Predicting Weather with the Internet of Cars

Follow this train of thought: cars have sensors, cars are in frequent use over large areas, cars are the ultimate distributed sensor network for weather conditions.

Many years ago, as I wasted yet another chunk of my life sitting in the linear parking lot that was my morning commute, I mused that there had to be a way to prevent this madness. I thought: What if there was a way for the cars to tell each other where slowdowns are? This was long before smartphones, so it would have to be done the hard way. I imagined that each vehicle could have a small GPS receiver and a wireless transceiver of some sort, to send the vehicle’s current position to a central server, which would then send the aggregate speed data for each road back to the subscriber’s car. A small display would show you the hotspots and allow you to choose an alternate route. Genius! I had finally found my billion dollar idea.

Sadly, it was not to be. Seemingly days later, everyone on the planet had a GPS-equipped smartphone in his or her pocket, and the complex system I imagined was now easily implemented as software. Comically, one of the reasons I chose not to pursue my idea is that I didn’t think anyone would willingly let a company have access to their location information. Little did I know.

So it was with great interest that I read an article claiming that windshield wiper data from connected cars can be used to prevent floods. I honestly thought it was a joke at first, like something from a Monty Python sketch. But as I read through the article, I thought about that long-ago idea I had had, which amounted to a distributed sensor platform, might actually be useful for more than just detecting traffic jams.

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Juicing Up the Chevy Volt with Raspberry Pi

While Chevrolet’s innovative electric hybrid might officially be headed to that great big junkyard in the sky, the Volt will still live on in the hearts and minds of hackers who’d rather compare amp hour than horsepower. For a relatively low cost, a used Volt offers the automotive hacker a fascinating platform for upgrades and experimentation. One such Volt owner is [Jared Stafford], who’s recently made some considerable headway on hacking his hybrid ride.

In an ongoing series on his blog, [Jared] is documenting his efforts to add new features and functions to his Volt. While he loves the car itself, his main complaint (though this is certainly not limited to the Volt) was the lack of tactile controls. Too many functions had to be done through the touch screen for his tastes, and he yearned for the days when you could actually turn a knob to control the air conditioning. So his first goal was to outfit his thoroughly modern car with a decidedly old school user interface.

Like most new cars, whether they run on lithium or liquefied dinosaurs, the Volt makes extensive use of CAN bus to do…well, pretty much everything. Back in the day it only took a pair of wire cutters and a handful of butt splice connectors to jack into a car’s accessory systems, but today it’s done in software by sniffing the CAN system and injecting your own data. Depending on whether you’re a grease or a code monkey, this is either a nightmare or a dream come true.

Luckily [Jared] is more of the latter, so with the help of his Macchina M2, he was able to watch the data on the CAN bus as he fiddled with the car’s environmental controls. Once he knew what data needed to be on the line to do things like turn on the fan or set the desired cabin temperature, he just needed a way to trigger it on his terms. To that end, he wired a couple of buttons and a rotary encoder to the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi, and wrote some code that associates the physical controls with their digital counterparts.

That’s all well and good when you need to mess around with the AC, but what’s the Pi supposed to do the rest of the time? [Jared] decided a small HDMI display mounted to the dash would be a perfect way for the Raspberry Pi to do double duty as information system showing everything from battery charge to coolant temperature. It also offers up a rudimentary menu system for vehicle modifications, and includes functions which he wanted quick access to but didn’t think were necessarily worth their own physical button.

In the video after the break, [Jared] walks the viewer through these modifications, as well as some of the other neat new features of his battery powered bow tie. What he’s already managed to accomplish without having to do much more than plug some electronics into the OBD-II port is very impressive, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Today there are simply too many good electric cars for hybrids like the Chevy Volt and its swankier cousin the Cadillac ELR to remain competitive. But thanks to hackers like [Jared], we’re confident this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this important milestone in automotive history.

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The Thrill of Building Space Hardware to Exceptionally High Standards

It’s fair to say that the majority of Hackaday readers have not built any hardware that’s slipped the surly bonds of Earth and ventured out into space proper. Sure we might see the occasional high altitude balloon go up under the control of some particularly enterprising hackers, but that’s still a far cry from a window seat on the International Space Station. Granted the rapid commercialization of space has certainly added to that exclusive group of space engineers over the last decade or so, but something tells us it’s still going to be quite some time before we’re running space-themed hacks with the regularity of Arduino projects.

Multi-use Variable-G Platform

That being the case, you might assume the protocols and methods used to develop a scientific payload for the ISS must seem like Latin to us lowly hackers. Surely any hardware that could potentially endanger an orbiting outpost worth 100+ billion dollars, to say nothing of the human lives aboard it, would utilize technologies we can hardly dream of. It’s probably an alphabet soup of unfamiliar acronyms up there. After all, this is rocket science, right?

There’s certainly an element of truth in there someplace, as hardware that gets installed on the Space Station is obviously held to exceptionally high standards. But Brad Luyster is here to tell you that not everything up there is so far removed from our Earthly engineering. In fact, while watching his 2018 Hackaday Superconference talk “Communication, Architecture, and Building Complex Systems for SPAAACE”, you might be surprised just how familiar it all sounds. Detailing some of the engineering that went into developing the Multi-use Variable-G Platform (MVP), the only centrifuge that’s able to expose samples to gravitational forces between 0 and 1 g, his talk goes over the design considerations that go into a piece of hardware for which failure isn’t an option; and how these lessons can help us with our somewhat less critically important projects down here.

