Baby Steps Toward DIY Autonomous Driving: VW Golf Edition

Nice thermal design, but conformal coating and no ID marks make this tough to reverse engineer

[Willem Melching] owns a 2010 Volkswagen Golf – a very common vehicle in Europe – and noticed that whilst the electronic steering rack supports the usual Lane Keep Assist (LKAS) system, and would be theoretically capable of operating in a far more advanced configuration using openpilot, there were some shortcomings in VW’s implementation which means that it would not function for long enough to make it viable. Being very interested in and clearly extremely capable at reverse engineering car ECUs and hacking them into submission, [Willem] set about documenting his journey to unlocking openpilot support for his own vehicle.

And what a journey it was! The four-part blog series is beautifully written, showing every gory detail and all tools used along the way. The first part shows the Electronic Power Steering (EPS) ECU from a 2010 Volkswagen Golf Mk6 module (which rides on the back of the three-phase steering rack motor) being cracked open to reveal an interesting multi-chip module approach, with bare die directly bonded to a pair of substrate PCBs, that are in turn, bonded to the back of the motor casing, presumably for heat dissipation reasons. Clever design, but frustrating at the same time as this makes part identification somewhat tricker!

Entropy less the 1.0, and zero sections indicate no encryption applied

[Willem] uses a variety of tools and tricks to power up and sniff the ECU traffic on the CAN bus, when hooked up to a SAE J2534-compliant debug tool, eventually determining it speaks the VW-specific TP2.0 CAN bus protocol, and managed to grab enough traffic to check that it was possible to use the standard KWP2000 diagnostic protocol to access some interesting data. Next was a very deep dive into reverse engineering update images found online, by first making some trivial XOR operations, then looking at an entropy plot of the file using Binwalk to determine if he really did have code, and if it was encrypted or not, After running cpu_rec, it was determined the CPU was a Renesas V850. Then the real work started – loading the image into Ghidra to start making some guesses of the architecture of the code, to work out what needed patching to make the desired changes. In the final part of the series, [Willem] extracts and uses the bootloader procedure to partially patch the code configuration area of his vehicle and unlocks the goal he was aiming at – remote control of his steering. (OK, the real goal was running openpilot.)

In our opinion, this is a very interesting, if long, read showing a fascinating subject expertly executed. But we do want to stress, that the vehicular EPS module is an ASIL-D safety tested device, so any hacks you do to a road-going vehicle will most definitely void your insurance (not to mention your warranty) if discovered in the event of a claim.

Older ECUs are a bit easier to hack, if you can pull the EPROM, and people out there are producing modules for allsorts of vehicular hacking. So plenty to tinker with!

New Cars Will Nickel-and-Dime You – It’s Automotive As A Service

Every few years, someone pushing a startup to investors comes up with an acronym or buzzword which rapidly becomes the new hotness in those circles. One of the most pernicious is “as a Service,” which takes regular things and finds a way to charge you a regular fee to use them.

Automotive companies just absolutely loved the sound of this, and the industry is rapidly moving to implement subscription services across the board. Even if there’s hardware in your car for a given feature, you might find you now need to pay a monthly fee to use it. Let’s explore how this came about, and talk about which cars are affected. You might be surprised to find yours already on the list.
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Custom Instrument Cluster For Aging Car

All of the technological improvements to vehicles over the past few decades have led to cars and trucks that would seem borderline magical to anyone driving something like a Ford Pinto in the 1970s. Not only are cars much safer due to things like crumple zones, anti-lock brakes, air bags, and compulsory seat belt use, but there’s a wide array of sensors, user interfaces, and computers that also improve the driving experience. At least, until it starts wearing out. The electronic technology in our modern cars can be tricky to replace, but [Aravind] at least was able to replace part of the instrument cluster on his aging (yet still modern) Skoda and improve upon it in the process.

