It’s been a strange week. Friday is here and we film our video this afternoon. This one includes a major falling on our sword issue over the recently announced project to reverse engineer the Tesla Model S.
We’re a bit giddy here at EVTV these days and it mostly revolves around the Generalized Electric Vehicle Control Unit or GEVCU. There are less than 50 of these in the world as best as I can tell though we have more on order. The detritus of gathering together the little bits of this – the boring part, has proven remarkably onerous. We have a wire harness manufactured for it and it is amazing how infrequently purported professional cable manufacturers are able to actually get the right wire on the right pin one time in a row.
The enclosure should be a no brainer – put the board in a metal box and go. But we’ve managed to make it a big production with end plates that have to be precision machined to accommodate the connectors and antennas, we actually have to CUT the closest box we could get to length, and we make a printed plate showing the pinout to stick on it.
But it is already having a remarkable effect.
The box serves a couple of purposes all revolved around getting YOU access to OEM quality components for your electric vehicle builds. As publisher of a weekly video I’m a little unclear as to how we wound up in the middle of all that, but there is a clear need for a transformation in the components we use for electric vehicles. The venerable series DC fork lift motor has served remarkably well as far as it has come. But frankly the batteries have pretty much disabled it. By that I mean it is now possible to put enough energy storage in a vehicle to drive it at a continuous rate long enough to bring out the underlying problem with the series DC motor – heat. Thirty minutes on the freeway pretty much melts one of these puppies to slag. Not immendiately evident prior because we were not ABLE to go down the freeway for 30 minutes at speed. Now we can do an hour. But the motor can’t. Not with blowers. NOt with anything.
My Cadillac Escalade can theoretically do 100 miles on a charge. It never has. I dare not. It has two forlift motors in it with no internal fans at all. And although we have external blowers, even if we had both, I can tell you that an hour and a half on the freeway and I just wouldn’t have a motor. It’s great bopping around town. But if I took off for St. Louis, my odds of arriving are approximately zero. The batteries would be happy. But the motors would not.
In recent years there have also been some brush issues. And many of these have caused frame leaks on carbon bridges within the motor.
The holy grail among DIY builders has for years been a 100-150kw 3-phase AC system for under $10K. In the past two years, they have emerged and it simply makes the world different. But along the way we found manufacturers of high quality 3 phase systems used by the automotive manufacturer just recoiled in horror at the idea of selling the motors to individual end users. And the excuse given was really pretty good – actually unassailable. In selling 50 motors to a small developer, they have to provide a certain level of product support for them to use it. In selling 1 motor to one individual who will NEVER buy a second motor, almost exactly the same level of product support is theoretically necessary, and as those individuals normally lack formal engineering training and are largely working alone without benefit of supporting team members, the product support/educational load is actually HIGHER for the single unit sale.
And so a two tiered system has kind of evolved where ONE motor and controller is $25,000, and you can have 20 of them for $120,000.
The place where the wheels come off is grandiose plans and promises by startup OEM manufacturers. Azure Dynamics was a high flier and going to sell at least three brazillian eTransit Connects. We bought 60 Siemens motors at the bankruptcy auction. Note that Siemens DELIVERED those motors and more, but most likely was never paid for them in full. And through the miracle of bankruptcy, the motors could be sold to satisfy ALL the debtors, and Siemens got 4 cents on the dollar. Worse, they had 100 more motors on the dock ready to ship to AZD that were never delivered. And they were sufficiently peculiar as to be essentially unsalable to any other would be manufacturer. The new blood is going to have slightly different needs and specifications for their project. And these motors just can’t be used. We wound up buying those too.
CODA presents almost exactly the same story here. And UQM was the victim in this case. They sold 81 cars and filed bankruptcy with impressive haste. UQM was not only not paid for much of the product received, but currently carries an inventory of aging inverters and motors on their books valued at $7.9 million. THey don’t precisely specify just how many motors and controllers that IS, but it’s a problem.
There were around 100 CODAs put together but which had never received batteries. We bought 10 of them and simply had the interesting components removed and shipped to us.
Now back to the GEVCU and the product support issue. The model that has emerged is for the equipment manufacturers to offer a basic set of inverter and motor, or charger, or DC-DC converter, that is controlled via the Bosche Controller Area Network or CAN. This is kind of a very minimal protocol that is designed to be robust in an automotive environment – a pair of wires driven differentially and largely resistant to noise over the short distances used inside a car. Like most networking protocols, most of the intelligence is in the network layer or application layer in the SOFTWARE at each end. So the Vehicle Control Unit VCU is where the intelligence is kept.
With no help from anyone at AZD or Siemens, we (big we – lot’s of people outside of EVTV but largely Collin KIdder and myself) were able to decode the firmware flashing issues and the CAN commands necessary to drive the Siemens motor. And I’m pleased to report that the motor/inverter/GEVCU combination works amazingly well in the probably at this point lone VW THING build that it runs in. I REALLY expected more of a fight. More development effort. It just drives. Quite well in fact. It FEELS good and is LESS complicated than anything we’ve had to deal with before.
And that enables those who have purchased well over half the Siemens motors we had to likewise reproduce this. They won’t get any support from Siemens or AZD. AZD no longer exists and Siemens knows nothing of the GEVCU. So product support is largely a function of the forums and discussions and posted experiences offered by the larger community of users under the open source rubric GEVCU was developed on.
In the case of the UQM Powerphase 100, UQM was understandably a little butt sore on the whole topic of the CODA bankruptcy, but it didn’t matter. This was the OEM vanilla version of the motor and inverter that allowed CODA to rewrite the intelligence in the inverter to match what they wanted to do in their own Vehicle Control Unit. The result doesn’t work like UQM’s normal motors and inverters, and so it’s unclear that they even KNOW how it works to any detailed degree. And of course CODA is long gone at this point.
