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Open Source Car on the Horizon 214

Posted by Zonk
from the will-it-burn-penguins-for-fuel dept.
PreacherTom writes "So here's a question: can open-source practices and approaches be applied to make hardware, to create tangible and physical objects, including complex ones? Markus Merz believes they can. The young German is the founder of the OScar project, whose goal is to develop and build a car according to open-source principles. Merz and his team aren't going for a super-accessorized SUV — they're aiming at designing a simple and functionally smart car. The OScar is not the only open-source hardware project out there: others include Zero Prestige, which designs kites and kite-powered vehicles, and Open Prosthetics, which offers free exchange of designs for prosthetic devices."
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Open Source Car on the Horizon

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  • Great (Score:2, Funny)

    by Necreia (954727)
    As long as it doesn't end up with a bunch of people bickering over what color to make the the cup holder.
    • by 93,000 (150453) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:36PM (#17167326)
      Blue or I walk.
    • Why would they be bickering about anything?

      Isn't "open source" supposed to be about developing platforms and extending them for personal gain, then releasing your changes back to the community so that others may use the improvements as they see fit? Wouldn't it be better if each car "developer" goes and designs a car, then they all come back and show each other the designs so that the committee can pick and choose? Design-by-committee never works, but choice-by-committee of finished designs and components d
    • First post and we're already into the bad car analogies. :P
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Ngarrang (1023425)
      Awesome! A car built by committee! Gee what could possibly go wrong?
  • Pic (Score:3, Funny)

    by markov_chain (202465) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:13PM (#17167008) Homepage
    Here's what it looks like: pic [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by gardyloo (512791)
      Here's what it looks like: pic

            That's obviously the car on the Gnome desktop. Damn it! Why won't people learn that posting screenshots of new distros makes no sense if they all use the KDE/Gnome/XFCE/Fluxbox/your_preferred_WM_here paradigm?
    • Re:Pic (Score:4, Funny)

      by Your Pal Dave (33229) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:47PM (#17167480)
      I dunno, all this talk of customization makes me think it might look more like this [wikipedia.org].
      • by tbo (35008)
        Damn, that's exactly what I thought of as soon as I saw the headline. I was going to go searching for that picture, but you saved me the time. I wish I had mod points.

        More seriously, that's probably a good characterization of what will come out of the process: a futuristic, high performance car that gets great gas milage but looks ugly as hell. It will have all sorts of "flashy" features like alpha transparency--err, tailfins, but they won't be integrated into a coherent, consistent design. Until Apple make
  • by User 956 (568564) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:13PM (#17167014) Homepage
    The young German is the founder of the OScar project, whose goal is to develop and build a car according to open-source principles.

    Does that mean it will crash less than other cars?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jfengel (409917)
      It means that the feature you actually want, the one that's been available in the commercial equivalent for years, will be migrating from the developer's code base to the unstable version on sourceforge just as soon as he's finished with his divorce.
    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      "Does that mean it will crash less than other cars?"

      If it has faster 0-60mph times, and handles better than other cars...and doesn't look like a lump (skinable?) like most cars coming out today (like that prius...ugh!)....

      I'd be interested in it.

      • I'm pretty sure they have a different set of priorities than you do. The project will probably be forked to handle different needs.
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        and doesn't look like a lump (skinable?) like most cars coming out today (like that prius...ugh!)....

        Ah yes. The most important feature is the one we know is hardest for open source (being that looks are subjective and such). Screw looks. If it's got usable space, good handling and acceleration, and decent mileage, I'm in. You could make it look like the weiner mobile for all I care, though that would be an inefficient shape.
    • Yup, and not only that- it's more secure and has fewer bugs, so being hikjacked is less of a problem and it doesn't need cleaning as much :)
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      I'm not sure how often it will crash, but the top will have to be removable so that I can see without Windows.
  • by creimer (824291) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:13PM (#17167016) Homepage
    Auto mechanics will come out of nowhere to help fix your car and get you on your way. A representative from AAA will complain that open source mechanics don't do a great job as traditional (but expensive) mechanics.
    • by edmicman (830206) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:29PM (#17167242) Homepage Journal
      Actually, depending on your variation, wouldn't it be...

