Friday, July 30, 2010

Introducing the LCDash GT: Hacking Your Engine with Open Source Hardware

Just in time for the Maker Faire Detroit, Justin, Jake and I have been working on the brand new LCDash Operating System, and hardware upgrade. This is the brand new LCDash GT. The GT edition has more memory, a faster processor, lighter-weight bootloader, a much more streamlined circuit design than the original LCDash. This means it's much more DIY-friendly, and hackable.

It's also the first time that a 100% Open Source engine controller and engine readout system has been available for people that are familiar with the OpenPort Cable, MegaSquirt EFI, or OBD2/OBDII Elm Protocol:

Each of those protocols allow you to read the output of the engine parameters, and even set them on the fly if you're using MegaSquirt. This means being able to change the fuel-oxygen-throttle mixture and fuel ratio, for either higher performance (more gas), or better gas mileage (less gas) at a given RPM of the engine.

A quick word of warning: OBDII hacking and EFI programming is a jedi art, for black-belt car guys, but there's actually a really lively, active community of hackers who have spent a bunch of time hacking their own engines using the MegaSquirt. And Justin and Chris are two such guys :-) It's amazing how much power you can pull off the line in a Mitsubishi that's been rigged up to a MegaSquirt...

Anyway, without further ado, here's an updated video that Justin made:

Here are two videos of the base LCDash in action, from timbo and MegaScott:

And here's a video that Mike made of the original (running a slower version of the OS, and green PCB representing the older schematic) connected to the MegaSquirt:

If you haven't heard of the MegaSquirt hardware project yet, it's a pretty popular platform for hacking the OBDII interface to the engine. OBDII is a protocol used by many manufacturers as an interface between the EFI and the main computer which distributes and runs the spark plugs, timing, and engine electronics based on a variety of sensor inputs (like O2, RPM, gas pedal depression, and sometimes even car angle, altitude, knock sensor, crank position, turbo boost, current speed, etc.). It's a pretty ambitious project, and can be a challenge to hack at times, having to constantly go back and forth between a PC, and the MegaSquirt, and reprogramming the Arduino. The LCDash GT presents a touch-screen interface that makes it really easy to see what the MegaSquirt is doing, and adjust ratios on the fly (e.g. at an autotuner, or dyno station).

For instance, here's a video by Danny showing the MegaSquirt hooked up to a laptop, the same way it would be hooked up to the LCDash:

The MegaSquirt basically let's you do crazy things (that are of obvious questionable benefit, but definitely cool) to a car's engine, like make it have sputtering launch control:

Here's a link to the MSruns forum of people that have hacked their cars using the MegaSquirt, for instance...
Justin just loaded the LCDash up on the shop, and it's available as a kit, or as a fully assembled version at the Liquidware Shop.

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