Hackaday Links: June 6, 2021

There are a bunch of newly minted millionaires this week, after it was announced that Stack OverFlow would be acquired for $1.8 billion by European tech investment firm Prosus. While not exactly a household name, Prosus is a big player in the Chinese tech scene, where it has about a 30% stake in Chinese internet company Tencent. They trimmed their holdings in the company a bit recently, raising $15 billion in cash, which we assume will be used to fund the SO purchase. As with all such changes, there’s considerable angst out in the community about how this could impact everyone’s favorite coding help site. The SO leadership are all adamant that nothing will change, but only time will tell.

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Electric Vehicles Do Battle On Pikes Peak

When we think of electric cars, more often than not we’re drawn to the environmental benefits and the smooth quiet commuter drives they’re so ideally suited for. However, EVs can also offer screaming performance, most notably due to their instant-on torque that gives them a big boost over internal combustion vehicles.

In recent years, this has led to a variety of independent and manufacturer-supported efforts taking on some of motorsport’s classic events. Today, we’re looking at a handful of recent entries that have tackled one of the most gruelling events in motorsport – the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb. Continue reading “Electric Vehicles Do Battle On Pikes Peak”

Open Source Electric Vehicle Charging

Electric vehicles are becoming more and more common on the road, but when they’re parked in the driveway or garage there are still some kinks to work out when getting them charged up. Sure, there are plenty of charging stations on the market, but they all have different features, capabilities, and even ports, so to really make sure that full control is maintained over charging a car’s batteries it might be necessary to reach into the parts bin and pull out a trusty Arduino.

This project comes to us from [Sebastian] who needed this level of control over charging his Leaf, and who also has the skills to implement it from the large high voltage switching contactors to the software running its network connectivity and web app. This charging station has every available feature, too. It can tell the car to charge at different rates, and can restrict it to charging at different times (if energy is cheaper at night, for example). It is able to monitor the car’s charge state and other information over the communications bus to the vehicle, and even has a front-end web app for monitoring and controlling the device.

The project is based around an Arduino Nano 33 IoT with all of the code available on the project’s GitHub page. While we would advise using extreme caution when dealing with mains voltage and when interfacing with a high-ticket item like an EV, at first blush the build looks like it has crossed all its Ts and might even make a good prototype for a production unit in the future. If you don’t need all of the features that this charging station has, though, you can always hack the car itself to add some more advanced charging features.

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An EV Conversion Engineered As A Drop-in Replacement

With electric vehicles such as the Tesla or the Leaf being all the rage and joined by fresh competitors seemingly every week, it seems the world is going crazy for the electric motor over their internal combustion engines. There’s another sector to electric traction that rarely hits the headlines though, that of converting existing IC cars to EVs by retrofitting a motor. The engineering involved can be considerable and differs for every car, so we’re interested to see an offering for the classic Mini from the British company Swindon Powertrain that may be the first of many affordable pre-engineered conversion kits for popular models.

Swindon Powertrain's demo Mini
Swindon Powertrain’s demo Mini

The kit takes their HPD crate EV motor that we covered earlier in the year, and mates it with a Mini front subframe. Brackets and CV joints engineered for the kit to drop straight into the Mini. The differential appears to be offset to the right rather than the central position of the original so we’re curious about the claim of using the Mini’s own driveshafts, but that’s hardly an issue that should tax anyone prepared to take on such a task. They can also supply all the rest of the parts for a turnkey conversion, making for what will probably be one of the most fun-to-drive EVs possible.

The classic Mini is now a sought-after machine long past its days of being dirt-cheap old-wreck motoring for the masses, so the price of the kit should be viewed in the light of a good example now costing more than some new cars. We expect this kit to have most appeal in the professional and semi-professional market rather than the budget end of home conversions, but it’s still noteworthy because it is a likely sign of what is to come. We look forward to pre-engineered subframes becoming a staple of EV conversions at all levels. The same has happened with other popular engine upgrades, and no doubt some conversions featuring them will make their way to the pages of Hackaday.

We like the idea of conversions forming part of the path to EV adoption, as we’ve remarked before.

Road Pollution Doesn’t Just Come From Exhaust

Alumni from Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art want to raise awareness of a road pollution source we rarely consider: tire wear. If you think about it, it is obvious. Our tires wear out, and that has to go somewhere, but what surprises us is how fast it happens. Single-use plastic is the most significant source of oceanic pollution, but tire microplastics are next on the naughty list. The team calls themselves The Tyre Collective, and they’re working on a device to collect tire particles at the source.

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Improving More Leaf Design Flaws

[Daniel] was recently featured here for his work in improving the default charging mode for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle when using the emergency/trickle charger included with the car. His work made it possible to reduce the amount of incoming power from the car, if the charging plug looked like it might not be able to handle the full 1.2 kW -3 kW that these cars draw when charging. Thanks to that work, he was able to create another upgrade for these entry-level EVs, this time addressing a major Leaf design flaw that is known as Rapidgate.

The problem that these cars have is that they still have passive thermal management for their batteries, unlike most of their competitors now. This was fine in the early ’10s when this car was one of the first all-electric cars to market, but now its design age is catching up with it. On long trips at highway speed with many rapid charges in a row the batteries can overheat easily. When this happens, the car’s charging controller will not allow the car to rapid charge any more and severely limits the charge rate even at the rapid charging stations. [Daniel] was able to tweak the charging software in order to limit the rapid charging by default, reducing it from 45 kW to 35 kW and saving a significant amount of heat during charging than is otherwise possible.

While we’d like to see Nissan actually address the design issues with their car designs while making these straighforward software changes (or at least giving Leaf owners the options that improve charging experiences) we are at least happy that there are now other electric vehicles in the market that have at least addressed the battery thermal management issues that are common with all EVs. If you do own a Leaf though, be sure to check out [Daniel]’s original project related to charging these cars.

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Crate EV Motor Hits Market: The Swindon Powertrain

Last year brought some exciting news from the unlikely quarter of an unexciting industrial estate in the British town of Swindon, the company Swindon Powertrain announced that they’d be marketing an all-in-one electric motor and transmission. Essentially this would be a crate engine for EV conversions, and since it’s pretty small it would be able to be shoehorned into almost any car. So often these announcements later prove to be vapourware, but not in this case, because Swindon Powertrain have announced that you can now order the HPD as they call it, for delivery in August. It’s not entirely cheap at £6400 ($7846) exclusive of British VAT sales tax, but when its integrated transmission and differential is taken into consideration it starts to seem more attractive when compared to engineering a random motor onto an internal combustion engine transmission.

They provide a product page with links to a load of data, installation information, and even a CAD model, as well as an ordering page in their webshop from which you can pay the deposit with the rest presumably payable in August before delivery. There is also a range of optional extras including matched inverters, drive shafts, a limited slip differential, and a coolant pump, which makes the whole ever more attractive as a package. 80kW should be enough to lend sprightly performance to all but the largest of cars, so we’ll expect to see this motor ever more often in years to come.

There is already a thriving home-made EV scene which we don’t expect this unit to displace. Instead it will find a niche at the professional and semi-professional conversion level, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see an aftermarket springing up offering ready made subframes to fit it to popular cars. If it is a success there will inevitably be copies and probably at a lower price, so it could be the start of a wave of very interesting conversion options. We hope that Swindon Powertrain will do well with it, and will manage to stay one step ahead of the upstarts. You can read our coverage of its announcement and their electric Mini prototype here.

Thanks [Carl Pickering] for the tip.