All this working from home is pretty great, but we have to admit that we miss packing up the Hackaday office and heading for the local coffeehouse once in a while to spend a few hours writing against the buzzing background. One thing we don’t miss about the experience is that you’re never guaranteed a place to sit and spread out. And unless you trust a friendly stranger to keep an eye on your stuff while you’re in the bathroom, you have to take it with you at the risk of losing your table.
If only we could afford one of Nissan’s mobile office pod concept vehicles. We’ve always wanted to pretend we’re doing surveillance and would probably have the thing wrapped with graphics for a fake flower shop or something. That would certainly make it easier to park somewhere and borrow someone’s open Wi-Fi network — maybe even from the coffeehouse parking lot after we hit the drive-thru.
As you’ll see in the extended tour video below, Nissan seem to have thought of everything except restroom facilities. The cab-over-engine design and all-terrain tires would make it easier to drive out into nature and really get away from it all. Once you’ve found the perfect spot, you can open the lift gate for some fresh air, or get some sun while you work by pulling out the motorized unibody-constructed cubicle which includes a built-in Herman Miller Cosm chair. (Evidently the Aeron is old and busted now; we disagree). For some reason, the cubicle is edge-lit, and not in a way that would help you work at the desk. According to the video, it’s based on the Caravan NV350, which looks far more comfortable but not as cool when outfitted as an alternate mobility concept.
The office pod has some nice amenities like a DC-AC converter so you can run your Keurig or Nespresso, and there’s even a UV-disinfecting lamp in the glove box. The larger windows behind the cab can be electronically shaded so you don’t bake in the sun. Here’s where things get a bit ridiculous: the floor is made of clear polycarbonate in case you want to park lengthwise over a small stream and watch the surviving fish go by underneath your feet. And if you really want to take a break, climb up to the roof deck and stretch out in the chaise lounge beneath the deck umbrella.
Now for those of us who are a more interested in how this whole process works, [ea] was kind of enough to provide a very detailed account of how the exploit was discovered. Starting with getting a spare Linux-powered head unit out of a crashed Xterra to experiment with, the write-up takes the reader through each discovery and privilege escalation that ultimately leads to the development of a non-invasive hack that doesn’t require the user to pull their whole dashboard apart to run.
The early stages of the process will look familiar to anyone who’s messed with embedded Linux hacking. The first step was to locate the board’s serial port and connect it to the computer. From there, [ea] was able to change the kernel parameters in the bootloader to spawn an interactive shell. To make things a little easier, the boot scripts were then modified so the system would start up an SSH server accessible over a USB Ethernet adapter. With full access to the system, the search for exploits could begin.
After some poking, [ea] discovered the script designed to mount USB storage devices had a potential flaw in it. The script was written in such a way that the filesystem label of the device would be used to create the mount point, but there were no checks in place to prevent a directory traversal attack. By crafting a label that read ../../usr/bin/ and placing a Bash script on the drive, it’s possible to run arbitrary commands on the head unit. The provided script permanently adds SSHd to the startup process, so when the system reboots, you’ll be able to log in and explore.
So what does [ea] want to do with this new-found exploit? It looks like the goal is to eventually come up with some custom programs that extend the functionality of the in-dash Linux system. As it seems like these “infotainment” systems are now an inescapable feature of modern automobiles, we’re certainly excited to see projects that aim to keep them under the consumer’s control.
It’s often said that one of the advantages of owning an electric vehicle is reduced maintenance costs, and for the most part, that’s true. That is, until the vehicle’s battery pack starts to show its age. Then you might be on the hook for a repair bill comparable to swapping out the engine on your old gas-burner. Depending on the age of the vehicle at that point, you might find yourself in the market for a new ride.
But in his latest video, [Daniel Öster] demonstrates that you can replace the battery in a modern electric vehicle without breaking the bank. While it’s not exactly an easy job, he manages to swap the pack in his 2012 Nissan LEAF from the comfort of his own garage using common tools and with the vehicle up on jack stands. The old battery wasn’t completely shot, so he was even able to recoup some of his costs by selling it; bringing the total price of the operation to approximately €2,122 ($2,500 USD).
