Hack-a-Thon 2016

Nate, Byron, and Kyle working on smart hack
Nate, Byron, and Kyle working on smart hack

This weekend members of the Illuminati, new and old, emerged from their long winter’s slumber and gathered from across several states, some in the physical and still others in the virtual, at IMW headquarters to commence our first official Electric Smart Car Drivetrain Hack (or Hack-a-Thon).

Saying that we’ve been slumbering since our last update is a bit misleading, it makes it seem like the projects we work on just sort’ve materialize on their own, like some sort of mystical Illuminati power brought them forth from one of our vast hidden treasure troves, (not only if you believe that do I have a bridge to sell you but for only $99.95 I will send you the Illuminati’s secret recipe for turning lead into gold! (Individual results may vary. Illuminati not responsible for accidental dimensional slippage resulting from use of this or any of our products) subliminal messages, like this one, are not included) when in actuality its just taken this long to get everything set up, the equipment, tools software, hardware and people that make up the team. Not all of this happens over night, and not all of it in one location, currently there are at least a dozen people that have had a direct hand in the project, eight this weekend alone working form three different states on parts ranging from the actual physical hack, to doing emergency CAN captures and surgery on a working vehicle while taking cover in a garage during storms in California too burning the midnight oil rewriting software, I think somewhere in deepest darkest Michigan, for the EVTV Can Due and writing something called parsing software all for data they had, as far as I know, never seen before, so that we could run the CAN data being collected in California on our Can Due and talk to a drivetrain that I know no one has ever attempted such a hack on before. Oh, did I mention that the software and the can capture and vehicle surgery were all completed within two hours!! To say I was impressed is a bit of an understatement. And just think, this is what these people do in there free time for kicks, think of what they can do when really inspired…or fed little Debbie snack cakes and caffeine!! The possibilities are, as I hope you now appreciate, endless.

Let me rewind here for a minute, for those of you who follow us already know that awhile back, last August, Nate showed up at the shop with a proud and cheesy grin just oozing mischief on his face and a motor controller combination out of a Smart Four Two electric vehicle in hand and said that he wanted to hack its controller so we could get it running and put it into his GreenVan. I said, “Sweet!” Knowing Nates’ more than just a little capable when it comes to electronics and not half bad with computers either…and knowing I’m more than just a little lacking in both those areas and that I truly believe there is no end to these seemingly magical abilities Nate possesses…I then, possibly foolishly but definitely naively, said ”Soooo why didn’t you get the whole drivetrain for us to play with?”

<cue ominus sounding background music> Bumm bummm bummmm

And from there is spread out like the arms of the mythical Illuminati octopus, and with the help and support of EV West’s Michael Bream where it again spread out to where I still don’t know all the connections and wheres whys and hows but I know and am thankful it includes: John Russelli, Richard Jones, Dimas Guevara, Linda Prettyman, Alexander Mandel, and Michaels intern at EV West who is also Richard Jones son who I can’t remember or find his name on my phone who has also been working on CAN captures and braved yesterdays storm to perform wiring harness surgery…who I will now simply refer to as Mr. Illuminati Jones Jr.…hmm, sounds a bit conspiratorial, I like it! And on another arm of the Octopus The Hack Team at EVTV that developed the tools and software we’re using that make the hack possible, Byron Izenbaard, Mark Weisheimer, Collin Kidder, and of course Mr. EVTV himself Jack Rickard.

And yet another arm, possibly the head…I get confused easily, the on site team: Byron Izenbaard, City Car Kyle, Nate Knappenburger, and a cast of thousands…or possibly just me and my imaginary friends…again, confused easy.

So now with our assembled cast, crew and victim (a.k.a Smart for Two drivetrain) we commence the hack. First we built a sort of rolling test bench for the drivetrain to rest on that would hold it’s wheels off the ground, allow access to its various parts and wires, hold our equipment while working on it and allow us to easily attach other needful components. What you might ask is the magical device that allows all this at once… from bottom up: a 4×4 table top with casters attached, the drivetrain strapped to a pallet set on top of the castered table, a pallet set on to of the drivetrain and attached to the lower pallet with wood slats from a third pallet screwed to the bottom pallet acting as legs and some scrap plywood for a top. With this set up we can wheel the drivetrain anywhere we want and attached equipment, wires, switches, etc by simply screwing them down. Oh, and we powered the whole thing off of Sevens high voltage charge port…the DC voltage requirement of the Smart was within Sevens high voltage DC bus operating range…convenient. With this setup complete Nate worked on tracking down wiring and hooking up the Can Due and Byron started setting up software to see if we could talk to the vehicles inverter through our setup. As an added precaution, they first removed the inverter board from another unit we had available and plugged it in as a test board…that we if we wired something incorrectly and burned out the board we wouldn’t be burning out the board buried within our test bench unit. With the test board hooked up and receiving and sending data we decided to hook up the real deal; all went well, no magic smoke was released. However, although we seemed to be sending and receiving data to and from the inverter, nothing was actually working, no wheels spinning, no power out of the DC/DC converter, nothing. Byron and Nate figured out that the CAN data we had was not in the format we needed for our hardware to run on the Can Due, so Nate, line by line, started ‘reformatting’ the data and Byron contacted Collin. Nate finished manually reformatting one of the files, but it still didn’t run the system. While Nate was doing that Collin wrote and update for the Can Due and a Parsing program that would reformat the data for us, of course he did this all in two hours from a remote location, impressive, most impressive. With Collins new version of the software for CanDue and the parsing program we were able to try and run multiple different CAN files, none of them worked, it looked like this build weekend was going to be a bust.

