This Two-Wheeled RC Car Is Rather Quick

Radio control cars have always been fun, it’s true. With that said, it’s hard to deny that true speed was unlocked when lithium polymer batteries and brushless motors came to the fore. [Gear Down For What?] built himself a speedy RC car of his own design, and it’s only got two wheels to boot (Youtube link, embedded below).

The design is of the self-balancing type – if you’re thinking of an angry unmanned Segway with a point to prove, you’re in the ballpark. The brains of the machine come thanks to a Teensy 3.6, which runs the PID loops for balancing and control. An MPU6050 gyroscope & accelerometer provide the necessary sensing to enable the ‘bot to keep itself upright in varied conditions. Performance is impressive, with the car reaching speeds in excess of 40 MPH and managing to handle simple ramps and bumps with ease. It’s all wrapped up in a 3D printed frame which held up surprisingly well to many crashes into tripods and tarmac.

Such builds are not just fun; they’re an excellent way to learn useful control skills that can serve you well in industry and your own projects. You can pick up the finer details of control systems in a university engineering course, or you could give our primer a whirl. When you’ve whipped up your first awesome project, we’d love to hear about it. Video after the break.

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Turn Your Car Into A Simulator

Video games, while entertaining to be sure, are a great way to experience things that could not easily be recreated in real life. Shooting aliens on a giant ring in space is an obvious example, but there are some more realistic examples that video games make much more accessible, such as driving a race car. You can make that experience as realistic as you want, too, and can even go as far as using a real car as your controller.

All modern cars use a communication system to allow their various modules to talk to one another. Fuel injection, throttle position, pedal positions, steering wheel angle, and climate control systems can all communicate on the CAN bus, and by tapping into that information the car can be used as a controller for a video game. Once you plug in to the OBD-II port on a car, you’ll need a piece of software to decode all of that information. [Andrew] uses uinput, a tool that allows Linux machines to take any input signal and map it in any way that can be programmed.

The build also includes the use of an integrated pico projector, allowing the car to be parked and turned into a simulator at any time. It’s similar to another project which used a Mazda instead of a Chevrolet Volt, but it just goes to show how straightforward it can be to take information from the CAN bus of a modern car.

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Volkswagen eGon Is A Rolling Electric Car Circuit Sculpture

Over the past few decades of evolution, cars have grown to incorporate a mind-boggling number of electric components. From parking distance sensors, to the convenience of power locks and windows, to in-car entertainment systems rivaling home theaters. Normally this interconnected system’s complexity is hidden between exterior sheet metal and interior plastic trim, but a group of students of Volkswagen’s vocational training program decided to show off their internal beauty by building the Volkswagen eGon exhibit.

Seeing a super minimalist Volkswagen electric Golf on the move (short Twitter video embedded below) we are immediately reminded of circuit sculptures. We saw some great projects in our circuit sculpture contest, but the eGon shows what can be done with the resources of a Volkswagen training center. Parts are bolted to the car’s original structure where possible, the rest were held in their representative positions by thin metal tube frames. At this scale, they look just like the brass rods used in small circuit sculptures! Certain component enclosures were replaced with transparent pieces, or had a window cut into them for visibility.

This exhibit was built for IdeenExpo, an event to expose students to science and technology. Showing them what’s under the cover in this “see-through car” with internal components tagged with QR codes pointing them to additional information. The number of electronic modules inside a car is only going to continue rising with the coming wave of electric and/or self-driving cars. Even if the timing of their arrival is debatable, we know we’ll need brain power helping to answer questions we don’t even know to ask yet. The eGon is doing a great job attracting attention and inviting bright young minds to participate.

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Sniffing CAN To Add New Features To A Modern Car

It used to be that there wasn’t a problem on the average car that couldn’t be solved with a nice set of wrenches, a case of beer, and a long weekend. But the modern automobile has more in common with a spaceship than those vintage rides of yesteryear. Bristling with sensors and electronics, we’re at the point that some high-end cars need to go back to the dealer for even minor repairs. It’s a dark time for the neighborhood grease monkey.

But for those of us who are more likely to spend their free time working with a compiler than a carburetor, a modern car can be an absolute wonderland. That’s what [TJ Bruno] found when he recently started experimenting with the CAN bus on his 2017 Chevy Cruze. Not only was he able to decode how the different switches and buttons on the dashboard communicated with the vehicle’s onboard systems, he was able to hack in a forward-looking camera that’s so well integrated you’d swear it was a factory option.

The idea started simple enough: using some relays, [TJ] planned on physically switching the video feed going to the Chevy’s dashboard between the stock rear camera and his aftermarket front camera. That’s all well and good, but the car would still only bring up the video feed when the gear selector was put in reverse; not exactly helpful when he’s trying to inch his way into a tight spot. He needed to find a way to bring up the video display when the car was moving forward.

With a PCAN-USB adapter connected to the car’s OBD-II port, he shifted into and out of reverse a few times and noted which messages got transmitted on the network. It wasn’t long before he isolated the proper message, and when he injected it with his laptop, the dashboard display switched over to the backup camera regardless of what gear the car was in. Building on this success, he eventually figured out how to read the status of all the buttons on the car’s dashboard, and programmed an Arduino to listen for the appropriate signals.

