Detroit native Josh Siegel is a car guy.
He bought his first car, a 1955 Chevy 210, shortly before his 15th birthday. He liked it because he could tinker with it. After restoring this classic car, he moved on to more ambitious projects, tweaking the timing, swapping out the cams, and rejetting the carburetors. “It might take time or cost money,” he says, “but I could make the ’55 exactly what I wanted.”
But this wasn’t the case with his next car, a 2004 Chevy Impala. Though he wanted to tinker with it too—tune the engine or play with the automatic lock setting—he couldn’t. “Any sort of tweak,” he says, “required dealership diagnostics tools.”
It took him six years, but Siegel, an engineering student at MIT, now has a solution. It’s called Carduino, and it’s the first product from Siegel’s new company CarKnow.
This tiny device plugs into an automobile diagnostics port, letting you equip your car with all sorts of tools you otherwise couldn’t. You can set your windows to automatically roll up when the weather changes, tie your doors to a smartphone app that lets you lock your car from across the internet, or, well, dream up something no one else has ever thought of. The idea is that anyone can use the Carduino to build any app they like.
THIS TINY DEVICE PLUGS INTO AN AUTOMOBILE DIAGNOSTICS PORT, LETTING YOU EQUIP YOUR CAR WITH ALL SORTS OF TOOLS YOU OTHERWISE COULDN’T.
Traditionally, the car you bought was the car you bought. You couldn’t add parking assistance or blind-spot monitoring after the fact—unless you took it back to the dealership for an expensive upgrade. But the Carduino is part of a movement that aims to change that. As it stands, the connected car movement—driven by the big-name car makers as well as tech giants such as Apple and Google—is limited to newer, high-end vehicles. But with Carduino, Siegel wants to extend this kind of thing to a new audience, giving anyone the power to plug their car into the internet.
The Cost of a Smartwatch
It’s called Carduino because it’s meant to evoke the Arduino—a tiny open source circuit board that lets you build your own electronic gadgets. But Carduino is a more powerful machine—about as powerful as your smartphone. It’s set to arrive early next year, and Siegel says it will cost about as much as a smartwatch.
There are other tools that plug into your car’s diagnostic port, such as Automaticand Carvoyant, but for the most part, these just pull data from your car. They can tell your car’s fuel efficiency—or what a certain “check engine” light means. They even offer services that let developers build apps based on information pulled from you car, so that you can do things like automatically text your spouse when you leave the office. But Carduino goes further.
It taps into a car’s controller area network, or CAN—the system the car’s various components use to communicate with each other. That lets it do more stuff. But it’s also a difficult thing to pull off.
The CAN Conundrum
Part of the problem is that not all cars used CAN. Siegel says its available on most cars built since 2004, but it has only been required since 2008.
Security is another concern, considering that Carduino connects your car to the net. But Siegel says Car Know has taken several precautions to ensure that the Carduino is safe. The company designed the Carduino to run only a certain set of white listed commands. It always checks these commands against a list of black listed commands. And since the platform will be open source, outside developers will be free to examine—and patch—the tool’s security.
But the biggest problem may be that CAN isn’t really a standard. Each manufacturer sends messages in its own way, and these messages can even vary from car to car. In order to make Carduino work properly, Siegel and company will have to reverse engineer all the relevant messages for every single car that the tool is supposed to work with.
Automatic’s tool can handle CAN messages in Ford vehicles—in a limited way—but the company had to partner with Ford in order to make this happen. “It’s a very delicate system,” he says. “A lot of cars don’t like when you add traffic to the CAN bus.”
Siegel’s plan is to crowd-source much of this reverse engineering, asking outside developers to document a world of CAN messages and post all of their findings on a publicly accessible wiki. Given the number of car geeks out there, this may be doable—but then again, maybe not. “There’s a part of me that wishes them the best of luck,” says Automatic founder Ljuba Miljkovic. “But I think it’s going to be a huge challenge.”
That said, Siegel has already made huge strides during the six years he developed Carduino as a research project at MIT. The device will include several apps that will work on most supported cars right out of the box, and developers will be able to work with the CAN commands he’s already identified to get started building new apps right away.
“Frankly,” he says. “I can’t wait to see what people do with their cars.”
See original article at: http://www.wired.com/2014/11/internet-anything-little-box-hooks-old-car-internet/