      "You will have to search out mechanics on your own, and in most cases if you find them they will laugh at you for being too stupid to use the car, and point you to libraries spread throughout the country. In each of those libraries there will be manuals that give small, different chunks that sort of relate to the problem you're having. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to find a mechanic who has seen your problem before, and actually gives you a straight answer and gets you back on the road. But good luck on the rest of the times." :-/
      • by creimer (824291)
        Actually, in the old days, you could buy a book for your make of car to figure out what's wrong. These days you can't do that. My Dad spent two weeks and $800 replacing parts that he thought was the problem (and needed replacing anyway) until he took it to the shop. The mechanic turned the ignition on, a number popped up on the dashboard, and, according to the manufacturer manual, it was a $0.15 resistor that's burnt out on a part that cost $35. Go figure.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Actually, in the old days, you could buy a book for your make of car to figure out what's wrong. These days you can't do that.

          You are officially on crack.

          I have the factory service manual for both my 1989 Nissan 240SX and my 1981 Mercedes 300SD. The former is a book. The latter is on cdrom. Both were purchased from or at least through a dealer.

          Both books have extensive troubleshooting flowcharts, although the Nissan one has much better ones. This only makes sense, since it's eight years newer and

          • by creimer (824291)
            ...you and he both fail Google 101.

            Not surprisingly since I take public transportation and my dad didn't get DSL until last year (his first car BTW was a used Model T). ;) But I do know a lot of people who are quite capable of fixing a car from the 1970's but are clueless when it comes to anything newer and taking it to the shop seems like the only option these days. Today's cars are no longer figuring out where it bangs the loudest or where a ground wire got lose and how much monkey grease was needed.
            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              The funny thing is that if you get the manual and a code reader if it's OBD-II the cars are often easier to repair in that you don't actually have to know as much. Just follow the manual. Anything modern has a complete trouble tree and you just follow the procedure. It pretty much boils down to "Test continuity between pins 3 and 4. If you have continuity, go to 12A. If not, go to 12B". Eventually you get down to checking an individual part. It takes quite a bit of experience to be able to diagnose an aut

  • ...it will wind up smelling like pee. ;P A nod to the_mad_poster [slashdot.org].
  • by NineNine (235196) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:14PM (#17167028)
    Merz says that while building a car today "is mainly software, until a certain point anyway,"

    Not a car I would ever drive... I prefer my cars with *no* software.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Poppler (822173)
      Not a car I would ever drive... I prefer my cars with *no* software.
      I'm with you, in that I drive older cars, mostly for this reason. I'm all for this "open source car" thing, though; at a certain point the future, virtually every car on the market will have a computer in it. Do we want to be able to service these things ourselves, or are we going to have to take them to a Certified Mechanic who needs an expensive proprietary interface to work on the car?
      • by wolfgang_spangler (40539) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:32PM (#17167278) Homepage

        Not a car I would ever drive... I prefer my cars with *no* software.

        I'm with you, in that I drive older cars, mostly for this reason. I'm all for this "open source car" thing, though; at a certain point the future, virtually every car on the market will have a computer in it. Do we want to be able to service these things ourselves, or are we going to have to take them to a Certified Mechanic who needs an expensive proprietary interface to work on the car?
        First I guess it should be noted that you are taking all of this out of context. The quote in the article is referring to the fact that much of hardware design is done via mock-up in software packages, it is not insisting that running the car is mostly software.

        Second: Older cars have the same problem. "What? They do not!" you say! Yes, yes they do. How much money does it cost for all the specialized tools needed in vehicle repair? Flare nut wrenches? No use other than brake jobs. Flywheel puller? Special presses?

        You already need to use expensive, sometimes proprietary (Ford fuel line disconnect) tools to do the job, how is that different than needing to connect a car up to a computer interface?

        BTW, you will find that those fancy computer interfaces can be had for under 200 bucks, which is less than many of your single-purpose tools needed for car work and supports a whole suite of diagnostic purposes.

        • by ozbird (127571)
          BTW, you will find that those fancy computer interfaces can be had for under 200 bucks, which is less than many of your single-purpose tools needed for car work and supports a whole suite of diagnostic purposes.

          I had a look into these a while ago. There are different standards (US: OBD-II, Europe: EOBD) and electrical interfaces (for OBD-II: J1850 VPW, ISO 9141-2, J1850 PWM, J2284 CAN, KWP2000), plus various proprietory (mostly pre OBD-II) protocols. If a single "OpenDiag" protocol can be developed -
      • That depends on what you mean. Cars have had computers in them for a long time. I think Packard and Deusenberg had computers in the 30's. Regular passenger cars have had computers in them for twenty years now, any electronic fuel injection engine has a computer to control it.
    • Gee, I hate to break it to you but you most likely drive a car that developed mostly in software. What he said in no way mean that the car is run by software. It means that most of the design process is mostly software. You know, software mockups of a hardware solution to test it instead of making a prototype each time?

