Category: Technology

Open Source Car Software?

Open Source car software? I’m all for it. Well, with some caveats. I don’t think current car software should be open-sourced, since it’s probably full of security holes. Future car software should be, I think. But only if for the first year it is tested by the executives of the car companies in their own cars. If they survive attempts of black hats to take control of their cars and drive them into trees and off bridges, they can sell cars with the code in them. If they don’t, karma.

Tame Your OBD-II

This is not a product review. It is, however, an appreciation of a company that has produced what seems to be a fine, highly useful product that can save you money, with a support team really dedicated to addressing user problems and expanding the product’s reach.

We purchased an Automatic device a while ago and found that it didn’t support our platform. The device is an OBD-II reader, a tiny tool that plugs into the port on your vehicle that only mechanics are supposed to know about and reads and reports on the error messages that cause your engine light to go on. Your platform is your car.

My mental deconstruction of the underlying technology may be wrong but I think this is what’s afoot: Your vehicle has a kajillion sensors that detect anomalies in everything from fuel-level sensors to seat-belt tension and send a beep to the OBD computer when their particular issue comes up. The OBD communicates with you in an absolutely minimal one-bit interface: it turns on the engine light. You need to see your mechanic.

The mechanic plugs a reader into the OBD port on your car and OBD suddenly gets loquacious — sort of. She spits out one code. P0yaddayadda. Your mechanic looks up P0yaddayadda and tells your that your splunge fladger is twerked. You either say, golly, fix it, or you say, I just had my splunge fladger detwerked, and your mechanic says, let me check again. Your mechanic then clears the P0yaddayadda message and a new error code comes up. Oh well, your mechanic says, what it really is is that your cam dibbler has fallen off. It’s a wonder you made it into the shop. That has to be fixed immediately.

The Automatic device plugs into that secret mechanic port, reads those cryptic codes, and sends an interpretation to your phone. Back seat right side seat belt is reporting cookie crumbs in its slot? Maybe we can risk it and continue on to Safeway.

At $99 for the device, one saved trip to the mechanic and it’s paid for itself.

The Automatic device does a lot more. It creates reports on your trips, reporting your gas mileage, fuel cost, stops along the way, excessive accelerations, and other data, advises you on how to improve your fuel efficiency, keep track of which trips are business-related and expensable, and with a little Internet of Things connectivity, will turn on your porch light as you pull in the driveway.

As I say, Automatic didn’t initially support our vehicle. This is not surprising. The vehicle in question is a 2007 Leisure Travel Freedom II Serenity motorhome with a Mercedes engine that burns diesel.

But the Automatic folks worked with me and now we’re happy Automatic users. So why is this not a review?

The engine light hasn’t come on yet. When it does, I’ll give you an update.