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I have been remiss in my bloggerations recently. The holidays. End of year. Kind of a low energy state overall. I’m kind of spinning my wheels on where I should be directing my efforts, with a few too many choices to pick from.

This is a bit complicated by the matter of our vendors and suppliers. Apparently now they are 100% unanimous in that it is ok to provide a date, cash the check, and then deliver it whenever they find convenient, which is of course a month or more later. I don’t have a SINGLE vendor commitment out at the moment that is not at least 10 days in arrears and one is lagging by about 4 months. Well actually if you count the PulsaR, I guess 13 months is the largest.

I rather wish we had never gotten into component sales at all. Oh, CALB pretty much makes cells show up on time every time. But beyond that it is kind of 100%. It’s a complicated business, it has nothing to do with publishing, which is still what I really think we do, and when I look about at all the complaints over such things as JOBS and the ECONOMY and so forth I’m kind of amazed at the Ayn Rand style surrealism of it all. It is kind of accepted that the trains don’t run on time. Incompetence is the norm. Lies are the new truth. Alice in Wonderland. If you aren’t able to PERFORM a job, what difference does it make that you can’t find one? Sales being down has no real meaning if you won’t sell it, won’t quote it, and have no intention of delivering it anyway. The broadstroke incompetence of it is astonishing.

Just when you give up hope, you run into an Amazon.com or a Summit Racing or a McMaster Carr – all ROUTINELY proving execution not just to completion, but to precision. So it’s not as if it cannot be done.

It does require some attention to detail. I know of no one more vexed by a crippling obsession to detail than Eric Kriss. They say he has CDO. That’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for people that HAVE to have their dysfunctions in ALPHABETICAL ORDER. Last week he sent me a now 80 page THESIS on the conversion of a Jaguar Mark 2 from the early 1960’s. Before you get excited, there is no such build, and he hasn’t bought a donor car yet. IT’s a document about a car he MIGHT convert and what WOULD be involved if he does. If any of you ever saw it, you would be immediately frightened away from EVER attempting a conversion. Fortunately he has asked me not to make it generally available. But for those likewise afflicted, let me assure you you would find it fascinating. Direct inquiries to Eric@Krissmotors.com

Anne Kloopenborg of EVTV.EU/New Electric was on holiday but had apparently captured some video of EVCCON 2013, including Eric’s presentation. THis kind of relates. It was about basics of preparing to do a conversion and the attendees went berserk for this session – undoubtedly the most popular of the event. Veterans and newbies alike were rapt. So, although it is an hour, I put it in this weeks video. The guy actually took the ORIGINAL Owners Manual from his SAAB Sonnett conversion, digitized it, updated it for the electrical changes including wiring diagrams, and PUBLISHED IT. It’s available as Sonett Electric Owners Manual at Lulu press. I found it astonishing.

Jehu Garcia continues to astound and amaze with his discoveries of new ways to avoid purchasing actual components for an electric SAMBA bus. THis week, after purchasing an entire CAR in a Chevy Volt, he builds a homemade J1772 EVSE unit – a topic we covered two years ago. But he does use a crowdfunded project from EV Motor Werks, an EVSE kit, to do it and is apparently quite pleased with the result.

I guess last week we included a time lapse video of Otmar Ebenhoech removing the engine from his STRETCHLA, a stretch limosine version of a VW Transporter Type 3 Vanagon Westfalia Camper. He’s braced two of these together to form about a forty foot monster that would indeed be roomy. He actually retreats to the desert often to escape the Corvalis winter and so the local runabout is NOT what this project is about. He wanted the use of the Tesla supercharge network. Of course to use it, you have to have a Tesla Model S. So he bought one. A wreck. Claims it was half off. The front half.

I find this a fascinating project and not QUITE as ambitious as you might picture, albeit ambitious enough. His mission is to get the TEsla running and operating 100%. And then TRANSPLANT it, right down to the dash and door mirrors INTO the Vanagon. A STRETCH Tesla or STRETCHLA. In this way, an obviously superb drive train, 85kWh battery pack, dash electronics, but in a VW camper.