      I can't believe you were trying to be sarcastic, unless you just aren't very good at that either...

    • by spun (1352)
      >>Merz says that while building a car today "is mainly software, until a certain point anyway,"

      >Not a car I would ever drive... I prefer my cars with *no* software.


      I wouldn't go that far, I just prefer a car with no windows.
    • by mark-t (151149)
      Am I the only one who misread that as "manly software"?
  • AFAIK, about the only thing that isn't 'open' about cars is their engine management software & other associated softwares.

    What else really is there to protect?

    Everything else is trivially reverse engineered. Each of the major MFGs has engineering teams that buy new cars & strip them down to the bare chassis & then do an inventory to figure out how much their competitors are spending.

    Software is really the only black box in a car.
    • by NineNine (235196)
      Software is really the only black box in a car.

      Yeah, and software isn't even necessary. If anything, I'd be interested in working on (and driving) a car with no software at all.
    • AFAIK, about the only thing that isn't 'open' about cars is their engine management software & other associated softwares. What else really is there to protect? Everything else is trivially reverse engineered.
      "Trivially" does not mean "legally". Auto manufacturers use IP laws to control technology, too, though patent is more important, relative to copyright, than is the case in the software industry.
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:15PM (#17167046) Homepage Journal
    I still want to buy "The Homer" from Powell Motors. [wikipedia.org]
  • The young German is the founder of the OScar project, whose goal is to develop and build a car according to open-source principles.

    Finally, all those car analogies people make on computer forums might actually be relevant..
  • From reading TFA, it just sounds like he wants help designing the car for free...
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:18PM (#17167104) Journal
    Open-source principles will be good for innovation.

    But there will be a BIG problem with laws - especially mandated safety and emissions testing.

    That's designed on the assumption that large numbers of essentially identical cars are produced by well-funded manufacturers, so the cost of a lot of crash and emission-control testing and design work can be spread out over many units and become affordable.

    Even if you are building using zero-emission or well-tested stock power plants, good luck on getting the safety-testing requirements relaxed. A poorly-designed car endangers, not just those in it, but those in vehicles around it.

    With cars the "blue screen of death" is literal.
    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      "That's designed on the assumption that large numbers of essentially identical cars are produced by well-funded manufacturers, so the cost of a lot of crash and emission-control testing and design work can be spread out over many units and become affordable. Even if you are building using zero-emission or well-tested stock power plants, good luck on getting the safety-testing requirements relaxed. A poorly-designed car endangers, not just those in it, but those in vehicles around it. "

      Could you get aroun

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        I've also wondered about refurbed antique cars. How much of the rebuild has to be original, in order to by pass the new regulations and have it grandfathered in..I mean, you can pretty much build a late 60's Z28 Camero...completely from new parts out there...frame and all. If you built a car from all replica parts...would it be a 2006 or what?

        The short answer is, if you buy a broken 60's Camaro that was real, then you can build it. Well, really you should buy a '60s VW Bug, they were cheaper. Take the V
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        Could you get around that if you made it a 'kit car'? I've wondered about that...was looking into the Cobra replica kit cars...and wondering if they got around the emissions and other regulations on those....'cause some of the places will assemble them for you for a fee.

        You are permitted one custom car per lifetime. If you wreck it, sometimes you can get away with a re-vin where the vin is transferred to a new vehicle, but usually not - you have to fix the original. Well, let me elaborate - sometimes yo

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cayenne8 (626475)
          "You are permitted one custom car per lifetime. "

          That is a VERY interesting statement. Where does this law come from?? I've been to the sites where you can order these kit cars...and I've not seen any indication of this as a fact. Do you have some links or pointers to info on this?

          I'd think at the very least...this might vary from state to state....I mean car laws are weird state to state...I hear all the time about people who have to get their cars emission tested...strict laws on mods (mostly from CA),

    • That's designed on the assumption that large numbers of essentially identical cars are produced by well-funded manufacturers, so the cost of a lot of crash and emission-control testing and design work can be spread out over many units and become affordable.

      Sounds like a self-fulfilling assumption to me--one that easily restricts competition in favor of the bigger, established businesses, no?

      • Sounds like a self-fulfilling assumption to me--one that easily restricts competition in favor of the bigger, established businesses, no?

        Yep.

        But it's just fallout from the way things developed, not a planned lock-in.

        Getting it relaxed might be a fight. But the safety argument will be hard
        to refute without a bunch of expensive crash tests.

