Make Cars Safer By Making Them Softer

Would making autonomous vehicles softer make them safer?

Alphabet’s self-driving car offshoot, Waymo, feels that may be the case as they were recently granted a patent for vehicles that soften on impact. Sensors would identify an impending collision and adjust ‘tension members’ on the vehicle’s exterior to cushion the blow. These ‘members’ would be corrugated sections or moving panels that absorb the impact alongside the crumpling effect of the vehicle, making adjustments based on the type of obstacle the vehicle is about to strike.

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Spoiler Alert! Repairing A Race Car Can Get Complicated, Fast.

[Big Fish Motorsports] has a vehicle with an adjustable rear spoiler system that broke in the lead up to a big race. The original builder had since gone AWOL so the considerable talents of [Quinn Dunki] were brought to bear in getting it working again.

Cracking open the black control box of mystery revealed an Arduino, a ProtoShield and the first major road block: the Arduino remained stubbornly incommunicado despite several different methods of trying to read the source code. Turns out the Arduino’s ATMega324 was configured to be unreadable or simply fried, but an ATMega128 [Quinn] had proved to be a capable replacement. However, without knowing how the ten relays for this spoiler system were configured — and the race day deadline looming ever larger — [Quinn] opted to scrap the original and hack together something of her own design with what she had on hand.

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Wideband Woes and the Junkbox Miata

As ever, I am fighting a marginally winning battle against my 1991 Mazda MX-5, and this is the story of how I came to install a wideband oxygen sensor in my Japanese thoroughbred. It came about as part of my ongoing project to build myself a viable racecar, and to figure out why my 1990s Japanese economy car engine runs more like a late 1970s Malaise-era boat anchor.

I’ve always considered myself unlucky. My taste for early 90s metal has meant I’ve never known the loving embrace of OBD-2 diagnostics, and I’ve had to make to do with whatever hokey system was implemented by manufacturers who were just starting to produce reliable fuel injection systems.

Narrowband oxygen sensor voltage output. The output is heavily dependent on sensor temperature and highly non-linear, making these sensors unsuitable for delivering a true AFR reading.

This generally involves putting in a wire jumper somewhere, attaching an LED, and watching it flash out the trouble codes. My Mazda was no exception, and after putting up with a car that was running rich enough to leave soot all over the rear bumper, I had to run the diagnostic.

It turned up three codes – one for the cam angle sensor, and two for the oxygen sensor. Now, a cam angle sensor (CAS) fault will normally prevent the car running at all, so it’s safe to assume that was an intermittent fault to keep an eye on.

The oxygen sensor, however, was clearly in need of attention. Its job is to allow the engine control unit (ECU) to monitor the fuel mixture in the exhaust, and make sure it’s not too rich or too lean. As my car was very obviously running too rich, and the diagnostic codes indicated an oxygen sensor failure, a repair was in order.

I priced up replacement sensors, and a new oxygen sensor could be had for under $100. However, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, as not all oxygen sensors are created equal. Cars in the 80s and 90s typically shipped from the OEM fitted with what’s called a narrowband oxygen sensor. These almost always consist of a zirconia dioxide cell that outputs a voltage depending on the difference in oxygen concentration between the exhaust gas and the free air. These sensors generally sit at 0.45 V when the fuel mixture is stoichiometric, but rapidly change to 0.1 V in a lean condition and 0.9 V in a rich condition. The response is highly non-linear, and changes greatly with respect to temperature, and thus is only good for telling the ECU if it’s rich or lean, but not by how much. ECUs with narrowband sensors tend to hunt a lot when running in closed loop O2 control – you’ll see an engine at idle hunt either side of the magical 14.7 stoichiometric air fuel ratio, never able to quite dial in on the correct number.

As I intend to switch to an aftermarket ECU in the future, I’ll need to tune the car. This involves making sure the air/fuel ratios (AFRs) are correct, and for that I need to be able to properly measure them. Just knowing whether you’re rich or lean isn’t enough, as often it’s desirable to run the engine intentionally rich or lean at certain engine loads. To get a true AFR reading requires fitting a wideband oxygen sensor. These are a little more complicated.

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Robot Car Follows Wherever You Go

Having a pet can really make a difference to your happiness at the end of the day, but they’re also a lot of work. This project by [Ioannis Stoltidis] does something similar — minus all the responsibility. The Smart Car Follower Project is designed to track people using Bluetooth and IR and follow them around from room to room.