While that wouldn’t be a bad deal even for a simple swap, the operation was actually an upgrade. The car was originally sold with a 24 kWh battery, but [Daniel] has replaced it with a 30 kWh pack intended for the 2017 LEAF. His car now has a greater range than it did the day it rolled off the assembly line, though as you might expect, the installation was more complex than it would have been with a contemporary battery.
[Daniel] has produced a kit that has all the adapters required to perform your own battery upgrade, including a module that translates the diagnostic signals from the newer battery into something the older vehicle can understand. With all the electrical bits simplified, all you’ve got to worry about is drilling the new battery mounting holes in the frame.
[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.
The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric car of all time so far, thanks largely to it being one of the first mass produced all-electric EVs. While getting into the market early was great for Nissan, they haven’t made a lot of upgrades that other EV manufacturers have made and are starting to lose customers as a result. One of those upgrades is charge limiting, which allows different charging rates to be set from within the car. With some CAN bus tinkering, though, this feature can be added to the Leaf.
Limiting the charging rate is useful when charging at unfamiliar or old power outlets which might not handle the default charge rate. In Europe, which has a 240V electrical distribution system, Leafs will draw around 3 kW from a wall outlet which is quite a bit of power. If the outlet looks like it won’t support that much power flow, it’s handy (and more safe) to be able to reduce that charge rate even if it might take longer to fully charge the vehicle. [Daniel Öster]’s modification requires the user to set the charge rate by manipulating the climate control, since the Leaf doesn’t have a comprehensive user interface.
The core of this project is performed over the CAN bus, which is a common communications scheme that is often used in vehicles and is well-documented and easy to take advantage of. Luckily, [Daniel] has made the code available on his GitHub page, so if you’re thinking about trading in a Leaf for something else because of its lack of features it may be time to reconsider.
The only thing limiting the range on any electric vehicle isn’t really battery technology, but cost. Customers don’t want to pay more money for an electric car or van that does essentially the same thing as one with an internal combustion engine. This in turn limits the amount of batteries manufacturers put in their cars. However, with enough money, and thus enough batteries, electric cars can get whatever range you want as [Muxsan] shows with his Nissan e-NV200 that gets over 400 miles kilometers on a single charge.
The Nissan e-NV200 is a battery electric vehicle (also available as a badge-engineered Chevrolet van in North America) with a drivetrain from the Nissan Leaf. This means that all of the components from the Leaf basically plug-and-play in this van. [Muxsan] took an extra 45 kWh of batteries and was able to splice them in to the existing battery pack, essentially tripling the capacity of the original 24 kWh pack. Some work was needed to the CAN bus as well, and the car’s firmware needed to be upgraded to reflect the new battery pack, but a relatively simple modification otherwise, all things considered.
While watching the video [Muxsan] also notes how much empty space there is all around the van, and Nissan could have easily upgraded the battery pack at any time to allow for more range. It also took the car 10 hours on a 6 kW charger to charge completely, but that’s not unreasonable for 430 miles of range. If your high voltage DC chops are up to snuff, it’s not impossible to find old Leaf batteries for other projects, too.
[Jay]’s Chevy S-10 electric conversion needed new batteries. The conversion was originally done with a bank of lead acids underneath the truck bed. With lithium battery factories so large they can boost an entire state’s economy being built, [Jay] safely assumed that it just wasn’t worth it to spend the money to replace it with a new set of the same.
You should remember the beginnings of this story from our coverage nearly a year ago. Being the kind of clever you’d expect from someone who did their own EV conversion, he purchased a totaled (yet nearly new) Nissan Leaf with its batteries intact. It took a little extra work, but after parting out the car and salvaging the battery packs for himself he came out ahead of both a new set of replacement lead acids and an equivalent set of lithium cells.
He has just completed the first test drives with the conversion, having built 48 Leaf cells into blocks resembling the volumes the old batteries occupied. He had to add some additional battery management, but right-off-the-bat, the conversion netted him more amps and 650lbs (295kg) less weight for the same power. Nice!
We linked to all the posts tagged leaf on [Jay]’s blog. There’s a lot going on, and the articles aren’t all linked to each other. It’s a really cool build and there are definitely tricks to learn throughout the whole process. If you have an hour to kill, [Jay] recorded the entire 26-hour process in a 66-minute video that is embedded below. It’s fun to watch him build up and mount the different modules and gives you a deep appreciation for his devotion to the project.