        We might have success with a "type approval" regime for components with
        safety implications.
  • do we call it a brick wall of death?
  • An open source car? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The One and Only (691315) <[ten.hclewlihp] [ta] [lihp]> on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:19PM (#17167120) Homepage
    It's a cool idea, but there's a few practical problems. Firstly, open source works for software because an intelligent person can pick up a few books and learn how to write code. Designing a car has a higher barrier to entry. Secondly, lacking the ability to run complex simulations on a car design, much less to produce prototypes for testing, will put an open source car at a disadvantage. Finally, who would mass-manufacture such a vehicle? I'm not saying it's impossible but there are many obstacles to overcome.
    • It's a cool idea, but there's a few practical problems. Firstly, open source works for software because an intelligent person can pick up a few books and learn how to write code. Designing a car has a higher barrier to entry.

      I'm not sure that's really an apples-to-apples comparison. Any (even assuming a decent general education, but no specialty in the field) person off the street is unlikely to pick up a few books and people capable of putting together, say, an enterprise-ready RDBMS from scratch on their

      • That's true. Another obstacle, though, is that without adequate funding, it would be impossible to run the necessary safety and emissions tests on the open source car that would be necessary to make it road-legal. Building software requires nothing more than a compiler and an adequate computer. Building cars and getting them onto the streets requires significant amounts of funding. Also, most cars are already open-source in some sense--if you buy a car, you have the means to disassemble it and discover for
        • Another obstacle, though, is that without adequate funding, it would be impossible to run the necessary safety and emissions tests on the open source car that would be necessary to make it road-legal.


          This is clearly a practical limitation to the utility of such an approach, to be sure, though an "open-source" kit-built car (a little bit more work to "install" than configure, make, make install!) might get around some of that.
  • I like the ideas in the software:

    The latter module is key, because the OScar project is also meant to be an exploration of alternative designs for individual and collective mobility. While he believes in the right to mobility for everyone, Merz explains, "this doesn't need to translate into individual car ownership". For instance, an efficient system for distributing information about who needs a car when to go where could enable more car sharing. Technology could also be used to recommend optimal routes, e

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Grishnakh (216268)
      Car ownership has to be individual for a good reason: people don't take care of things they don't own.

      Ideas about collectively-owned cars have been bandied about here on Slashdot for years, but no one's ever gotten very far in the real world with the idea. The problem is that, while it'd be nice to just "check out" a car on those days you needed one for a weekend excursion or trip across town, you're likely to get a car that has discarded fast food containers or used condoms lying around inside it, and wor
  • Some are even for cars. There are many that relate to computer hardware, but there are others:

    http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/SmallEfficient Vehicles/ [yahoo.com]
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/osmc [yahoo.com]
  • Standards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inKubus (199753) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:30PM (#17167260) Homepage Journal
    I think the most important part of Open Source development of ANYTHING is standards. You need to have a standards body. The problem with the auto industry today is there are no real standards. Take for example custom wheels--a simple, non-moving piece of metal that basically holds the tire. It's main purpose is cosmetic after the basic functionality that all wheels share (round, has bolt holes in the middle, etc.). You'd think it would be simple to get a different wheel for your car, but if you ever try you'll find hundreds of different widths, bolt-patterns, diameters, etc.

    This Open Source car would only be better if there were standards employed in these particular sections. Or have any connections be customizeable on both sides of the connection. So, if someone invents a better wheel pattern, it's easy to change the disc brake assembly to to fit it (dependency).

    The problem is that just having the design isn't going to get you very far because of the specialized components involved. A car is very expensive to build but at million plus quantities it's very cheap. But try to one-off one gear for a transmission sometime (it'll be THOUSANDS to get the precision in a $900 off-the-shelf manual transmission like Mazda makes for Ford).

    Instead, from the design stage, standardize everything. A standard ring or star topology for communications and power bussing throughout the car. Then each powered device has a microcontroller that turns it off or on. Then the microcontroller can report back it's status to a central computer. Most of the electricals are easily standardized. Where you run into problems is precision machined steel parts of an engine and transmission. Replacing also those with electrics is the way to go. Use electric motors, magnetic suspension, etc. Modular body panels can have their own microcontrollers also, so the car can reconfigure itself based on what you have mounted. You have the rear door in place, the rear door up/down button appears on the interface. The top is off, no sense showing the moonroof control. Etc etc.

    RFC's and the like are what's really made stuff like linux possible. It's not just having the source but having the standards that really make everything easy to work with, and make sure that many different programmers can all work on different sections of the project without worrying about if their module can talk with the others.
    • by mutterc (828335)

      Where you run into problems is precision machined steel parts of an engine and transmission. Replacing also those with electrics is the way to go.