We were able to reverse engineer most of it, but got stalled on a single byte that was basically designed to prevent us from doing just that. Fortunately Collin Kidder was able to decode it. And I’m very pleased to report that yesterday afternoon, I actually got a GEVCU controlled Siemens/DMOC pair to act as a load in regenerative braking to produce current. And another GEVCU with some code modified specifically for the UQM Powerphase 100 was turning the shaft. I have been able to turn the shaft of the UQM, but as of yesterday evening, I can do so under an adjustable load. And that lets me put it under power. We went to 3000 rpm and 60 Newton Meters yesterday. More to come today.
And so a bit giddy from our success, I announced this week a program to thoroughly document the Tesla Model S. Hoping to bring together an enthusiastic team to embark on this adventure and reverse engineer a car that isn’t actually bankrupt. A vehicle still in production and my pick as the BEST electric car in the world.
The objective, again, is to get YOU access to Tesla drive train and other component parts which will eventually, and really pretty soon now, be readily available as more TEslas are wrecked. Indeed, the Tesla performance is sufficiently “hot” that we’re seeing a LOT of wrecks from a very small body of operating cars. I’m seeing Corvette level car insurance premiums for TEslas if this keeps up.
And to bring a little attention to the process, I launched an Indigogo campaign to raise money for the effort. Actually it was more to raise awareness level and publicity for it.
A couple of things happened along the way. I have been besieged recently by very demanding electronic mail “requests” basically for product support on batteries, motors, and controllers. One guy bought a Siemens Motor CONNECTOR from EVTV, but wanted a full course in how to do batteries, motor, controller, etc. I hate to be too commercial on this, but he was one of nearly a dozen just in teh last week who really feel ENTITLED to our help, on products they bought somewhere else for less money.
I actually have a guy from Moscow, who I kind of like really, crawling up my ASS with hourly requests for updates on our UQM efforts. He did buy a GEVCU from us, to run the CODA hardware he also bought out of the bankruptcy. By purchasing a GEVCU, he is ENTITLED to software that technically doesn’t exist! I haven’t written it yet! I’m working on it now, but its a long way from being ready for prime time. As I said, I got the thing moving under load YESTERDAY.
To top it all off, my POSTER child for teh reuse of Tesla components has to be Otmar Oebenhoech. Otmar had agreed last year to KEYNOTE our EVCCON this year. But his project to marry a wrecked Tesla to a rusty Vanagon fell a bit behind schedule. And so now he has backed out. While I just don’t do such things, I took it in good spirits and tried not to let it bother me. But the one person on the planet a HACK team approach to reverse engineering the TEsla would benefit, turned me down cold on the request to publicly be part of the project. He has “inside” connections at Tesla he is fearful of alienating and as long as he gets his, he really doesn’t care about the DIY guys at all. Indeed, he acknowledge he would be glad to use anything we found but it was to be a one way relationship, he wasn’t sharing any of his hard won knowledge and he was focused on “getting his project” working.
I was suddenly seized with the hard edged negativity of it all and a kind of lonely feeling of being the only savage on the buffalo hunt. I’ve got a few hundred vultures hanging from the trees looking hopeful waiting for the next morsel I turn up for their use, without offering any support at all – in this case even salutory.
When I look around at an unfinished Ghia project, a carbon fiber speedster never begun, a DOKKA project that I actually BOUGHT and paid cash for from Otmar, and a whole series of small but important electronic and software development projects such as the UQM object module, a very exciting BMS project I’m working on with Ed that is going to require a LOT of software, another little JLD505 project I’m working with Paulo on that will require some software, a whole line change we are undergoing on CAN bus controlled chargers, workup of the Scott Controller, a GEVCU object module for the Rinehart Controller (we have less than 20 DMOC645’s left) I went into a full bore panic. I’ve got three years worth of stuff to get done by the end of the year, and I’m announcing that we are going to reverse engineer the TESLA. ANd I’m collecting money (read obligation to perform) from the IndieGoGo campaign. We had already picked up $850 in the first two days with no promotion at all even on our own show – beyond a blog entry here. What was I thinking?
And not for our many viewers and people who DO support us – largely for the meager spirited vultures who are entirely self centered and in it for what they get for themselves.
We will of course be refunding the $850 to our supporters in this. Yes, it was a good idea generally. But I’m not feeling up to it at the moment. The negative “dark” side of coming face to face with the “me, me, me, and only me” generation has left me breathless. I always struggle with reality moments and there is a certain side of humanity I normally try to shield myself from seeing. In my world all people are perfect beings made in the image of God and of generous nature and kindly disposition – and of course honest to a fault. Moments of contradiction of that are very unpleasant for me. I’ve been having a lot of those moments this week.
And it should be a very GOOD week. We have first turn with the UQM under load. The software is working amazingly wall and with inordinately good control over the motor. It is very smooth. The THING is a delight to drive. And my focus SHOULD be on GEVCU. It IS the CAN opener that gives us access to those salvage parts ultimately and currently we have three or four versions all badly out of sync with each other. I am literally surrounded by test benches and projects needing immediate attention and indeed I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all WITHOUT the OPEN SOURCE HACKER’S GUIDE TO THE TESLA MODEL S.
I confess Elon Musks manifesto made me a little giddy. He’s not about to “open source” anything. It’s actually a rather cynical ploy to dominate the electric vehicle manufacturers world – not an entirely bad outcome I’ll readily admit. But it has nothing to do with us. We’ll have to pry every part from his clenched fist one piece at a time.
Like the old bull said, “Naw…. let’s WALK down and get em ALL.”