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 [Katie Stafford], who’s recently made some considerable headway on hacking her hybrid ride.

In an ongoing series on her blog, [Katie] is documenting her efforts to add new features and functions to her Volt. While she loves the car itself, her 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 her tastes, and she yearned for the days when you could actually turn a knob to control the air conditioning. So her first goal was to outfit her 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 [Katie] is more of the latter, so with the help of her Macchina M2, she was able to watch the data on the CAN bus as she fiddled with the car’s environmental controls. Once she knew what data needed to be on the line to do things like turn on the fan or set the desired cabin temperature, she just needed a way to trigger it on her terms. To that end, she 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? [Katie] 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 she wanted quick access to but didn’t think were necessarily worth their own physical button.

In the video after the break, [Katie] walks the viewer through these modifications, as well as some of the other neat new features of her battery powered bow tie. What she’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 [Katie], we’re confident this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this important milestone in automotive history.

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Hackaday Podcast Ep1 – Seriously, We Know What We’re Doing

First podcast of the new year! Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys look back on the most interesting hacks and can’t-miss articles from the past week (or so). Highlights include abusing IPv6 addresses, underclocking WiFi, taking Wii out of the livingroom, scratch built microphones, computer prophecy coming true, and the end of an automotive era. Full show notes below.

This week, Hackaday Contributor Bob Baddeley came on the show to discuss developments in facial recognition technology and its use in the wild.

Direct Download (45.1 MB MP3)

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Goodbye Chevy Volt, The Perfect Car For A Future That Never Was

A month ago General Motors announced plans to wind down production of several under-performers. At the forefront of news coverage on this are the consequences facing factories making those cars, and the people who work there. The human factor associated with the closing of these plants is real. But there is also another milestone marked by the cancellation of the Volt. Here at Hackaday, we choose to memorialize the soon-to-be-departed Chevrolet Volt. An obituary buried in corporate euphemisms is a whimper of an end for what was once their technological flagship car of the future.

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OBD-Sniffing A Caddy PHEV

The Cadillac ELR is a plug-in hybrid car with a bit of class, it has the beating heart of a Chevy Volt in a nice coupé body with some up-market styling and a nice interior. Since it wasn’t on the market for long and some consumers are still wary of cars with electric motors, it also represents something of a sweet spot: according to [Andrew Rossignol] you can pick them up for less outlay than you might imagine. He bought one, and being an inquisitive soul decided to probe its secrets through its OBD-II ports.

OBD-II sniffing is nothing especially new, but his write-up provides an interesting run-down of the methodology used to identify the different proprietary pieces of data that it makes available. His Python script attempted to parse the stream as though it were multi-byte words of different lengths, plotting its results as graphs, It was then a straightforward process of identifying the graphs by eye that contained useful data and rejecting those that were obviously garbage. He was able to pick out the figures in which he was interested, and write an interface for his little Sony VAIO UX to display them on the move.

We’ve covered OBD hacks too numerous to mention over the years, but perhaps you’d like to read our history of the standard.

Dean Kamen’s Stirling Engine Car

kamen_car

[Dean Kamen]’s company, the people behind the Segway, have created a hybrid car that uses a Stirling engine instead of a standard internal combustion engine. Stirling engines are closed cycle, meaning heat is applied to the outside of the cylinder walls. They are generally more efficient than standard car engines, but haven’t been used much outside of industrial applications. We suspect that the drivetrain arrangement is similar to the Chevy Volt where the engine is used to charge batteries which are in turn driving an electric motor. This is different from modern hybrids that can have either electric motor or gas engine driving the wheels. The article is unfortunately full of classic [Kamen] hyperbole and minimal detail. He calls the Stirling engine “an insurance policy” for the electric car since it can recharge the battery. That’s right, folks. If you run out of juice, you can put gas in the car. I doubt many Prius owners will fall out of their chair over that. Being a Stirling engine, we’d be more impressed if you could charge the thing by rubbing warm toast on it.

[via Make]