These cars have a recurring problem with the central part of the cluster that includes an LCD display. If replacement parts can even be found, they tend to cost a significant fraction of the value of the car, making them uneconomical for most. [Aravind] found that a 3.5″ color LCD that was already available fit perfectly in the space once the old screen was removed, so from there the next steps were to interface it to the car. These have a CAN bus separated from the main control CAN bus, and the port was easily accessible, so an Arduino with a RTC was obtained to handle the heavy lifting of interfacing with it.

Now, [Aravind] has a new LCD screen in the console that’s fully programmable and potentially longer-lasting than the factory LCD was. There’s also full documentation of the process on the project page as well, for anyone else with a Volkswagen-adjacent car from this era. Either way, it’s a much more economical approach to replacing the module than shelling out the enormous cost of OEM replacement parts. Of course, CAN bus hacks like these are often gateway projects to doing more involved CAN bus projects like turning an entire vehicle into a video game controller.

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Hackaday Links: December 22, 2019

It’s hard to believe it, but the Raspberry Pi has been on the market for only seven years now. The single-board computer has become so entrenched in the hobby electronics scene that it’s hard to imagine life without it, or what we did before it came along. And with the recent announcement that the 30 millionth Raspberry Pi was recently manufactured, now we have some clarity on the scale of its success. Just roll that number around in your head for a bit – that’s one Pi for every nine or so people in the USA. Some of the other facts and figures in the linked article boggle the mind too, like Eben Upton figured they’d only ever sell about 10,000 units, or that the factory in Wales where most Pis are made can assemble 15,000 units a day.

Speaking of manufacturing, have you ever considered what goes into getting a small-scale manufactured product ready for shipping? The good folks over at Gigatron know all about the joys of kitting, and have put together an interesting un-unboxing video for their flagship TTL-only retro computer. It’s a nice riff on the unboxing videos that are somehow popular on YouTube these days, and shows just how much effort they put into getting a Gigatron out the door. All told, it takes about an hour to ship each unit, and the care put into the process is evident. We especially like the part where all the chips are placed into antistatic foam in the same orientation they’ll be on the completed board. Nice touch.

Last time we checked in on the Lulzbot saga, the open source 3D printer manufacturer had been saved from complete liquidation by a company named FAME 3D. Now we’re getting the first solid details about where things go from here. Not only will thirteen of the remaining Lulzbot employees be staying on, but FAME 3D plans to hire 50 new employees to get operations back up as quickly as possible. The catch? The “F” in FAME 3D stands for Fargo, North Dakota, where Fargo Additive Manufacturing Equipment 3D is based. So Lulzbot will be moving north from Loveland, Colorado in the coming months.

For the last few years, adventure travelers making the pilgrimage to Shenzhen to scour the electronics markets have stuffed a copy of Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen into their soon-to-be-overflowing backpacks. The book is a goldmine of insider information, stuffed with maps and translation tables critical for navigating a different culture with no local language skills. Bunnie’s book has only been available in dead-tree format and now that all but the last few copies have been sold, he decided to make a web version available for free. We’d have to think a tablet or phone would be a bit harder to use in the heat of negotiation than the nice spiral-bound design of the print copy, but the fact that the insider information will now be widely available probably makes this a net positive.

And finally, if you’ve ever nearly been run over by an EV or hybrid silently backing out of a parking space, you’ll no doubt appreciate attempts to legislate some sort of audible presence to these vehicles. But what exactly should an electric vehicle be made to sound like? Volkswagen has begun to address that question, and while you can certainly read through the fluff in their press release, all you really need to do is listen to the sample. We’ve got to say that they pretty much nailed what a car of the future should sound like. Although they might have missed a real opportunity here.

Volkswagen EGon Is A Rolling Electric Car Circuit Sculpture

Over the past few decades of evolution, cars have grown to incorporate a mind-boggling number of electric components. From parking distance sensors, to the convenience of power locks and windows, to in-car entertainment systems rivaling home theaters. Normally this interconnected system’s complexity is hidden between exterior sheet metal and interior plastic trim, but a group of students of Volkswagen’s vocational training program decided to show off their internal beauty by building the Volkswagen eGon exhibit.

