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

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

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

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This Cup Holder Crystal Ball Tells Your MPG Future

Hybrid vehicles, which combine an eco-friendly electric motor with a gasoline engine for extended range, are becoming more and more common. They’re a transitional technology that delivers most of the advantages of pure electric vehicles, but without the “scary” elements of electric vehicle ownership which are still foreign to consumers such as installing a charger in their home. But one element which hybrids are still lacking is a good method for informing the driver whether they’re running on petroleum or lithium; a way to check at a glance how “green” their driving really is.

[Ben Kolin] and his daughter [Alyssa] have come up with a clever hack that allows retrofitting existing hybrid vehicles with an extremely easy to understand indicator of real-time vehicle efficiency. No confusing graphics or arcade-style bleeps and bloops, just a color-changing orb which lives in the cup holder. An evolved version which takes the form of a smaller “dome light” that sits on the top of the dashboard could be a compelling aftermarket accessory for the hybrid market.

The device, which they are calling the ecOrb, relies on an interesting quirk of hybrid vehicles. The OBD II interface, which is used for diagnostics on modern vehicles, apparently only shows the RPM for the gasoline engine in a hybrid. So if the car is in motion but the OBD port is reporting 0 RPM, the vehicle must be running under electric power.

With a Bluetooth OBD adapter plugged into the car, all [Ben] and [Alyssa] needed was an Arduino Nano clone with a HC-05 module to read the current propulsion mode in real-time. With some fairly simple conditional logic they’re able to control the color of an RGB LED based on what the vehicle is doing: green for driving on electric power, purple for gas power, and red for when the gas engine is at idle (the worst case scenario for a hybrid).

Check out our previous coverage of OBD hacking on the Cadillac ELR hybrid if you’re looking to learn more about what’s possible with this rapidly developing class of vehicle

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Adding Upgrades To A Stock Motorcycle

In today’s world of over-the-air firmware upgrades in everything from cars to phones to refrigerators, it’s common for manufacturers of various things to lock out features in software and force you to pay for the upgrades. Even if the hardware is the same across all the models, you can still be on the hook if you want to unlock anything extra. And, it seems as though Suzuki might be following this trend as well, as [Sebastian] found out when he opened up his 2011 Vstrom motorcycle.

The main feature that was lacking on this bike was a gear indicator. Even though all the hardware was available in the gearbox, and the ECU was able to know the current gear in use, there was no indicator on the gauge cluster. By using an Arduino paired with an OBD reading tool (even motorcycles make use of OBD these days), [Sebastian] was able to wire an LED ring into the gauge cluster to show the current gear while he’s riding.

The build is very professionally done and is so well blended into the gauge cluster that even we had a hard time spotting it at first. While this feature might require some additional lighting on the gauge cluster for Suzuki to be able to offer this feature, we have seen other “missing” features in devices that could be unlocked with a laughably small amount of effort.

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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.

A Live ECU Simulator for OBD2 Projects

If you are working with OBD2 hardware or software, it’s easy enough to access test data, simply plug into a motor vehicle with an OBD2 socket. If, however, you wish to test OBD2 software under all possible fault conditions likely to be experienced by an engine, you are faced with a problem in that it becomes difficult to simulate all faults on a running engine without breaking it. This led [Fixkick] to create an OBD2 simulator using a secondhand Ford ECU supplied with fake sensor data from an Arduino to persuade it that a real engine was connected.

The write-up is quite a dense block of text to wade through, but if you are new to the world of ECU hacking it offers up some interesting nuggets of information. In it there is described how the crankshaft and camshaft sensors were simulated, as well as the mass airflow sensor, throttle position, and speedometer sensors. Some ECU inputs require a zero-crossing signal, something achieved with the use of small isolating transformers. The result is a boxed up unit containing ECU and Arduino, with potentiometers on its front panel to vary the respective sensor inputs.

We’ve brought you quite a few OBD2 projects over the years, for example, there was this LED tachometer, and a way into GM’s OnStar.

Thanks [darkspr1te] for the tip.

First Look: Macchina M2

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in car hacking. Newer tools are being released, which makes it faster and cheaper to get into automotive tinkering. Today we’re taking a first look at the M2, a new device from the folks at Macchina.

The Macchina M1 was the first release of a hacker friendly automotive device from the company. This was an Arduino compatible board, which kept the Arduino form factor but added interface hardware for the protocols most commonly found in cars. This allowed for anyone familiar with Arduino to start tinkering with cars in a familiar fashion. The form factor was convenient for adding standard shields, but was a bit large for using as a device connected to the industry standard OBD-II connector under the dash.

The Macchina M2 is a redesign that crams the M1’s feature set into a smaller form factor, modularizes the design, and adds some new features. With their Kickstarter launching today, they sent us a developer kit to review. Here’s our first look at the device.

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Bil Herd Asks OBD “How Fast am I Going?”

Whenever I end up with a new vehicle I ultimately end up sticking in a new GPS/Receiver combination for better sound quality and a better GPS.

I am quite at home tearing into a dashboard as I was licensed to install CB radios in my teens as well as being the local go-to guy for 8-track stereo upgrades in the 70’s. I have spent a portion of my life laying upside down in a puddle on the car floor peering up into the mess of wires and brackets trying to keep things from dropping on my face. If you remember my post on my Datsun 280ZXT, I laid in that same position while welding in a clutch pedal bracket while getting very little welding slag on my face. I did make a note that the next time I convert a car from an automatic to a manual to do so while things are still disassembled.image15

Swapping out a factory radio usually involves choosing whether to hack into the existing factory wiring wire-by-wire, or my preference, getting a cable harness that mates with the factory plug and making an adapter out of it by splicing it to the connector that comes with the new radio.

Usually I still have to hunt down a few signals such as reverse indicator, parking brake indicator, vehicle speed sensor and the like. In my last vehicle the Vehicle Speed Sensor (VSS) wire was supposed to be in the factory harness, but driving experience showed it must not be as the GPS would show me driving 30 feet to the right of the highway. That and the calibration screen on the GPS verified that it was not receiving speed pulses.

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