      That's one of the things I like about the Prius. The Prius transmission [ecrostech.com] is rather simpler than the typical tranny, and, because of the two motors and one engine involved, doesn't need a clutch (the gear connected to the wheels can be held still even when the engine is spinning, by counter-spinning the motors).

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mauthbaux (652274)
      Amen!
      I believe there was an issue of "Sport Compact Car" a couple years ago where one of the editorials pointed this out. Part of his argument (if I recall correctly) was that the bicycle industry has done this for years. Parts are very standardized. Parts can be swapped between brands with almost no worries about compatibility issues. What this has lead to is a lot of competition and innovation in the aftermarket. It allows the consumer to compare parts straight across based on weight, color, price, or wh
  • "A Fork In The Road"
  • What a great thread of comments here. It's nice to see that /.ers can actually joke and make fun of OS practices even if they are directed at something besides software.

    BTW did Hell freeze over?!?
  • A mechanical engineer, a systems analyst, and a software engineer had just completed their open source car. During the first test drive, the brakes give out while heading down a steep mountain grade. After a few harrowing minutes of high speed, tire-squealing, om-my-god-we're-going-to-die excitement, they run the car off the road and come to a safe stop.

    The mechanical engineer says, "There must be a leak in the hydraulic system, and that caused the brakes to fail."

    "Not so fast," said the systems analyst.
  • This is retarded, IMHO. While open source is good for a lot of things, I don't think this is one of them.

    Are car part designs really that incumbered by patents or IP issues? So much so that someone CAN'T design their own without running afoul of the law?

    After all, don't forget that Mopar [trademotion.com] (and countless others) have been knocking off manufacturer's parts for years. And they are still around.

    While it's nice that the designs would be "open", I think practically speaking, they already are.
    • Are car part designs really that incumbered by patents or IP issues?

      I dunno exactly how significant it is in practice, but just as an illustration, here's the Hitachi's page listing their automotive patents [hitachi.us].

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Friday December 08, 2006 @04:58PM (#17167650)
    As much as I like the idea, they've tacked the wrong problem. It's not the car that needs designing, its the manufacturing systems that need designing. Until they can manufacture 1,000,000 of their cars for under $20,000 ea (if they want middle-class buyers in developed nations), or 10,000,000 for under $10,000 ea (if they want worldwide volume), or 100,000,000 for under $5,000 ea (if they want to pre-empt the environmental nightmare of 1 billion new cars in China & India), they've done nothing to address the problem of transportation's contribution to global environmental problems. Form may follow function, but manufacturing defines what form you can make and sell.

    As cool as their renderings and open-source specs are, they do nothing to address the real problem. And before someone claims that this is only a concept and that manufacturing can come later, they need to know that 80%-90% of the cost of something is baked in during the design phase (the figure comes from companies such as Volkswagen and Lucent). If manufacturing is an afterthought, there's no hope of getting the costs down because it's too late. Maybe a few stock-option millionaire geeks will be able to spring for the vehicle, but it will never hit a price point that sells the volume that makes a difference.

    I hope they switch the focus of the effort to make a breakthrough in manufacturing systems. That would be really cool!
  • ... and start off by copying a simple proven design? Then, you can work on [wikipedia.org] all [wikipedia.org] kinds [wikipedia.org] of [wikipedia.org] variants [wikipedia.org], and some neat hacks [difflock.com].
  • Depends on now you define 'open source car', of course. Kit cars in various forms have been on the market for years. Parts are supplied either by the kit manufacturer or the buyer has to get them from a donor car. There's an instruction manual, but the owner is free to modify the car (and can do so far more easily than with a conventional car). Some countries (the UK for one) have special regulations that allow these cars on the road after a thorough inspection but without having to pass destructive tests.

  • Open Car is a misleading expression; what we mean is a Free Car.

    In fact, I think it should be exclusively referred to as the GNU/Car.
  • I had some ideas, but couldn't find anything newer on the website that April 2006. Where is the active portion?

  • I've long said that hackers are just greasemonkeys with clean(er) fingernails. This is good stuff, I hope it gets the talent it needs.

    I'd be happy with an open firmware for regular car computers. Just let me redefine the auto-headlight logic (to avoid getting lynched by astronomers) and the auto-wiper logic (no really, after a squirt and 1 swipe, it's clean! no need for 4 more swipes!), and the remote control logic (If I want to leave the engine running with the doors locked, I should be able to unlock them

New crypt. See /usr/news/crypt.

Working...