If you can’t open it, you don’t own it - Macchina opens up your car's hardware

Subject: General Tech | February 27, 2017 - 12:56 PM |
Tagged: M2, Arduino Due, macchina, Kickstarter, open source, DIY

There is a Kickstarter out there for all you car enthusiasts and owners, the Arduino Duo based Macchina M2 which allows you to diagnose and change how your car functions.  They originally developed the device during a personal project to modify a Ford Contour into an electric car, which required serious reprogramming of sensors and other hardware in the car.  They realized that their prototype could be enhanced to allow users to connect into the hardware of their own cars to monitor performance, diagnose issues or even modify the performance.  Slashdot has the links and their trademarked reasonable discourse for those interested, if you have the hardware already you can get the M2 interface $45, $79 or more for the hardware and accessories.

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"Challenging "the closed, unpublished nature of modern-day car computers," their M2 device ships with protocols and libraries "to work with any car that isn't older than Google." With catchy slogans like "root your ride" and "the future is open," they're hoping to build a car-hacking developer community, and they're already touting the involvement of Craig Smith, the author of the Car Hacker's Handbook from No Starch Press."

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February 27, 2017 | 02:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The legal issues will stop this! And I do not mean any right to repair legal issues. It's any tweaking that may affect any safety features like brakes, stability, or pollution controls! The real legal problem is getting any DOT(State and Federal) certifications to make sure this does not cause any accidents. Any vehicle diagnostic functionality is fine but any other operational features that this product may modify above and beyond simple diagnostic functionality will run into a brick wall of EPA and NHTSA/DOT environmental/safety regulations.

The software will also have to be certified and vetted for any usage even more so than any fly by wire FAA software types/levels of certification. The car population’s size and its billions of operational hours of total usage above what any air fleets and even space rocket systems accrue on a yearly basis will mean that any software used to manage an automobile will have to be even more fault tolerant than that of even the aerospace industry's software standards.

Getting any liability Insurance underwriting/indemnity plans for the sale of this product is going to be damn near impossible for any usage but diagnostic usage with no ability to modify most of the functionality on a modern computer controlled/managed motor vehicle!

February 27, 2017 | 03:08 PM - Posted by Arc (not verified)

Its absolutely wrong for some faceless entity a thousand miles away in a distant land to be able to tell anyone what they can and can't do with their own product and property.

Requiring certifications for modified vehicles can be made reasonable, but telling people what to do with their own property is absurd and makes them no more than surfs.

Screw the whole system, make the PCB design and software public domain and people can print their own boards.

February 27, 2017 | 05:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Exactly this.

February 27, 2017 | 05:38 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

I would point out that not being able to modify your car is a relatively new thing.  Growing up in a small town there were lots of kids who modified their cars like we modify computers.  Boring out the cylinders, increasing the travel of your piston, swapping the gas tank out for one that will hold a quarter mile worth of gas, nitrous, blowers ... you name it they did it.  Most of us seem to have survived somehow.

Computer sensors and firmware that will prevent your car from running if it detects that sort of modification just was not a thing.

February 27, 2017 | 05:55 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Cars today are very different, and some modifications are legal if they are included in the manuals and there are properly tested/certified aftermarket parts legally available. It all depends on the laws that were in effect at the time of the car was made. Even way back in the day some modifications where not street legal.

But look at a car's anti-lock break systems and total traction/suspencion conrtrol systems(That can modify the car's center of gravity) for going around curves etc. and the pollution control systems and such. You need a Triple-E engineering degree and one in computer science to mess with a modern car's various systems for safty, control, and computing systems interaction. And you need a whole team of brain power and resources to do even simple things as the interaction of the many systems is very complex.

February 27, 2017 | 11:40 PM - Posted by Arc (not verified)


February 27, 2017 | 11:40 PM - Posted by Arc (not verified)


February 28, 2017 | 08:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

LOL @ laws

Even now, people can pull fuses or create simple bypasses to defeat many CANBUS safeguards and operations. Likewise, using OBD scanners and editors to modify the system from within is very simple. As more carmakers and government agencies (FHWA) push for skynet-like control of cars, that's where things are going to get difficult.

February 27, 2017 | 05:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Your rights end where others rights begin. You can not tinker with the pollution control features just to please yourself! Ditto for the other safety features that are necessary for any multi-thousand pound vehicle that operates on the public streets, roads, and highways at high speeds and with plenty of kinetic energy to make for disaster should something go wrong.

You are welcome to do that stuff off of the public roads on some approved test/race tracks and such but then that use is not street legal. Legally you can do many things but you can not endanger others while doing so. It's very unlikely that any single user developed software could ever be developed by any individual because the software systems on most cars/motorcycles/buses/trucks run in the millions of lines of code(Software, OS, firmware) that takes millions of hours to develop and certify!