Submitted as part of a Master’s thesis, this project hacks a toy car and uses a key chain transmitter that sends the tracking signals. A Raspberry Pi 3 combines the Bluetooth RSSI and IR signals to make create an estimate of the position of the beacon. Arduinos facilitate the IR signaling as well as the motor control allowing the robot to chase the user around like a puppy. The whole thing also comes with obstacle avoidance using ultrasonic sensors on all sides which are good if you have a lot of furniture in the house.

You can also choose to go manual-mode and drive it around the block using a PC and gamepad. A webcam connected to the onboard computer allows a first person view of the vehicle by sending the video feed over wifi to a PC application. OpenCV is used to create the final GUI which allows you to see and control the project remotely. The source code is available for download for anyone who wants to replicate the project. Check out the video of it in action below.

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Heads-Up Display Turns Car Into Fighter Jet

While most of us will never set foot in a fighter jet, some of us can still try to get as close as possible. One of the most eye-catching features of a fighter jet (at least from the pilot’s point-of-view) is the heads-up display, so that’s exactly what [Frank] decided to build into his car to give it that touch of fighter jet style.

Heads-up displays use the small reflectivity of a transparent surface to work. In this case, [Frank] uses an LED strip placed on the dashboard to shine up into the windshield. A small amount of light is reflected back to the driver which is able to communicate vehicle statues without obscuring view of the road. [Frank]’s system is able to display information reported over the CAN bus, including voltage, engine RPM, and speed.

This display seems to account for all the issues we could think up. It automatically cycles through modes depending on driving style (revving the engine at a stoplight switches it to engine RPM mode, for example), the LEDs automatically dim at night to avoid blinding the driver, and it interfaces with the CAN bus which means the ability to display any other information in the future should be relatively straightforward. [Frank] does note some rough edges, though, namely with the power supply and the fact that there’s a large amount of data on the CAN bus that the Teensy microcontroller has a hard time sorting out.

That being said, the build is well polished and definitely adds a fighter jet quality to the car. And if [Frank] ever wants even more aviation cred for his ground transportation, he should be able to make use of a 747 controller for something on the dashboard, too.

Flush Out Car Thieves with a Key Fob Jammer Locator

We all do it — park our cars, thumb the lock button on the key fob, and trust that our ride will be there when we get back. But there could be evildoers lurking in that parking lot, preventing you from locking up by using a powerful RF jammer. If you want to be sure your car is safe, you might want to scan the lot with a Raspberry Pi and SDR jammer range finder.

Inspired by a recent post featuring a simple jammer detector, [mikeh69] decide to build something that would provide more directional information. His jammer locator consists of an SDR dongle and a Raspberry Pi. The SDR is set to listen to the band used by key fobs for the continuous, strong emissions you’d expect from a jammer, and the Pi generates a tone that varies relative to signal strength. In theory you could walk through a parking lot until you get the strongest signal and locate the bad guys. We can’t say we’d recommend confronting anyone based on this information, but at least you’d know your car is at risk.

We’d venture a guess that a directional antenna would make the search much easier than the whip shown. In that case, brushing up on Yagi-Uda antenna basics might be a good idea.

How To Build Your Own Convertible (For Under $500)

It’s a common sight in the farming areas of the world — a group of enterprising automotive hackers take a humble economy car, and saw the roof off, building a convertible the cheapest way possible. Being the city dwelling type, I always looked on at these paddock bashing antics with awe, wishing that I too could engage in such automotive buffoonery. This year, my time would come — I was granted a hatchback for the princely sum of $100, and the private property on which to thrash it.

However, I wasn’t simply keen to recreate what had come before. I wanted to take this opportunity to build a solution for those who had suffered like me, growing up in the confines of suburbia. Surrounded by houses and with police on patrol, it simply isn’t possible to cut the roof off a car and drive it down to the beach without getting yourself in altogether too much trouble. But then again, maybe there’s a way.

The goal was to build the car in such a way that its roof could be cut off, but remain attached by removable brackets. This would allow the car to be driven around with the roof still attached, without raising too much suspicion from passing glances. For reasons of legality and safety, our build and test would be conducted entirely on private property, but it was about seeing what could be done that mattered.

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