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Hackaday Links: January 16, 2022

As winter well and truly grips the northern hemisphere, it’s time once again to dunk on Tesla for leaving some owners out in the cold — literally. It seems that some Model 3 and Model Y owners are finding their ride’s heat pump isn’t exactly up to the task of, you know, pumping heat. That this seems to be happening mostly in the northeastern US and southern Canada, where a polar vortex is once again dominating the weather and driving temperatures down into the -30 °C (-22 °F) range, perhaps speaks more to the laws of thermodynamics than it does to the engineering of the Tesla climate control system. After all, if there’s not much heat outside the car, it’s hard to pump it inside. But then again, these are expensive machines, some of which have had extensive repairs to address this exact same issue when it cropped up last year. It seems to us that owners have a legitimate gripe with Tesla about this, and they may be getting some help from the Feds, who are taking an interest in the situation from a safety standpoint. After all, no heat likely means fogged up windows, and that’s hardly conducive to a safe trip. But hey, that’s what self-driving is for, right?

Much has been made of the dearth of engineering cameras on the James Webb Space Telescope, and the fact that we’ve been relying on animations to illustrate the dozens of deployments needed to unfurl the observatory and make it ready for its mission. Putting aside the fact that adding extra cameras to the spacecraft makes little sense since the interesting stuff was all happening on the side where the sun doesn’t shine, we did get treated to what was billed as “humanity’s last look at Webb” thanks to an engineering camera on the Ariane 5 rocket. But not so fast — an astrophotographer named Ethan Gone managed to spot the JWST as it transited to L2 the day after launch. Granted, the blip of light isn’t as spectacular as the Ariane shots, and it took a heck of a lot of astrophotography gear to do it, but it’s still thrilling to watch Webb moving gracefully through Orion.

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New Cars Will Nickel-and-Dime You – It’s Automotive As A Service

Every few years, someone pushing a startup to investors comes up with an acronym or buzzword which rapidly becomes the new hotness in those circles. One of the most pernicious is “as a Service,” which takes regular things and finds a way to charge you a regular fee to use them.

Automotive companies just absolutely loved the sound of this, and the industry is rapidly moving to implement subscription services across the board. Even if there’s hardware in your car for a given feature, you might find you now need to pay a monthly fee to use it. Let’s explore how this came about, and talk about which cars are affected. You might be surprised to find yours already on the list.
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Turn signal monitor

Annoy Yourself Into Better Driving With This Turn Signal Monitor

Something like 99% of the people on the road at any given moment will consider themselves an above-average driver, something that’s as statistically impossible as it is easily disproven by casual observation. Drivers make all kinds of mistakes, but perhaps none as annoying and avoidable as failure to use their turn signal. This turn signal monitor aims to fix that, through the judicious use of negative feedback.

Apparently, [Mark Radinovic] feels that he has a predisposition against using his turn signal due to the fact that he drives a BMW. To break him of that habit, one that cost him his first BMW, he attached Arduino Nano 33 BLEs to the steering wheel and the turn signal stalk. The IMUs sense the position of each and send that over Bluetooth to an Arduino Uno WiFi. That in turn talks over USB to a Raspberry Pi, which connects to the car’s stereo via Bluetooth to blare an alarm when the steering wheel is turned but the turn signal remains untouched. The video below shows it in use; while it clearly works, there are a lot of situations where it triggers even though a turn signal isn’t really called for — going around a roundabout, for example, or navigating a sinuous approach to a drive-through window.

While [Mark] clearly built this tongue firmly planted in cheek, we can’t help but think there’s a better way — sniffing the car’s CANbus to determine steering angle and turn signal status comes to mind. This great workshop on CANbus sniffing from last year’s Remoticon would be a great place to start if you’d like a more streamlined solution than [Mark]’s.

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BMW Pushing Hard For Solid-State Battery Tech; Plans Demo By 2025

Plenty of development is ongoing in the world of lithium batteries for use in electric vehicles. Automakers are scrapping for every little percentage gain to add a few miles of range over their competitors, with efforts to reduce charging times just as frantic as well.

Of course, the real win would be to succeed in bringing a bigger, game-changing battery to market. Solid state batteries fit the bill, potentially offering far greater performance than their traditional lithium counterparts. BMW think there’s merit in the technology, and have announced they intend to show off a solid-state battery vehicle by 2025.

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Hackaday Links: July 12, 2020

Based in the US as Hackaday is, it’s easy to overload the news with stories from home. That’s particularly true with dark tales of the expanding surveillance state, which seem to just get worse here on a daily basis. So we’re not exactly sure how we feel to share not one but two international stories of a dystopian bent; one the one hand, pleased that it’s not us for a change, but on the other, sad to see the trend toward less freedom and more monitoring spreading.

