Old Prius Gets Upgraded Batteries

So many of the batteries made today are lithium batteries of some sort, from mobile phones, laptops, and drones to electric cars and grid storage solutions. But this technology is relatively new; even as late as the 90s and early 00s the only widely-available batteries for things like power tools or the new hybrid vehicles coming on the market were nickel-metal hydride (NiMH). While it was good for the time, they don’t hold up to all of the advantages lithium has. There’s still plenty of hybrid vehicles on the road using these batteries, so if you’re driving an older Prius and want to give it a modern refresh, there’s a quick option to swap your old batteries.

Despite lithium technology being available for several decades, the switch to lithium for the Toyota Prius wasn’t instant, with many variants still using NiMH batteries as late as the 2020s largely because the NiMH batteries are less expensive and less maintenance-intensive than lithium batteries are. As these batteries lose capacity, the cars are still driveable but the advantages of the hybrid drivetrain won’t be as accessible anymore. The upgrade, from a company called Project Lithium, replaces these batteries with modern lithium technology that can improve the efficiency and performance of these cars even above their original capabilities since lithium batteries have more power density.

With the Toyota Prius being among the most reliable vehicles on the road thanks to the electric motor in the hybrid drivetrain taking a lot of stress off of the internal combustion engine, it’s often worth upgrading these old batteries to modern ones to squeeze every last mile from these workhorses as possible. With many of the replacement processes being almost as simple as lifting out an old battery and placing a new one in, it can be a no-brainer if that’s the only issue with the vehicle otherwise. This is also true of all-electric vehicles as well, although the process to replace the battery can be a little more involved.

Thanks to [JohnU] for the tip!

Using Super-Efficient Solar Cells To Keep Your Electric Car’s Battery Topped Up

Who hasn’t thought of sticking a couple of solar panels onto an electric car’s roof to keep its battery at 100% charge while it’s parked out in the sun? While usually deemed impossible due to the large number and weight of PV solar cells required to get the necessary amount of energy, this hasn’t kept Toyota’s engineers from covering one of their Prius cars with 34+% efficient solar cells.

Some may remember the solar roof option which Toyota previously offered years ago. That system produced a mere 50 W and was only used for things like running the AC fans, indirectly extending the battery charge. In 2016 Toyota brought back this system, in a much improved version. This upped the power output to 180 W, allowing it to power all secondary electronics in the Prius, even allowing it to add a few extra kilometers (roughly 6.1 km/day) to the Prius’ range if one were so inclined.

This newest prototype pretty much goes for broke, reminding us of the cars used in the World Solar Challenge, such as the Dutch Stella and Stella Lux positive-energy solar cars by the team at the University of Eindhoven. Who coincidentally have done a spin-off, setting up a company to produce the Lightyear One, which at least on paper sounds amazing, and potentially may never have to plug it in.

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Hackaday Links: September 23, 2018

In the spirit of Nintendo’s NES mini and Super NES mini, Sony is releasing a tiny version of the Playstation. It’s a hundred bucks in December and it comes with Final Fantasy VII, what more do you want? While that’s marginally cool, check out the forums and comments of gaming blogs for some real entertainment — those damn kids won’t get off my lawn and are complaining the included controllers don’t have analog sticks.

This man has solved the range problem for electric cars. He hacked a Prius to run off the overhead wires for San Francisco’s Muni system. Yes, if you want something amazing, here it is. The pantograph/pole/whatever it’s called was acquired ‘somehow’, with the implication that it was stolen. The overhead lines are 600 V, and a Prius’ battery pack is usually 273 V; apparently he “uses up the excess power on a whole lot of resistors, full-time headlights, and a kick-ass stereo system.”. Dear lord, we need a real technical write-up for this one.

get on my level

Humanity’s most impressive accomplishment to date is Twitch Plays Pokemon. This was a cooperative game of Pokemon, with thousands of people mashing buttons. Everyone (eventually) beat the Final Four, but the most impressive part was the Power Plant. We made it through the Power Plant, and we got Zapdos. I was there. It was incredible. Twitch Plays Pokemon has been reborn and rebranded several times, but this one might be good: Twitch Programs a Commodore 64. It’s a (virtual) C64 hooked up to Twitch. If there’s one person watching the channel, you can slowly type out a BASIC program one… character… at… a… time. If there’s more than one person watching, the entire ordeal devolves into the horrors of a democracy, but you might be able to get something done. Have fun.