For those of you new to EVland, Otmar is one of the grand old men of the EV movement. He set out to replace the venerable Curtis controller and built the Zilla, eventually a 2000Amp controller that became the darling of the drag racing crowd for obvious reasons as it really would do 2000 amps at up to 300 some odd volts. The units were so popular they essentially became unobtainable. When we came on the scene in 2008, it was a six month wait to get one. Today, they are back in production through Manzanita Micro – more commonly known for their PFC chargers. In any event, Otmar has been converting cars for many years, but he is also the only man I know of to ever attempt to make a roadworthy electric couch. It actually ran down the road. And was also known as the Davenport of Doom.

davenportofdoom

But I digress. He’s not going to precisely reverse engineer the Model S. He’s to transplant it more or less intact using the same wiring harnesses etc. Still an enormous learning curve and a bit of a challenge with no repair manuals or even wiring diagrams. When I spoke with him this week, he was noodling the airbag system which of course went off in the wreck and he’s trying to figure out how to reset it. He has the wheels spinning now.

More to my delight, he’s picked up an SLR camera that does video and made a run at shooting and editing an actual video this week which we include in our current episode. I’m kind of hoping to follow this entire build rather closely. I think in a general way, it represents the future for us all. As the number of OEM electric cars on the road increases, so does the number of wrecks. I found a Nissan Leaf traction motor on eBay at about $1200 this week and an inverter for about $3000. The problem of course is that we don’t have the CAN bus message digest to control them. While that is unfortunate, it is not an insurmountable issue. With a working car and a CAN sniffer hooked up to the OBDII, you CAN capture traffic and in the end, more or less piece together the commands necessary to operate any equiopment you wnat to on the car. Sometimes the data format can be a bit of cryptology, but for those who like puzzles and codes, it’s kind of a matter of having enough samples and spending enough time on it.

Enter GEVCU. I was supposed to have 27 completed boards TODAY by schedule. Haven’t been to the shop yet this morning but anyone want a SIDE BET on whether they actually arrive today? In any event hopefully soon. Of course, the ASSCLOWNS on the software side have been left without adult supervision for some weeks, and have of course wandered off into a bit of a mess. The wireless module we included in the hardware is there to serve a website you can access from any laptop to configure the device from any browser. That was my design criteria in the beginning – no external programs or special connections or anything like that.

The wireless device we chose does not simply serve web sites. It has its own onboard microprocessor and really a kind of IP operating system. While it does a great deal, it has two main features that led to its selection. It will host a FORM on the web sight that you can modify. But the big deal is that the dedicated processor processes the form. Our Arduino Due doesn’t ever have to. And we can retrieve the variables from the form by simply running a GETNEXT command until it no longer produces return. In this way, we don’t load down the Arduino with this at all. We can check for input during unused time, and quickly get JUST the changed variable data – we never have to even look at the HTML form or scan it or do any of that.

It can also run as its own Access Point, although we have to upload some slightly different firmware. That allows you to access this web form not just from a laptop, but an Apple iPhone or iPad or Android device. Again, using the browser.

When we got to the part about the throttle, I was having some difficulty conveying to the coders the intricacies of throttle maps. So I drew them a picture in Photoshop. This proved productive. And in fact they devised a version of this to actually APPEAR on the web site configuration screen. It kind of takes some Javascript to do this, which is a bit of a problem potentially. But in any event, as you change the sliders to set the regen min and regen max and forward min and forward max points on the throttle, it actually revises the diagram interactively. This is delightful in that it makes it a bit easier to visual this very central issue of a vehicle control unit – the throttle control is just the central function of the box.

I showed in last weeks video that they had taken this a fascinating step further – with a series of dials and gages representing operation. This is visually pleasing, but programmatically flawed for a number of reasons. Remember I said that our Due didn’t have to pay very close attention to our web site. And indeed our web site isn’t even used except for the relativey rare instance where you actually are configuring the box and changing the variables. For nearly 100% of all other time, a tiny check is run on the device to see if there has been a change. It might even be an interrupt that simply doesn[‘t happen with no change. I can’t recall.

With operating dials, we would have to update multiple data points more or less continously THROUGH the web site representing quite a bit of a load.

