Emulating OBD-II on the ESP32

It used to be that you could pop the hood and with nothing more than flat head screwdriver, some baling wire, and tongue held at the optimal angle, you could fix anything that ailed your car. But today, for better or for worse, the average automobile is a rolling computer that runs on gasoline and hope (if it even still has a gasoline engine, that is). DIY repairs and maintenance on a modern car is still possible of course, but the home mechanic’s toolbox has needed to evolve with the times. If you want to do anything more advanced than changing a tire, you’ll really want to have the gear to interface with the vehicle’s computer via the OBD-II port.

But for some, even that isn’t enough. [limiter121] recently wrote in to tell us of an interesting project which doesn’t read the OBD-II port in a vehicle, but actually emulates one. Like so many others this hack was born out of necessity, as a way to test an OBD-II project without having to sit out in the driveway all day. It allows you to create fictitious speed and engine RPM values for the OBD-II device or software under test to read, complete with a slick web interface to control the “car”.

So what makes it tick? Surprisingly little, actually. At the most basic level, an ESP32-WROOM-32 is connected up to a SN65HVD230 CAN transceiver chip. You’ll also need a 3.3V power supply, as well as a USB to serial adapter to do the initial programming on the ESP32. From there it’s just a matter of compiling and flashing the code [limiter121] has made available in the GitHub repo.

If you’re wondering if such products don’t already exist on the commercial market, they do. But like so many other niche projects, the price is a bit hard to swallow for the home hacker. Compared to the nearly $300 USD list price of commercial offerings such as the Freematics OBD-II Emulator, building one of these ESP32 based emulators should only cost you around $20.

Unless you’re developing an OBD-II reader, you probably don’t have much use for an OBD-II emulator. But this project could still be useful for anyone who wants to learn more about OBD from the comfort of their couch.

Lazy Hacker Checks Fuel System for Leaks, The Easy Way

Old cars are great. They represent a different time, reflecting the state of society at the point of their design and manufacture, and can charm and delight while also providing useful transport. Except, well… old cars are great, except when they’re not.

With my Volvo 740 hitting its thirtieth birthday and cresting over 200,000 miles, to say its a little worse for wear is an understatement. The turbo dadwagon has suffered transmission issues, and cold starting woes… but most frustrating is the sudden spike in fuel use. After some work, my humble daily driver had slid from using an acceptable 21 miles per gallon, to getting just 15. Add on the fact that the turbocharged engine demands premium fuel, and you can understand my consternation.

Now that I was haemorrhaging cash on a gargantuan weekly fuel bill, I had plenty of motivation to track down the problem. Busy, and eager for a quick solution, I deferred to a mechanic recommended as the local expert in all things Volvo. Sadly, the results were inconclusive — initial appearances were that all the engine’s electronic controls were functioning to specifications, and I was told that it was “probably a bad batch of fuel”.

Unfortunately, several expensive tanks later, sourced from all over town, revealed that the problem was in fact real. With a supposedly reliable report that the fuel mixture was correct, thus ruling out culprits like the oxygen sensor, I began to wonder, was I simply pouring fuel out the tank?

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Car Revival According to Tesla

Frankencars are built from the parts of several cars to make one usable vehicle. [Jim Belosic] has crossed the (finish) line with his Teslonda. In the most basic sense, it is the body of a Honda Accord on top of the drive train of a Tesla Model S. The 1981 Honda was the make and model of his first car, but it wasn’t getting driven. Rather than sell it, he decided to give it a new life with electricity, just like Victor Frankenstein.

In accord with Frankenstein’s monster, this car has unbelievable strength. [Jim] estimates the horsepower increases by a factor of ten over the gas engine. The California-emissions original generates between forty and fifty horsepower while his best guess places the horsepower over five-hundred. At this point, the Honda body is just holding on for dear life. Once all the safety items, like seatbelts, are installed, the driver and passengers will be holding on for the same reason.

This kind of build excites us because it takes something old, and something modern, and marries the two to make something in a class of its own. And we hate to see usable parts sitting idle.

Without a body, this electric car scoots around with its driver all day, and this Honda doesn’t even need the driver inside.

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Pipe Your Way Through The Jams

Playing the bagpipes is an art that takes a significant effort to master, both in keeping a constant air supply through balancing blowstick and bag and in learning the finger positions on the chanter. This last task we are told requires constant finger practice, and a favorite place for this is on the steering wheel as a would-be piper drives. [DZL] therefore took this to the next level, placing touch sensors round a car steering wheel that could be interpreted by an Arduino Pro Mini to produce a passable facsimile of a set of bagpipes via an in-car FM transmitter. It lacks the drone pipes of the real thing, but how many other Škodas feature inbuilt piping?

We’ve covered an unexpected number of bagpipe projects over the years, but never had a close look at this rather fascinating musical instrument. If you are curious, the US Coast Guard pipe band has a short guide to its parts, and we’ve brought you a set of homemade pipes built from duct tape and PVC pipe. They may once have been claimed as an instrument of war, but they seem to also be a favorite instrument of hardware hackers.

