Electric vehicles are slowly but surely snatching market share from their combustion-engined forbearers. However, range and charging speed remain major sticking points for customers, and are a prime selling point for any modern EV. Battery technology is front and center when it comes to improving these numbers.
Solid-state batteries could mark a step-change in performance in these areas, and the race to get them to market is starting to heat up. Let’s take a look at the current state of play.
Internal combustion engines have often been described (quite correctly) as air pumps, and because of this nature, they tend to respond very well to more air. Why? Because more air means more fuel, and more fuel means more power- the very nature of hot rodding itself. [Thunderhead289] is an accomplished car hacker, and he’s decided to take things the opposite direction: Less air, less fuel… more mileage? As you can see in the video below the break, [Thunderhead289] has figured out how to mount a single barrel carburetor from a lawn mower to the four barrel intake of a Ford 302– a V8 engine that’s many times larger than the largest single cylinder lawnmower!
The hacks start not just with the concept, but with getting the carburetor installed. Rather than being a downdraft carburetor, the new unit is a side draft, with the float bowl below the carb’s venturi. To mount it, a 3d printed adapter was made, which was no small feat on its own. [Thunderhead289] had to get quite creative and even elevate the temperature of his workshop to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) to get the print finished properly. Even then, the 34 hour print damaged his Ender printer, but not before completing the part.
The hackery doesn’t stop there, because simply mounting the carburetor is only half the battle. Getting the engine to run properly with such a huge intake restriction is a new task all its own, with a deeper dive into fuel pressure management, proper distributor timing, and instrumenting the car to make sure it won’t self destruct due to a poor fuel mixture.
While [Thunderhead289] hasn’t been able to check the mileage of his vehicle yet, just getting it running smoothly is quite an accomplishment. If silly car hacks are your thing, check out [Robot Cantina]’s 212cc powered Insight and how they checked the output of their little engine. Thanks to [plainspicker] for the tip!
[Ross] has a 2008 Toyota Tacoma. Like many late model cars, each tire contains a direct tire pressure monitoring sensor or TPMS that wirelessly sends data about the tire status to the car. However, unlike some cars, the system has exactly one notification to the driver: one of your tires is low. It doesn’t tell you which one. Sure, you can check each tire, but [Ross] had a different problem. One sensor was bad and he had no way to know which one it was. He didn’t have any equipment to test the sensor, but he did have an RTL-SDR dongle and some know-how to figure out how to listen in on the sensors.
The key was to use some software called RTL-433 that is made to pick up these kinds of signals. It is available for Linux, Windows, or Mac, and supports hundreds of wireless sensors ranging from X10 RF to KlikAanKlikUit wireless switches.
It’s fascinating to see what happens when a creative hacker is given a set of constraints to work within. [rctestflight] found themselves in a very specific set of circumstances: Free RC cars from sponsors, and no real purpose for them. Instead of just taking them apart to see what made them tick (itself the past time of many a beginning hacker), [rctestflight] decided to let the RC cars disassemble themselves, destructively, on their way to 100,000 (scale) RC Car Miles, tallying up the distance (and the carnage) in the end as you see in the video below the break.
Re-using a jig and test track (his backyard) from another test, [rctestflight] set up solar powered tether that could power any of the vehicles under test. The vehicles were modified as needed to drive along the circular track on a tether, and once stability was achieved, the cars were set on their own to either drive 100,000 scale miles or die trying.
Seeing as how [rctestflight] hales from the Pacific NorthWet of the United States near Seattle, the endurance test turned out to be not just a test of distance. Among the factors evaluated were how well each vehicle could withstand the mud, grime, and yes, even earthworms, that awaited them.
After each vehicle failed beyond the point of a quick fix, they were all torn down. Where each manufacturer cut corners could clearly be seen, and the weaknesses and strengths of each vehicle were pretty interesting. Plus, there’s a pretty great (awful) uh… rendition… of an iconic 80’s song. Twice. And of course the final conclusion: Exactly how many miles did each vehicle go before catastrophic failure? Check the video for results.
When you want to fabricate something you either start with something and take away what you don’t want — subtractive manufacturing — or you start with nothing and add material, which is additive manufacturing that we usually call 3D printing. Popular Science recently took a look inside Vital Auto, the British lab that uses 3D printing for high-end concept cars from companies like Rolls-Royce, McLauren, Jaguar, and others. In the video below, [Anthony Barnicott], an engineer for Vital, says that the two technologies — additive and subtractive — work best when used together.
As you might expect, they are not using a $200 FDM printer. They have three Formlabs 3Ls that print with resin and five Formlab Fuse 1 selective laser sintering printers. While metal printers are still uncommon in hacker’s workshops, resin printers are now very affordable although your garage printer is probably a good bit smaller than the 3L’s 335x200x300 mm volume. For comparison, an LCD-based AnyCubic Photon X provides just 165x132x80 mm. Of course, you’re looking at about $11,000 for the dual-laser 3L versus about $240 for the Photon.
Vital started building the EP9 electric car concept for NIO, an electric car maker in China. You can imagine that modern manufacturing machines make it possible to create more sophisticated concept cars faster. How many times do you want to tweak a part that takes a machinist eight hours to produce? But if you can just let a machine run overnight and get the result in the morning, you are more likely to change and refine the part.
Last month Kia Motors announced a large recall due to possibly defective airbag controller units (ACU). The recall spans many models and model years — in the United States alone it covers over 400K cars, and over half a million cars worldwide. From the NHTSA report we learn that the problem happened at assembly when the cover of some ACUs interfered with the pins of an EEPROM chip. This can cause some of the pins to open-circuit. If your car had this problem, a warning light would come on, but more seriously, the airbags would not deploy in an accident. Kia estimates that less than 1% of the cars using this ACU have this issue. Cars which have this fault will get a new ACU, and other cars will get a firmware upgrade to keep this from happening should the EEPROM pins break loose in the future.
We think this EEPROM is used for logging errors and crash events, and is therefore not in the critical path for airbag deployment. The original firmware apparently prevented deployment if the EEPROM had a fault. Presumably, after this patch, if pins break in the future, the fault indicator still lights up but you’ll have functioning airbags.
It’s not clear if these broken EEPROM pin solder joints were present from the start and the factory test procedures didn’t catch the problem. Or did the pins left the factory intact and were subsequently broke due to bumps and vibrations. Hardware issues aside, having safety critical firmware perform its primary function even when faults exist in non-essential parts of the circuit seems like a requirement that should have been applied to the ACU from the beginning.
This is a reminder of the importance of enclosure design and making sure your PCB layouts take into account all clearances necessary for the entire assembly. How many times have you got your PCB back and realized you forgot to even put mounting holes?
At its core, the concept of vehicle-grid integration (VGI) – also called Vehicle To Grid (V2G) – seems a simple one. Instead of a unidirectional charger for battery-electric vehicles (BEVs), a bidirectional charger would be used. This way, whenever the BEV is connected to such a charger, power could be withdrawn from the car’s battery for use on the local electrical grid whenever there’s demand.
Many of the complications with VGI have already been discussed, including the increased wear that this puts on a BEV’s battery, the need for an inherently mobile machine to be plugged into a charger, and the risk of needing one’s BEV and finding its battery to be nearly depleted. Here the cheerful marketing from Nissan and that from commercial initiatives such as Vehicle to Grid Britain makes it sound like it’s a no-brainer once those pesky details can be worked out.
In parallel with the world of glossy marketing leaflets, researchers have been investigating VGI as a potential option for grid-level energy storage. These studies produce a far less optimistic picture that puts the entire concept of VGI into question.