Seeing a super minimalist Volkswagen electric Golf on the move (short Twitter video embedded below) we are immediately reminded of circuit sculptures. We saw some great projects in our circuit sculpture contest, but the eGon shows what can be done with the resources of a Volkswagen training center. Parts are bolted to the car’s original structure where possible, the rest were held in their representative positions by thin metal tube frames. At this scale, they look just like the brass rods used in small circuit sculptures! Certain component enclosures were replaced with transparent pieces, or had a window cut into them for visibility.

This exhibit was built for IdeenExpo, an event to expose students to science and technology. Showing them what’s under the cover in this “see-through car” with internal components tagged with QR codes pointing them to additional information. The number of electronic modules inside a car is only going to continue rising with the coming wave of electric and/or self-driving cars. Even if the timing of their arrival is debatable, we know we’ll need brain power helping to answer questions we don’t even know to ask yet. The eGon is doing a great job attracting attention and inviting bright young minds to participate.

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Charging An Electric Supercar With Lemons, Kids, And The Sun

First things first: the tease on this video, that an electric supercar can be charged from a massive lemon battery array, is exactly that – a tease. Despite that, it makes for an interesting story and a great attempt to get kids exposed to science and engineering.

The story goes that [Mark] was approached by Volkswagen to help charge the batteries on their entry for the upcoming Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the annual “Race to the Clouds” in Colorado. Racers are tortured by a 4,700′ (1,440 m) vertical climb over a 12.42 mile (20 km) course that features 156 switchback turns. Volkswagen’s entry is an electric supercar, and they sent [Mark] a portable battery cart to charge up the best way he saw fit.

Teaming up with [William Osman], the first attempt was a massive array of lemon cells, made with waterjet-cut strips of zinc and copper held in a plywood frame. Studded with 1,232 lemons, the battery performed just about as well as you’d expect it would. Plan B was cute, and another of [Mark]’s attempts to pad his “Funnest Uncle Ever” score a bit. He devised a zip line with regenerative braking to charge a cordless drill battery, and then indirectly harvested the energy in the battery by turning it into lemonade for a bunch of kids. The sugared-up kids rode the zip line till the battery was charged.

That was still a drop in the bucket, though, so Plan C saw [Mark] install a large solar array on his roof; the tie-in here was that the lemon-powered kids got to design a cleaning system for the solar array. A weak link, to be sure, but the kids had fun, and we can’t deny that the car will at least be partially lemon-powered when it heads up the hill.

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Audi Engineer Exposes Cheat Order

In an interesting turn of events last week in a German court, evidence has materialized that engineers were ordered to cheat emissions testing when developing automotive parts.

Last Tuesday, Ulrich Weiß brought forward a document that alleges Audi Board of Director members were involved in ordering a cheat for diesel emissions. Weiß was the head of engine development for Audi, suspended in November of 2015 but continued to draw more than half a million dollars in salary before being fired after prior to last week’s court testimony.

Volkswagen Group is the parent company of Audi and this all seems to have happened while the VW diesel emissions testing scandal we’ve covered since 2015 was beginning to come to light. Weiß testified that he was asked to design a method of getting around strict emissions standards in Hong Kong even though Audi knew their diesel engines weren’t capable of doing so legitimately.

According to Weiß, he asked for a signed order. When he received that order he instructed his team to resist following it. We have not seen a copy of the letter, but the German tabloid newspaper Bild reports that the letter claims approval by four Audi board members and was signed by the head of powertrain development at the company.

Hackaday was unable to locate any other sources reporting on the letter other than the Bild article we have linked to (also the source used in the Forbes article above). Sources such as Die Welt reference only “internal papers”. If you know of other reporting on the topic please leave a comment about it below.