Custom Keyfob Fixes Mazda Design Mistake

While Mazda has made some incredible advances in fuel efficient gasoline engines over the past few years, their design group seems to have fallen asleep at the wheel in the meantime, specifically in regards to the modern keyfob design. The enormous size and buttons on the side rather than the face are contrary to what most people need in a keyfob: small size and buttons that don’t accidentally get pressed. Luckily, though, the PCB can be modified with some effort.

This particular keyfob has a relatively simple two-layer design which makes it easy to see where the connections are made. [Hack ‘n’ Tink] did not need the panic button or status LED which allowed him to simply cut away a section of the PCB, but changing the button layout was a little trickier. For that, buttons were soldered to existing leads on the face of the board using 30-gage magnet wire and silicone RTV. From there he simply needed to place the battery in its new location and 3D print the new enclosure.

The end result is a much smaller form factor keyfob with face buttons that are less likely to accidentally get pressed in a pocket. He also made sure that the battery and button relocation wouldn’t impact the antenna performance. It’s a much-needed improvement to a small but crucial part of the car; the only surprise is that a company that’s usually on point with technology and design would flop so badly on such a critical component.

Thanks to [Brian] for the tip!

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Cyberpunk Mazda MX-5 Packs Onboard Cyberdeck

Back in April of 2019, inspired by iconic films such as Blade Runner and Akira, [Chris Watson] embarked on a journey to create his very own cyberpunk roadster from a 1991 Mazda MX-5. After pouring an incredible amount of blood, sweat, and fiberglass into the project, he now has a vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place cruising the streets of Neo Tokyo. Even if you’re not usually into car mods, his impeccably photographed build log is an absolutely fascinating journey.

But as impressive as the car itself might be, what really caught our attention was the computer sitting on the dash. From early on, [Chris] wanted the vehicle to have a companion cyberdeck that would be used to control various onboard systems. At this point it’s just for show, but he says ultimately it will be integrated with the electric motor he plans to install in place of the MX-5’s original power plant. We can’t wait to see it.

Of course, the lack of a practical application has hardly stopped us from admiring any of the other cyberdecks we’ve covered thus far. This one started out life as a laptop with a broken screen, which [Chris] beheaded and connected it to 15″ external display mounted in the top of a heavy-duty case. With a new SSD and a fresh copy of Linux Mint to verify all the hardware was still functional, he put together an MDF bezel for the display that includes some faux antennae and covered aircraft style switches.

When this futuristic roadster is making an appearance at a car show or contest, [Chris] makes sure to load up some suitably high-tech looking imagery on the display. It even shows some flashing technobabble error messages pulled from The Fast & The Furious.

Traditionally we haven’t covered many custom car projects, though to be fair, we traditionally haven’t seen many that looked like this either. But between ever more technologically advanced vehicles and the insightful car modding column helmed by our very own [Lewin Day], we expect tricked out rides may become an increasingly common sight on these pages.

Mazda Investing Big In Advanced Gasoline Tech With Skyactiv-X

Electric cars, as a concept, were once not dissimilar from the flying car. Promised to be a big thing in the future, but hopelessly impractical in the here and now. However, in the last ten years, they’ve become a very real thing, with market share growing year on year as new models bring greater range and faster charging times.

With their lower emissions output and ever-improving performance, one could be forgiven for thinking that traditional combustion engines are all but dead. Mazda would beg to differ – investing heavily in new technology to take the gasoline engine into the next decade and beyond. Continue reading “Mazda Investing Big In Advanced Gasoline Tech With Skyactiv-X”

Turn A Car Into A Game Controller

The CAN bus has become a staple of automotive engineering since it was introduced in the late ’80s, but in parallel with the spread of electronic devices almost every single piece of equipment inside a car has been put on the CAN bus. While there are opinions on whether or not this is a good thing, the reality is that enough data is gathered on this bus to turn an unmodified modern car into a video game controller with just a little bit of code.

The core of [Scott]’s project is a laptop and a Python program that scrapes information about the car from the car’s CAN bus, including positions of the pedals and the steering wheel. This information can be accessed by plugging an adapter into the OBD-II port (a standard for all cars made after 1995). From there, the laptop parses the CAN data into keyboard and mouse commands for your video game of choice.

This is an interesting investigation into the nitty-gritty of the CAN bus, but also a less dangerous demonstration of all of the data available from the car than some other cases we’ve seen. At least [Scott]’s Mazda (presumably) lacks any wireless attack vectors!

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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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Broken Promises Of The Wankel Engine

Through the history of internal combustion engines, there has been plenty of evolution, but few revolutions. Talk of radically different designs always leads to a single name – Wankel. The Wankel rotary engine, most notably used in automobiles by Mazda, has been around since the late 1950’s. The Wankel rotary is an example of a design which makes sense on paper. However, practical problems cause it to underperform in the real world.

Invention and History

felixwankelFelix Wankel’s engine was conceived during a dream. In it, 17-year-old Felix was driving his car to a concert. When he arrived, he bragged to his friends that his car used a new type of engine – half turbine, half reciprocating. “It is my invention!” he told his friends. Upon waking up, Wankel became dedicated to building his engine. Though he never received a formal degree (or a driver’s license), Wankel was a gifted engineer.

Young Wankel’s checkered history includes membership in several anti-semitic groups in the 1920’s. He was also involved with the founding of the Nazi party. His conflicting views on the direction of the party lead to his arrest in 1933. Eventually released through action of Hitler himself, Wankel joined the SS in 1940. The end of the war saw Wankel spending several months in a French prison for his wartime involvement.

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Homebrew ECU Increases Mazda Zoom

A big problem with most modern cars is the sheer number of parts and systems that are not user serviceable. This is a big departure from cars of just decades ago that were designed to be easily worked on by the owner. To that end, [Anthony] aka [fuzzymonkey] has tackled what is normally the hardest thing to work on in modern cars: the Engine Control Unit. (Older posts on this project can be found at [Anthony]’s old project log.)

Every sensor in any modern car is monitored by a computer called the Engine Control Unit (ECU), and the computer is responsible for taking this data and making decisions on how the car should be running. In theory a custom ECU would be able to change any behavior of the car, but in practice this is extremely difficult due to the sheer number of operations required by the computer and the very specific tolerances of a modern engine.

The custom ECU that Anthony has created for his Mazda MX-5 (a Miata for those in North America) is based on the PIC18F46K80 microcontroller, and there are actually two units involved. The first handles time-sensitive operations like monitoring the engine cam position and engine timing, and the other generates a clock signal for the main unit and also monitors things like cooling temperature and controlling idle speed. The two units communicate over SPI.

[Anthony]’s custom ECU is exceptional in that he’s gotten his car running pretty well. There are some kinks, but hopefully he’ll have a product that’s better than the factory ECU by allowing him to change anything from throttle response and engine timing to the air-fuel ratio. There have been a few other attempts to tame the ECU beast in the past, but so far there isn’t much out there.

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