At the same time Kyle found a pic that was just posted by EV West, so we figured, although it was getting late on a Saturday night in Illinois, apparently it wasn’t quite as late in California, so I put in a series of semi paniced, semi wishful thinking calls to everyones number I had at EVWest hoping to get a hold of whoever was left awake and that they’d be able to pull some new can data for us…what CAN data I wasn’t sure, we were still trying to figure that out. So as I called and left many messages on everyones phone on the western seaboard, Nate, Kyle and Byron worked on figuring out what data we needed and which OBD port it would have to come from…so each of my messages got longer as this was worked out…leaving I’m sure more than a few confusing sounding voicemails that went something like….

“Hi, the CAN doesn’t work, but Collin wrote new software; what was that Nate?; so now it does but its still not right, the CAN, we need it off another bus, probably hidden, and what do you know about an interlock? Can you get us some new CAN from the hidden bus by tomorrow? Thanks. Oh, this is Kevin…Smith…from Illuminati Motors. Thanks.”

“Kevin again. It’s the right bus but the pins are different, can you reconfigure an OBD connect to swap pins 9 and 11 and 14 and 16?…I mean 9 to 11 and 14 to16. Thanks, oh wait and can you back probe the red and gray wire on pin 16…I mean pin B2 on the brown connector and the red and lavender wire on pin B2 on the black connector?”

So, then some magic happened, we slept and in the morning Richard calls us, by now our directions have increased in length and complexity in equal proportions, and Richard says in response to all this confusion something like, “Yeah, I can do that, got everything I need to make those parts and probe the wires in the car, just need to hear back from John on when he can get the car here and we’ll get you what you need.” And he did, and they did and POOF the info magically showed up in our in boxes. We made some changes to the test bench, ran the CAN file and we were communicating! With the right data! AND nothing happened.

Hmm, or did something happen? Just because the wheels didn’t spin like we thought they should doesn’t mean nothing happened. So, time to think and probe some wires and see what types of outputs, if any we got. On the output from the DC to DC converter at about 13,000 command lines on the CAN file into the run voltage jumped up from zero to 13.5 volts; interesting. We added a small inverter to the output of the DC to DC and hooked up a corded drop light to it and ran the CAN file again. This time when the DC to DC turned on it also lit up the light and our amp probe showed increased current flow in relation to the power draw through the dc to dc converter. Success! We had gotten something to work, and Byron was able to isolate the single CAN command that did it. One component down…a few more to go. But it was getting late and the team had to start heading home so they could go to work Monday. While cleaning up, we figured that there is probably something in the interlock circuit we missed that’s preventing the motor from spinning; as I type this John Russelli from EV West is looking into that issue, we may have something yet tonight, but we also think that there may be a lot of little wiring issues that may prevent us from getting the motor running, interlocks that you wouldn’t at first think of, so while John is back probing wires for us I’m looking into other avenues to get this data, one way or another we will hack this drivetrain into submission. It will take time, nothing worth doing is quick or free. But the experience and education, the fun we have while doing it, we all have the bug now and none of us will stop.

It’s kind’ve addictive, you should try it, you might be surprised a what you can accomplish.

In summary, we tapped into Sevens high voltage battery pack through it’s charge connecter, hooked this to the high voltage input of the Smart drivetrain through a fused connection that also incorporated a small kilovac and a precharge circuit. The Smart drivetrain was then controlled through and EVTV Can Due hooked to a laptop running CAN files captured in California earlier that day, converted with a parsing program written in Michigan the night before, to activate a DC to DC converter that powered an inverter to light up a light bulb. Admittedly, not the easiest way to turn on a light. 😉

Keep in mind, all of this babble you have just read is my annotated version of the story based on my limited knowledge and experience with things like software, programming, and the English language, and therefore is most likely only 50% accurate…but hey, batting 500 ain’t bad.

And that’s not all we had going on at the shop this weekend, Josh came out and brought not only a project to work on but two kids, his son Wyatt and Wyatt’s friend Conner, who brought along a couple projects of their own.

Josh is currently working on rebuilding a 1976 Dodge short bed truck. It’s a beauty, less than 50,000 original miles on an ex government vehicle, it’s in excellent shape down to the shiny black paint on the frame. Only two things really needed fixing on it; one, the front end had bumped into something braking the grill, bending one fender and the hood a little bit, and Two: it was missing an engine. The engine…well, he found a low mileage big block 440, once built it should fit quit nicely. The bodywork is pretty minor, the fender is replaceable, the hood can be straightened and the grill, he never liked anyway so he’s making a new one which was his project for this weekend.

Wyatt and Conner were working on a blue helmet with cup holders they had added to the sides…kind’ve reminded me of an electric blue bear hat, it was actually a hat they had seen on sponge bob. Honestly it looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it until they told me…and I’m at a loss for its name now, but it looked pretty cool and they were making some improvements, painting, reattaching the cup holders and adding clear tubing, it’ll probably be another weekend before they can finish it, the paint was drying slowly. Their second project, which was more of a show and tell since it was finished already, was a small electronic device they had named the radio hijacker. They had modified an automotive radio broadcasting device for an iPhone or similar device, made a power source for it, making it handheld so now it could be used anywhere and tuned into any radio station overriding the station normally being broadcast on that frequency and broadcast the music they wanted to play on it. Conner admitted the range was a bit limited but that that was a function of the power source, more power more range. I thought it was pretty cool when they held it up near the shop radio and the station that had been play was Hyjacked and their music started coming over the speakers.

So, two new makers in the making. I’m kind’ve anxious to see what they come up with next.

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