The final piece of the puzzle was combing bringing both of these capabilities, so that went the appropriate button was pressed on the dashboard the Arduino would not only send the signal to turn on the video display, but kick the relays over to switch the camera source. Now [TJ] has a front-facing camera that can be called up without having to kludge together some button or switch that would never match the modern styling of the vehicle’s interior.

A couple years back we saw a similar project to add a backup camera to a Peugeot 207 that was too old to have one from the factory, and more recently we saw how CAN hacking can allow you to fight back when your car’s touch screen interface robs you of simple pleasures like pushing buttons and turning knobs.

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A Million Zombie Taxis By 2020? It’s Not Going To Happen

The tech world has a love for Messianic figures, usually high-profile CEOs of darling companies whose words are hung upon and combed through for hidden meaning, as though they had arrived from above to our venture-capital-backed prophet on tablets of stone. In the past it has been Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, now it seems to be Elon Musk who has received this treatment. Whether his companies are launching a used car into space, shooting things down tubes in the desert, or synchronised-landing used booster rockets, everybody’s talking about him. He’s a showman whose many pronouncements are always soon eclipsed by bigger ones to keep his public on the edge of their seats, and now we’ve been suckered in too, which puts us on the spot, doesn’t it.

Your Johnny Cab is almost here

The latest pearl of Muskology came in a late April presentation: that by 2020 there would be a million Tesla electric self-driving taxis on the road. It involves a little slight-of-hand in assuming that a fleet of existing Teslas will be software upgraded to be autonomous-capable and that some of them will somehow be abandoned by their current owners and end up as taxis, but it’s still a bold claim by any standard.

Here at Hackaday, we want to believe, but we’re not so sure. It’s time to have a little think about it all. It’s the start of May, so 2020 is about 7 months away. December 2020 is about 18 months away, so let’s give Tesla that timescale. 18 months to put a million self-driving taxis on the road. Can the company do it? Let’s find out.

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This Week in Security: Facebook Hacked your Email, Cyber on the Power Grid, and a Nasty Zero-day

Ah, Facebook. Only you could mess up email verification this badly, and still get a million people to hand over their email address passwords. Yes, you read that right, Facebook’s email verification scheme was to ask users for their email address and email account password. During the verification, Facebook automatically downloaded the account’s contact list, with no warning and no way to opt out.

The amount of terrible here is mind-boggling, but perhaps we need a new security rule-of-thumb for these kind of situations. Don’t ever give an online service the password to a different service. In order to make use of a password in this case, it’s necessary to handle it in plain-text. It’s not certain how long Facebook stored these passwords, but they also recently disclosed that they have been storing millions of Facebook and Instagram passwords in plain-text internally.

This isn’t the first time Facebook has been called out for serious privacy shenanigans, either: In early 2018 it was revealed that the Facebook Android app had been uploading phone call records without informing users. Mark Zuckerberg has recently outlined his plan to give Facebook a new focus on privacy. Time will tell whether any real change will occur.

Cyber Can Mean Anything

Have you noticed that “cyber” has become a meaningless buzz-word, particularly when used by the usual suspects? The Department of Energy released a report that contained a vague but interesting sounding description of an event: “Cyber event that causes interruptions of electrical system operations.” This was noticed by news outlets, and people have been speculating ever since. What is frustrating about this is the wide range of meaning covered by the term “cyber event”. Was it an actual attack? Was Trinity shutting down the power stations, or did an intern trip over a power cord?
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Putting some Smarts into an Electric Car Charger

Many electric cars feature a timer capability that allows the owner to set which hours they want the vehicle to start pulling a charge. This lets the thrifty EV owner take advantage of the fact that the cost of electricity generally goes down late at night when the demand is lower. The Renault Zoe that [Ryan Walmsley] owns has this feature, but not only does it cost him extra to have it enabled, it’s kind of a hassle to use. So being an enterprising hacker, he decided to implement his own timer in the charger itself.

Now controlling high voltages with a lowly microcontroller might sound dangerous, but it’s actually not nearly as tricky as you might think. The charger and the vehicle actually communicate with low-voltage signals to determine things like the charge rate, so it turns out you don’t need to cut into the AC side of things at all. You just need to intercept the control signals between the two devices and modify them accordingly.

Or do you? As [Ryan] eventually realized, he didn’t need to bother learning how the control signals actually worked since he wasn’t trying to do anything tricky like set the charge rate. He just wanted to be able to stop and start the charging according to what time it was. So all he had to do was put the control signal from his car through a relay controlled by a Particle Photon, allowing him to selectively block communication.

The charger also had an optional key lock, which essentially turns the controller off when the contacts are shorted. [Ryan] put a relay on that as well so he could be absolutely sure the charger cuts the juice at the appropriate time. Then it was just a matter of getting the schedule configured with IFTTT. He mentions the system could even be tweaked to automatically control the charger based on the instantaneous cost of electricity provided by the utility company, rather than assuming overnight is always the most economical.

We’ve seen a fair amount of electric car hacking, but with only a few exceptions, the projects always steer clear of modifying the actual chargers themselves. In general hackers feel a lot safer playing around in the world of DC, but as [Ryan] has shown, safely hacking your EV charger is possible if you do your homework.