projector mounted to the bonnet.

    1. Harrison, we ended up using my friend’s Subaru Forester for the demo because I had ripped out the wiring from my BRZ. The CAN addresses and signals are the same for the BRZ though and it was originally tested there.

      1. The Foz probably helped a LOT as far as figuring out the appropriate signals too, kinda helps to have a functional car for this!

        I’ve gotten MOST of the signals of my ’09 Outback identified, I need to dig up a link to one of the best resources for Subaru CAN RE I’ve found. It’s something like “subaru diesel team” or something like that, I haven’t touched my vehicle’s CAN bus in nearly two years though.

  2. …makes my want to buy a Nissan LEAF that was totaled from hitting a deer. (Damn IEDs Incoming-Elevated-Deer) Most of them are intact enough to be good as a simulator and the 24 or more kWh battery can be useful around the house too especially if you’ve got photovoltaics or if the child slaves you use to drive the generators selfishly need to sleep.

    1. My 20 year old 240hp Forester disagrees.

      Then again, it is getting regular oil changes. And I didn’t screw around with the engine maps. And most certainly did not abuse it on a racetrack.

      1. You are the exception to the rule. Everyone I know that has purchased a turbocharged Subaru took care of it the same way. Regular oil changes and maintenance performed by the dealer religiously. They all replaced their motor at least once. Myself included.

        1. I don’t think i’m an exception. It’s a classic case of confirmation bias, everyone and their grandma will bitch and moan about a broken EJ25. And none of them will admit to not having treated them properly (maintenance, warm-up/cool-down etc.) or to having installed some questionnable tune via a COBB AP to get mad boost.

          1. Sounds like your confirmation bias is to ignore the truths people say. When they tell you they did nothing to the car, maybe it’s time to believe it. If you are running Subaru N/A you are probably ok. But if you have a turbocharged motor, especially the 2011 Wrx where the Fukushima incident had impacts on the production line, you will not have sodium filled valves or any other enhancements required for the turbocharger. Ask me how I know. In 2105 my 2011 went though a complete overhaul courtesy of Subaru.

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