Thanks [Sophi] for the tip.

Go Big Or Go Home – This Arduino RC Car Can Take You There

Whether we like it or not, eventually the day will come where we have to admit that we outgrew our childhood toys — unless, of course, we tech them up in the name of science. And in some cases we might get away with simply scaling things up to be more fitting for an adult size. [kenmacken] demonstrates how to do both, by building himself a full-size 1:1 RC car. No, we didn’t forget a digit here, he remodeled an actual Honda Civic into a radio controlled car, and documented every step along the way, hoping to inspire and guide others to follow in his footsteps.

To control the Civic with a standard RC transmitter, [kenmacken] equipped it with a high torque servo, some linear actuators, and an electronic power steering module to handle all the mechanical aspects for acceleration, breaking, gear selection, and steering. At the center of it all is a regular, off-the-shelf Arduino Uno. His write-up features plenty of videos demonstrating each single component, and of course, him controlling the car — which you will also find after the break.

[kenmacken]’s ultimate goal is to eventually remove the radio control to build a fully autonomous self-driving car, and you can see some initial experimenting with GPS waypoint driving at the end of his tutorial. We have seen the same concept in a regular RC car before, and we have also seen it taken further using neural networks. Considering his background in computer vision, it will be interesting to find out which path [kenmacken] will go here in the future.

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OBD-Sniffing A Caddy PHEV

The Cadillac ELR is a plug-in hybrid car with a bit of class, it has the beating heart of a Chevy Volt in a nice coupé body with some up-market styling and a nice interior. Since it wasn’t on the market for long and some consumers are still wary of cars with electric motors, it also represents something of a sweet spot: according to [Andrew Rossignol] you can pick them up for less outlay than you might imagine. He bought one, and being an inquisitive soul decided to probe its secrets through its OBD-II ports.

OBD-II sniffing is nothing especially new, but his write-up provides an interesting run-down of the methodology used to identify the different proprietary pieces of data that it makes available. His Python script attempted to parse the stream as though it were multi-byte words of different lengths, plotting its results as graphs, It was then a straightforward process of identifying the graphs by eye that contained useful data and rejecting those that were obviously garbage. He was able to pick out the figures in which he was interested, and write an interface for his little Sony VAIO UX to display them on the move.

We’ve covered OBD hacks too numerous to mention over the years, but perhaps you’d like to read our history of the standard.

Retrotechtacular: The Best Jeep Commercial Ever

How often do we find ourselves thankful for advertising? When it comes to Hackaday’s Retrotechtacular column it’s actually quite often since it snapshots a moment in culture and technology. Today’s offering is a shining example, where we get a great look into vehicular utility of the day that is rarely seen in our modern lives.

The origin story of the Jeep is of course its prominence in World War II when more than half a million were produced. GIs who drove the vehicles constantly during the war greatly appreciated the reliability and versatility and wanted one for their own when returning home and a market rose up to satisfy that need. The modern equivalent would be the Hummer fad that started in the 1990’s. Humvee, the early ancestor of the Hummer, replaced the Jeep in the US military in the 1980’s and a version called Hummer entered the consumer market in ’92. But that was more of a comfort-meets-icon proposition, where the Jeep of the 1950’s (seen in the commercial below) delivered — even over delivered — on a promise of utility.

In this ad, the case is made for Jeep as farm implement, acting as plow, mower, even post hole digger. As a firefighting implement the announcer boasts that “One man with a Jeep can do the work of 100 men with shovels” by cutting fire breaks into the soil. It’s sold as the workhorse of cemeteries, ranches, county service crews, and anything else their marketing gurus could write into copy. We think the metrics are dubious but certainly the inexpensive build, versatile nature, and need for power equipment across the countryside brought these Jeeps into widespread rural and industrial service in myriad roles.

Power take off driving shaft to power circular saw. You can also see the hydraulics that lift and lower the saw.

What makes most of this possible is the existence of a power take-off (PTO). This is a mechanical connection from the engine of the vehicle to external components that can be switched out. Once connected, the speed of the engine can be controlled to adjust the power take-off operation. In conjunction with a hydraulic system that can lift and lower the implement, it becomes a remarkably versatile system. We begin to wonder the American vernacular includes the saying “it’s like the Swiss Army knife of…” rather than calling everything that’s insanely useful a Jeep.

Connect a pump to the PTO and you have a fire-fighting Jeep. Connect a generator and you can drive electric tools like the chainsaw used to cut down a tree in the video and to power an arc welder. There’s a gnarly-looking circular saw blade, and you’re going to spill your coffee when you get to the “Jeep-a-trench”. That’s right, a trenching attachment gives the vehicle’s suspension a rough workout. It boasts the ability to dig down six feet and complete the footings for an ordinary house in just three hours.

Willy’s MB, the company behind the Jeep must have employed a crew of hackers. What a blast it would have been to be in the research and development sessions to come up with 1,001 more uses for the equipment. The company has a bit of Jeep history you can peruse, but we’d really love to hear about the addon equipment ideas that didn’t make the cut. Are there any readers who have some stories along these lines? Let us know in the comments below.

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