It takes a multi-trillion dollar hardware/software industry just to be able to make the various components that are required to make a single PC operate with its various controllers that are PCs(Embedded PC and OS/firmware) in their own right let alone the main CPU/GPU/APU processors that do most of the general purpose computing/gaming workloads.

Cars, motorcycles, trucks, buses, ATVs, etc. they all come with dozens of SOCs/CPUs that run embedded software and OSs and no one single person can safely develop software in their individual lifetimes to safely interact without whole teams of tens of thousands of developers and automated testing systems that are needed to keep the faults(Hardware/Software) from leading to unacceptable levels of fatalities!

You do have the rights to be able to diagnose you car and repair that car according to that car’s legal specifications but you do not have the rights to modify any essential code, settings or other safety/pollution control features outside of the envelop of any proven and properly reviewed and tested/certified quality, safety, and pollution control standards.

The legal implications of any illegally modified vehicular safety apparatus/software on any vehicle are severe and can include involuntary manslaughter and above should any loss of life result for any unapproved modifications to any safety apparatus. The legal liability can also include any operation on your own property if any persons(Adult) are not informed and offered the option of signing a liability waver. And for children who can not legally wave their rights including you own children you can be held legally responsible for anything that happens while operating an illegally modified vehicle/other product.

It's a complex world and even horse buggy and carriages have to pass inspections to operate on public roads/streets! Your rights to tinker end where others rights to safty/clean air/other rights begin!

February 27, 2017 | 07:14 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Unless I am missing something glaringly obvious, why would anyone want to play with their emissions control?  To make the car extra stinky or something?

The number one worry of a child driving a car would not be if they had modified it; I think the cops would have several other pressing questions instead.

February 27, 2017 | 10:12 PM - Posted by serpico (not verified)

I don't know about most people, but my friend did some modifications to his car and decided he wanted to run a little rich (more fuel than normal) to help cool the engine. The car would not pass california emissions control since running rich means that in most conditions (not running the engine at very high load at high rpm) the car would not fully burn the fuel.

February 27, 2017 | 11:42 PM - Posted by Arc (not verified)

Sounds like your friend didn't go to the right shop.

February 28, 2017 | 12:09 AM - Posted by Sunako (not verified)

Arc What do you mean by not going to the right shop?
I see your statement in two way either you think a shop can get a Car in california that is not 25 + years old running rich legally.
Or you are suggesting that a person goes to a Shop that will fake the emission test.
If by the ladder Unless the vehicle is older then 1996 it must be connected to the Machine at all times and there is not even a dyno test any longer. OBD2 cars in California get a sitting rpm test.

February 28, 2017 | 12:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Two Reasons
1 - To save money on repairs i.e. no need to fix the catalytic converter if you can hard code the computer to say its working correctly and just remove it.
2 - Removing the emission controls can result in better power/performance and better fuel economy (just like what VW did).

Even a custom tune on turbo engines can force a car to exceed emission standards. In Australia, the cops often select cars to come and get tested. Seems to happen quite frequently to teenagers in ricer cars at 03:00 Saturday or Sunday morning. Easy money for the government and tow truck companies. You get a couple of weeks to fix the car and prove its fixed. The cops are out doing breath and drug tests, why not test the car if its suspect?

February 28, 2017 | 03:52 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

You still have leaded gas in your neck of the woods?

February 28, 2017 | 06:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Thankfully not. But the cops in NSW can and do fully vehicle inspections. Looking at everything from bald tyres, lack of a spare tyre, brake tests and noise (engine and brakes). Basically everything I mechanic would do to pass your car for yearly registration.


February 28, 2017 | 05:21 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Unless I am missing something glaringly obvious, why would anyone want to play with their emissions control?"

The same reason VW and Harley Davidson were caught fiddling emissions tests: balancing emissions, power, and fuel economy is hard. One generally has to give, and VW & HD decided to screw over emissions in order to inflate fuel economy and/or power.

February 28, 2017 | 03:53 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

We are talking end user here not manufacturers.  You could I suppose screw with that hardware but when you get tested for emissions as a consumer, there is no fudging what comes out of your tailpipe.  We don't quite have access to the workarounds manufactures have when testing.

February 28, 2017 | 05:38 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Digging further into this, I can;t find anything that differentiates it from existing Arduino-based OBD-II & CAN interfaces. These don't allow you to 'hack your car' so much as allow you to peel at the existing network traffic your car is generating (e.g. create alternate readouts of your desired data). At best you can feed garbage data back onto the CAN bus to stop the car working, but if you want to do things like spoofing the accelerator pedal, you'll need to start working on the EMC itself (to bypass authentication and signing), and modify/remove the existing accelerator (to prevent the real inputs overriding your spoofed ones), and this little box will not magically let you do that.

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