The first story comes from Mexico, where apparently everything our community does will soon be illegal. We couch that statement because the analysis is based on Google translations of reports from Mexico, possibly masking the linguistic nuances that undergird legislative prose. So we did some digging and it indeed appears that the Mexican Senate approved a package of reforms to existing federal copyright laws that will make it illegal to do things like installing a non-OEM operating system on a PC, or to use non-branded ink cartridges in a printer. Reverse engineering ROMs will be right out too, making any meaningful security research illegal. There appear to be exceptions to the law, but those are mostly to the benefit of the Mexican government for “national security purposes.” It’ll be a sad day indeed for Mexican hackers if this law is passed.

The other story comes from Germany, where a proposed law would grant sweeping surveillance powers to 19 state intelligence bodies. The law would require ISPs to install hardware in their data centers that would allow law enforcement to receive data and potentially modify it before sending it on to where it was supposed to go. So German Internet users can look forward to state-sponsored man-in-the-middle attacks and trojan injections if this thing passes.

OK, time for a palate cleanser: take an hour to watch a time-lapse of the last decade of activity of our star. NASA put the film together from data sent back by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that has been keeping an eye on the Sun from geosynchronous orbit since 2010. Each frame of the film is one hour of solar activity, which may sound like it would be boring to watch, but it’s actually quite interesting and very relaxing. There are exciting moments, too, like enormous solar eruptions and the beautiful but somehow terrifying lunar transits. More terrifying still is a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) captured in June 2011. A more subtle but fascinating phenomenon is the gradual decrease in the number of sunspots over the decade as the Sun goes through its normal eleven-year cycle.

You’ll recall that as a public service to our more gear-headed readers that we recently covered the recall of automotive jack stands sold at Harbor Freight, purveyor of discount tools in the USA. Parts for the jack stands in question had been cast with a degraded mold, making the pawls liable to kick out under load and drop the vehicle, with potentially catastrophic results for anyone working beneath. To their credit, Harbor Freight responded immediately and replaced tons of stands with a new version. But now, Harbor Freight is forced to recall the replacement stands as well, due to a welding error. It’s an embarrassment, to be sure, but to make it as right as possible, Harbor Freight is now accepting any of their brand jack stands for refund or store credit.

And finally, if you thought that the experience of buying a new car couldn’t be any more miserable, wait till you have to pay to use the windshield wipers. Exaggeration? Perhaps only slightly, now that BMW “is planning to move some features of its new cars to a subscription model.” Plans like that are common enough as cars get increasingly complex infotainment systems, or with vehicles like Teslas which can be upgraded remotely. But BMW is actually planning on making options such as heated seats and adaptive cruise control available only by subscription — try it out for a month and if you like it, pay to keep them on for a year. It would aggravate us to no end knowing that the hardware supporting these features had already been installed and were just being held ransom by software. Sounds like a perfect job for a hacker — just not one in Mexico.

BMW Remote Unlock Wasn’t Using Secure HTTP

Ah, the old HTTP versus HTTPS. If you want to keep people out, that trailing ‘S’ should be the first thing you do, especially if you’re trying to keep people out of a luxury automobile. It turns out that BMW screwed up on that one.

BMW has an infotainment feature called ConnectedDrive which builds your favorite apps and services right into the dashboard. You can even unlock the vehicle using this system which is built around a piece of hardware that includes a GSM modem and permanent SIM card. A security research group recently discovered that the commands sent for this system were being pushed over HTTP, the unencrypted sibling of HTTPS. The firm, hired by German automobile club ADAC, disclosed the vulnerability and an over-the-air upgrade has already been pushed to patch the flaw. The patch is described to have “turned on” the HTTPS which makes us think that it was always meant to be used and just configured incorrectly in the roll-out. We’ll leave you to debate that point in the comments. Seriously, how does something like this happen? It certainly sheds a lot more light on thieves being able to magically unlock high-end cars. Was this how they were doing it?

[Thanks Fabian]

Faceless Child’s Engineer Father Builds Him A Breathtaking Ride

amazing-kids-car

Okay, the kid does have a face, but it looks like Dad blurred it for his protection. The real story here is the killer ride built by his engineer father. It’s far nicer than the cars driven by the Hackaday team, but then again, since it cost more than a BMW 3 series that’s no surprise.

[Lingzi] lives in China and does custom car work for a living. So to take on this project for his son was more of a stretch of the pocketbook than of his skill set. The car features a custom frame with rack and pinion steering, disc brakes, a rear differential, and a reputable suspension system. The body of the vehicle is crafted from carbon fiber. The lights all work and there’s an electric motor and transmission mounted just behind the driver’s seat. Unfortunately there’s no video of this in action (China blocks YouTube). But do take a look at the album above for pictures of the final paint job. There is also a little bit more information to be found in [Lingzi’s] Reddit discussion.