I see kind of another way of doing that. I recently ordered the development kit from GoPoint Technology. They have an OBDII dongle that works with both Android and Apple IOS. IT also has a little signal simulator and a sample xcode framework for Apple programs. But in reality, the programs are kind of done for us. On the Android side you have TORQUE and on the Apple IOS I think it’s called Dashboard Commander. And there are already an entire array of others me-too applications. Basically, they all provide a visual, (even beautiful in some cases) representation of vehicle data.

The way this OBDII thing has evolved has been somewhat tortuous. But it has converged on a really a standard CANbus architecture. But it has the concept of PIDS – Parameter Identifiers. There are well over 100 standardized PIDS that almost all cars recognize that will return things like engine rpm, speed, throttle position, fuel level, etc. A PID is simply a two digit hex code buried in a CAN message. The scan tool or Torque application or whatever simply makes a CAN bus message with this code in it and puts it on the CANbus. The ECU/VCU is then supposed to respond with a standard CAN message with the data, in a standard format, representing that value.

Note that many OEMS have extended this architecture by sometimes HUNDREDS of PIDS to enable diagnostic software. They typically don’t publish these elements but there is a cottage industry out there decoding them. The point is that OBDII is endlessly extensible. And so the Torque App and Dashboard Commander have made provisions for adding CUSTOM PIDS. You simply give it a number and a data format and associate it with a graphic to be displayed. The program sends the PID, receives the data, and displays it using that kind of dial or meter or graph.

And so of course the proper architecture here is to display operational data from the GEVCU on the OBDII. For a lot of reasons. But mostly, that we HAVE a second CANbus, can filter messages, and can operate on interrupt to service this ONLY when we receive a PID. Dramatically reduces overhead on our GEVCU, AND improves operation of the display interface far beyond anything we can do on a web page.

MORE. There is nothing to prevent us from putting standard PIDS on an EXISTING OBDII interface. It’s the same process only more by broadcast to the EXISTING INSTRUMENTATION IN THE CAR. And so we should, on a more modern car, be able to drive the fuel gage, the temperature gage, the speedometer, the tachometer etc at the same time and on the same bus and basically override or replace the ECU data.

And so this is the way I would see operational data displayed generally. Use the vehicle’s existing displays and then augment with an iPad or an obsolete iPhone I had upgraded. The configuration web page is for maintenance to update the operating characteristics of the device. While its parked. The rest of the time, it should require very nearly zero machine cycles and stay out of the way.

We actually have TWO ways of configuring the device. USB connection to the serial port on the GEVCU and this wireless web site. The important part about that, other than it requires almost nothing in machine resource while driving, is that it NOT require special software on the users end, or special hardware, or special operating system. We want the device to be entirely agnostic to configuration. The wireless will be the easiest and most intuitive. And the serial port always available as a backup. But a dozen years from now, I still see wireless and a browser as being standard issue on whatever we are running. And I still see a USB serial connection and aterminal program actually being available as well, with no updates or action on our part.

This is all part of why it just doesn’t do to have a bunch of kids writing software with no adult supervision. Without an overall concept of the architecture, let’s call this the CDO asshole, a vision of where it’s going, it’s kind of hard to get all the parts to work together without devolving into a mess. I don’t think any of them have a clue as to ALL that GEVCU will be able to do and will become in the future. And while I’ve got a bit better sense of it, I’m a little vague on the ultimate end of it all myself. But I can tell you I’m pretty excited about it.

And lest you think this is all random, one hope I have for it is as a useful tool for Otmar to bring his STRETCHLA, or for that matter his DAVENPORT OF DOOM, under full command. Essentially, a little bitty black box key to a Pandora’s Box of wrecked electric car parts, that can be obtained inexpensively and used to build fantastic custom electric vehicles and restored vintages from the past in ways we can only imagine now. Or boats. Or airplanes. Or…

I have 10 Coda complete UQM drivetrains kind of running late at the moment, but on their way. For example.

Stay with us. 2014 promises to be JUST THE BEGINNING. But a very exciting one I think.

Jack Rickard