Slimline Proximity Fob Makes Life Easier

Modern cars these days tend to come with proximity keys, which allow the driver to unlock and start the vehicle without having to remove the key from one’s pocket. While this is a great usability upgrade, for some reason key fobs continue to be bulky plastic monstrosities that when stuffed into a pocket can easily ruin the lines of a well-chosen outfit. This wasn’t good enough so [Patrick] decided to sort it out.

Starting with a Prius key, the first step was to disassemble the already broken key fob and separate out the PCB from the case and battery holder. With those removed, a coin cell was soldered to some wires connected to the PCB. As a substitute for the original case, a plastic card was cut up and the PCB inserted within, allowing the setup to fit neatly in a wallet’s card pocket. Lashings of tape bring the project home.

Unsurprisingly, it works, and works well. It raises the question why key fobs are so large and ungainly, taking up so much precious pocket space. We’d love to see even slimmer takes on this with 3D printed enclosures or even completely redesigned PCBs. Give it a go, and hit up the tip line. Else, check out how key fobs are routinely hacked to steal cars.

Repairing A Twisted Prius Display Computer

This one is from way back in 2007, but the steps [hobbit] took to evaluate and repair a failed Prius Multi-Function Display (MFD) is a refresher course in how to go about fixing stuff that’s broken.

The 2004 / 2005 models of the Prius had peculiar problems with their MFD. Buttons and touch functions became sluggish and unresponsive, it wouldn’t display ECU data such as current and average fuel consumption, and couldn’t control stereo and air-conditioning. Lots of Prius users were reporting similar problems on the Priuschat forum.

The issues would usually arise long after warranty expired, and replacement units cost a couple of thousand dollars new. Toyota knew what the problem was (PDF link), but their fix involved swapping the defective units out.

[hobbit] managed to get a defective MFD unit from a friend, and because his own Prius still had a working MFD, he was able to carry out comparative tests on both units. The broken unit was generally laggy, and the buttons didn’t beep when pressed. Apparently, the AVCLan, a small data network between various components in the car, wasn’t reaching the MFD reliably. The MFD would send the “beep” command to the audio amplifier and wait for a confirmation that would never arrive. The system hung here until the MFD timed out.

In the end, the cause of the problem was the 60-pin micro connector that interfaces the two main boards of the MFD. Once the two are mated, tightening the mounting screws twisted the two boards ever so slightly, leading to flaky contacts.

The fix? [hobbit] tweaked all of the 60 pins outwards enough that they still made contact even when the connector housing got twisted. Comparing the defective MFD to the one in [hobbit]’s own car also demonstrated how the factory fixed the problem.

Thanks to [Nick] for sending in this tip, which he stumbled upon “while searching for ideas for a very small solder tip to repair something on my laptop.”

Defcon Presenters Preview Hack That Takes Prius Out Of Driver’s Control


This one’s a treasure trove of CAN bus hacks that will scare the crap out of an unsuspecting driver — or worse. [Charlie Miller] and [Chris Valasek] are getting ready to present their findings, which were underwritten by DARPA, at this year’s Defcon. They gave a Forbes reporter a turn in the driver’s seat in order to show off.

You’ve got to see the video on this one. We haven’t had this much fun looking at potentially deadly car hacking since Waterloo Labs decided to go surfing on an Olds. The hacks shown off start as seemingly innocent data tweaks, like misrepresenting your fuel level or displaying 199 mph on the speedometer while the car is standing still. But things start to get interesting when they take that speed readout from 199 down to zero instantly, which has the effect of telling the car you’ve been in a crash (don’t worry, the airbags don’t fire). Other devilish tricks include yanking the steering wheel to one side by issuing a command telling the car to park itself when driving down the road. Worst of all is the ability to disable the brakes while the vehicle is in motion. Oh the pedal still moves, but the brake calipers don’t respond.

The purpose of the work is to highlight areas where auto manufacturers need to tighten up security. It certainly gives us an idea of what we’ll see in the next Bond film.

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All About The Google Autonomous Vehicle Project

There have been many self-driving cars made with different levels of success, but probably the most well-known project is the Google car.  What you may not have heard of, though is the autonomous Google cart, or golf cart to be exact. The first video after the break explains the motivation behind the cart and the autonomous vehicle project.  As with another autonomous vehicle we’ve featured before, they didn’t forget to include an E-stop button (at 1:03)!

In the second video (also after the break) Google’s Sebastian Thrun and Chris Urmson get into more of the details of how Google’s more famous autonomous Prius vehicles work and their travels around different towns in California. A safety driver is still used at this point, but the sensor package includes a roof-mounted 64-beam laser sensor, wheel encoder, radars, and a GPS sensor. With Google’s vast resources as well as their work with Streetview and Google maps, it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this technology.  I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.

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