Ask Hackaday: Does Your Car Need An Internet Killswitch?

Back in the good old days of carburetors and distributors, the game was all about busting door locks and hotwiring the ignition to boost a car. Technology rose up to combat this, you may remember the immobilizer systems that added a chip to the ignition key without which the vehicle could not be started. But alongside antitheft security advances, modern vehicles gained an array of electronic controls covering everything from the entertainment system to steering and brakes. Combine this with Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular connectivity — it’s unlikely you can purchase a vehicle today without at least one of these built in — and the attack surface has grown far beyond the physical bounds of bumpers and crumple zones surrounding the driver.

Cyberattackers can now compromise vehicles from the comfort of their own homes. This can range from the mundane, like reading location data from the navigation system to more nefarious exploits capable of putting motorists at risk. It raises the question — what can be done to protect these vehicles from unscrupulous types? How can we give the user ultimate control over who has access to the data network that snakes throughout their vehicle? One possible solution I’m looking at today is the addition of internet killswitches.

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The Future Of Diesel Is On Shaky Ground

Diesel is a fuel that has had a mixed history, with varying levels of take-up by consumers around the world. In the world of transport, diesel engines have offered better fuel economy and torque than comparable gasoline engines. Particularly popular in Europe, diesel established a strong consumer base in both small commuter cars as well as heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses.

Despite this, the tide is turning, and for the average motorist, diesel’s days may be numbered. Why is this the case, and what are the potential alternatives vying for diesel’s crown?

Plenty of Pros, but Plenty of Cons

Diesel remains a fuel with a varied uptake around the world. It has enjoyed great popularity in Europe in small commuter cars.

Diesel is a hydrocarbon fuel with several advantages over gasoline. Its lack of volatility makes it workable to use in a compression-ignition mode, and diesel engines can be run with lean fuel-air ratios. It also has a higher volumetric energy density than gasoline, and thanks to low volatility, diesel engines can run at significantly higher compression ratios without risking detonation. These benefits allow diesel engines to produce significantly more torque than similarly sized gasoline engines, and they can offer fuel economy gains in excess of 15%.

Unfortunately, diesel also comes with its fair share of drawbacks. Diesel engines are typically poor when it comes to power to weight ratio, as their high compression ratio and torque output demands heavier materials in their construction. The major bugbear of the diesel engine, however, is its emissions. Despite greater fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide output from a diesel engine is often far worse than that of a comparable gas motor. Additionally, their lean-burning nature leads to production of high levels of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which have major negative environmental effects. There’s also the problem of particulate pollution, which is responsible for respiratory harm in humans. Diesel automobiles rank significantly worse than gasoline vehicles in all these areas. It’s begun to cause figurative headaches for the industry, and literal headaches for the public. Continue reading “The Future Of Diesel Is On Shaky Ground”

Salvaging Audio Amplifiers From Vintage Volvos

The common automotive scrap yard is a land of plenty for the enterprising hacker., where many items that would be prohibitively expensive elsewhere can often be had for a song. This isn’t just limited to strictly automotive parts either, as the modern vehicle is full of all kinds of hardware. [Nikita] managed to salvage a pair of audio amplifiers from an old Volvo, and put them to good use. It’s a great idea if you’re looking for cheap audio hardware!

The amplifiers are from a Volvo 760 made in 1984. There’s one rated at 40 watts per channel, and a smaller device rated at 25 watts per channel – likely to drive the front and rear speakers from separate amps. The amplifiers take 12 volts nominally, as one would expect. After some initial testing with a car battery and unsticking old relays, things began to crackle into life.

With the hardware now functioning, it was simply a case of bolting the amplifiers into a frame, hooking them up to a converted ATX power supply, and wiring up some connectors for speakers and audio input. With a few bits and pieces invested, [Nikita] now has a good quality amplifier to run audio in the workshop.

There’s plenty of useful hardware you can score down at the wreckers, and we see these parts used in hacks all the time – from peculiar milling machines to automated watering systems.

Electric Cars Sound Off, Starting July 1st

By and large, automakers have spent much of the last century trying to make cars quieter and more comfortable. Noise from vehicles can be disruptive and just generally annoying, so it makes sense to minimise it where possible.

However, the noise from the average motor vehicle can serve a useful purpose. A running engine acts as an auditory warning to those nearby. This is particularly useful to help people avoid walking in front of moving vehicles, and is especially important for the visually impaired.

Electric vehicles, with their near-silent powertrains, have put this in jeopardy. Thus, from July 1st, 2019, the European Union will enforce regulations on the installation of noise-making devices on new electric and hybrid vehicles. They are referred to as the “Acoustic Vehicle Alert System”, and it’s been a hot area of development for some time now. Continue reading “Electric Cars Sound Off, Starting July 1st”

Takata’s Deadly Airbags: An Engineering Omnishambles

Engineers are, for the time being, only human. This applies even more so to executives, and all the other people that make up a modern organisation. Naturally, mistakes are made. Some are minor, while others are less so. It’s common knowledge that problems are best dealt with swift and early, and yet so often they are ignored in the hopes that they’ll go away.

You might have heard the name Takata in the news over the last few years. If that name doesn’t ring a bell you’ve likely heard that there was a major recall of airbag-equipped vehicles lately. The story behind it is one of a single decision leading to multiple deaths, scores of injuries, a $1 billion fine, and the collapse of a formerly massive automotive supplier.

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What Makes A Hacker

I think I can sum up the difference between those of us who regularly visit Hackaday and the world of non-hackers. As a case study, here is a story about how necessity is the mother of invention and the people who invent.

Hackaday has overlap with sites like Pinterest and Instructables but there is one vital difference, we choose to create something new and beautiful with the materials at hand. Often these tools and techniques are very simple. We look to make things elegant by reducing the unnecessary clutter, not adding glitter. If something could be built with a 555 timer we will let you know. If there is a better choice for a processor, we will tell you.

My first real work commute was a forty-minute eastward drive every morning and a forty-minute westward drive every evening. This route pointed my car directly into the sun twice a day. Staring into a miasma of incandescent plasma for an hour and a half a day isn’t fun, and probably isn’t safe, but we can fix that.

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The Bane Of Aftermarket Car Alarms

The humble car alarm has been around almost as long as the car itself, first being developed by an unknown prisoner in Denver, circa 1913. To the security-conscious motorist, they make a lot of sense. The noise of a car alarm draws attention which is the last thing a would-be thief wants, and the in-built immobilizers generally stop the car being moved at all without a time-consuming workaround. Both are a great deterrent to theft.

It may then surprise you to know that I, dear readers, consider the aftermarket car alarm to be one of the most heinous devices ever fitted to the modern automobile. Combining the unholy trifecta of being poorly designed, cheaply made, and fitted by only the most untalented or uncaring people to wield a soldering iron, they are a blight that I myself refuse to accept.

It was my very own Mazda that suffered at the hands of a car alarm system. Two days after purchasing the car, the keyfob died, and thus the car would no longer start. My other car was already out of action due to bent valves, and I needed to get to work, so I figured as a competent hacker, I’d be able to quickly disable it.

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