Check out Brad’s newly published talk video below, and then join me after the break for a look at the challenges of designing hardware that will live in space.

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A Fully Automatic Electric Can Crusher

Those of us who recycle our empty drink cans know the annoying storage problem these containers present. For an object with very little metal, a can takes up a huge amount of space, and should you possess a greater than average thirst you can soon end up with a lot of space taken up with stacks of cans. The solution of course is to crush them, and while there are many simple solutions involving hinged blocks of wood or lever systems, this is 2019! We have Machines to that kind of thing for us! [All Things Electro-Mechanical] thinks so anyway, for he has created an automatic can crusher that is a joy to behold.

At its heart is a 120V AC powered linear actuator, which crushes a can held in a welded steel guide. As the can is crushed it drops into a waiting bin, and when the actuator retracts a fresh can drops down from a hopper. Control is handled by a Raspberry Pi, and there are end sensors for the actuator and an optical sensor for the can hopper. As it stands, once the last can is in place the machine stops due to the optical sensor registering no can in the hopper, but no doubt a software change could cause it to execute a single crush cycle after the last can it detects.

This machine would be an ideal candidate for a simple industrial automation system, but however it is controlled it would save its owner from an embarrassing test of strength. Take a look, we’ve posted the two videos showing it in action below the break.

Thanks [Baldpower] for the tip.

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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.

Hackaday Links: May 21, 2017

It’s time to talk about something of supreme importance to all Hackaday readers. The first trailer for the new Star Trek series is out. Some initial thoughts: the production values are through the roof, and some of this was filmed in Jordan (thank the king for that). The writers have thrown in some obvious references to classic Trek in this trailer (taking a spacesuit into a gigantic alien thing a la TMP). There are a few new species, even though this is set about 10 years before waaaait a second, those are the Klingons?

In other news, [Seth MacFarlane] is doing a thing that looks like a Galaxy Quest series. We can only hope it’s half as good as a Galaxy Quest series could be.

The Dayton Hamvention should have been this week, but it’s never going to happen again. The Hara Arena, the traditional venue for the biggest amateur radio meet on the continent (thankfully) closed this year. Last year it was looking old and tired. This year, Hamvention moved to Xenia, Ohio, and it looks like we’re still getting the best ham swap meet on the planet. Remember: if you  drove out to Hamvention, the Air Force museum is well worth the visit. This year they have the fourth hangar open, full of space craft goodness.

Last week we saw an Open Source firmware for hoverboards, electric unicycles, and other explodey bits of self-balancing transportation. [Casainho], the brains behind this outfit, recently received an eBike controller from China. As you would expect, it’s based on the same hardware as these hoverboards and unicycles. That means there’s now Open Source firmware for eBikes.

Last year, [Cisco] built a cute little walking robot. Now it’s up on Kickstarter.

This week saw the announcement of the Monoprice Mini Delta, the much-anticipated 3D printer that will sell for less than $200. For one reason or another, I was cruising eBay this week and came upon this. They say yesterday’s trash is tomorrow’s collectors’ item, you know…

A new Tek scope will be announced in the coming weeks. What are the cool bits? It has a big touchscreen. That’s about all we know.

The ESP32 is the next great wonderchip, and has been for a while now. The ESP32 also has a CAN peripheral stuffed in there somewhere, and that means WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled cars. [Thomas] has been working on getting a driver up and running. There’s a thread on the ESP32 forum, a Hackaday.io page, and a GitHub page.

What do you do when you have a nice old Vacuum Fluorescent Display and want to show some stats from your computer? You build a thing that looks like it’s taken from a cash register. This is a project from [Micah Scott], and it has everything: electronics 3D modeling, magnets, print smoothing, creating snap-fit parts, and beautiful old displays.

Here’s something that randomly showed up in our Tip Line. [Mark] recently found some unused HP 5082-7000 segment displays in a collection of electronic components (pics below). According to some relevant literature, these were the first LED display package available, ever.  They were released in 1969, they’re BCD, and were obviously very expensive. [Mark] is wondering how many of these were actually produced, and we’re all interested in the actual value of these things. If anyone knows if these are just prototypes, or if they went into production (and what they were used for), leave a note in the comments.

Reverse Engineering the Smart ForTwo CAN Bus

The CAN bus has become a defacto standard in modern cars. Just about everything electronic in a car these days talks over this bus, which makes it fertile ground for aspiring hackers. [Daniel Velazquez] is striking out in this area, attempting to decode the messages on the CAN bus of his Smart ForTwo.

[Daniel] has had some pitfalls – first attempts with a Beaglebone Black were somewhat successful in reading messages, but led to strange activity of the car and indicators. This is par for the course in any hack that wires into an existing system – there’s a high chance of disrupting what’s going on leading to unintended consequences.

Further work using an Arduino with the MCP_CAN library netted [Daniel] better results, but  it would be great to understand precisely why the BeagleBone was causing a disturbance to the bus. Safety is highly important when you’re hacking on a speeding one-ton metal death cart, so it pays to double and triple check everything you’re doing.

Thus far, [Daniel] is part way through documenting the messages on the bus, finding registers that cover the ignition and turn signals, among others. Share your CAN hacking tips in the comments. For those interested in more on the CAN bus, check out [Eric]’s great primer on CAN hacking – and keep those car hacking projects flowing to the tip line!