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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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  • simple? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:11PM (#17166976)
    that exterior panel design is simple?
  • by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:14PM (#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:Great (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:19PM (#17167116)
    rtfa. thats exactly what took place. for 3 years. and the project hasnt been making any real progress since then. still pre release thoughtware.

  • by jfengel ( 409917 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:20PM (#17167140) Homepage Journal
    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 Poppler ( 822173 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:21PM (#17167144) Journal
    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 edmicman ( 830206 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:29PM (#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." :-/
  • Standards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inKubus ( 199753 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @05:30PM (#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 nschubach ( 922175 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @06:47PM (#17168300) Journal
    I wished I hadn't posted earlier to mod you up a point.

    I never understood why people hate electronics in cars. You could say that using steel in your car is improper because you can't find steel naturally in nature and sculpt it to fit your old part location without external help, a lot of tools, a smelter and time.

    Buying a brake drum for your car is exactly like buying a replacement ABS sensor. You may not be able to make one on your own, but you can freely walk into the parts store down the road and pick up a new one. The only difference here, is that without building your own smelter, forge and anvil to pound out your new car parts, you buy a tool for about $200 (maybe less now) that will tell you exactly what is wrong so you can replace it.

    With a horse, all you had to do was smith yourself a new set of horseshoes and some tack! Why do you need to get all these complicated A-arms and gears and such.
  • Re:Standards (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mauthbaux ( 652274 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @06:56PM (#17168396) Homepage
    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 whatever other parameters are important to the customer.

    Now compare that to the automobile industry. If you have one of the more popular models (most Hondas, Camaros, Mustangs, etc.) of cars, there's a lot of options. However, if you want to 'trick out' something less common (my 99 ford escort for example), almost anything you want to do to it will require custom fabricated parts (very very expensive). Want to do an engine swap in a modern car? Good luck. Want to convert your FF car to an FR setup? Heaven help you. Want an MR spyder with a manual tranny and AWD for less than $50k? Not in this lifetime, buddy. The problem is that almost every single part in a newer car is proprietary. Proprietary parts means that parts manufacturers have a cornered market, and they can (and do) charge outrageous premiums. Also, it leaves your average shadetree mechanic totally unable to perform many repairs.

    So yeah, I'm all for standards in the auto industry. I'd buy a modular-design car just for the degree of customization it would allow.
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @08:41PM (#17169510) Homepage Journal
    "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), but, I've never lived in a state that checks any of that. Heck, I've lived in states that do not require inspections on cars at all.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday December 08, 2006 @08:53PM (#17169596)
    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 worse which may have damage from being recklessly driven or unmaintained.

    Of course, if you go to the next step and propose having some company manage these cars, maintaining them properly and cleaning them out when people bring them back, well, that's exactly what Hertz and Avis do. So why not just use them instead of owning your own car? Oh yeah, because it costs a small fortune per day to rent cars instead of owning one outright. And that's with many competitors in the business to keep prices as low as possible.

    While it's inefficient for everyone to own a car when they don't need it all the time, it's even less efficient to share cars and employ people in an organization to do all the work necessary to make that happen.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel