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Hardware Hacking Technology

Open Source Car on the Horizon 214

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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  • by wolfgang_spangler ( 40539 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:32PM (#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 G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:58PM (#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!
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday December 08, 2006 @06:53PM (#17168350) Homepage Journal
    I dislike anti-lock brakes...I feel in less control...good old manual disk brakes on each wheel thank you!

    You are, I hope, aware that modern ABS systems typically give a shorter stopping distance than even a talented driver, on any surface other than dry tarmac?

    Now, I'll grant you, computers DO help things on cars, but, I prefer them to be minimal in usage. It is MUCH easier to track down and fix a mechanical problem than trying to trouble shoot something computerized or drive by wire. Especially if you like to do some work on your own as a "shade tree mechanic".

    NONSENSE! It's actually dramatically easier to troubleshoot a modern vehicle, if you have the factory scan tool. Even with a generic code-reader-only tool, it's usually at least as easy or a little easier than dealing with ye olde noncomputerized car. That's because all OBD-II cars have to implement the OBD-II "Monitors", which are self-tests automatically executed when the car makes a "trip" - which is a period of driving that meets certain criteria. Some self-tests are executed immediately at startup and some take a while. Every time the requirements for a trip (or a partial trip, for a single test) are met, the PCM (Powertrain Control Module - we used to call this the ECU, or Engine Control Unit, but PCM is the official OBD-II terminology) stores the monitor data. This information can be looked up later using the factory scan tool.

    Another requirement of OBD-II is that it store logging data. It must store the past 30 seconds and I believe the next 30 seconds are optional, every time a fault occurs. Most PCMs only store one full set of monitor data. The most important fault's data is stored. Faults come at multiple levels (4, IIRC) and a less-critical fault will not be stored over an existing fault; a more-critical fault is. I am not sure what happens when they have the same priority.

    In other words, all this data gives you a picture of what's happening at the engine management level when a fault occurs. To get this with a traditional vehicle you'd have to hook up a shitload of sensors. OBD-II cars have both cam and crank sensors, with which they can even detect per-cylinder misfire - and you can find THAT code has been set with a $50 code reader.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.