This post is to help explain a new project which could be extremely useful for the community. If you’ve ever been stuck in a traffic jam, or broken down, or wanted to know the health of your car, and wanted to do something about it, then this open source project will resonate with you.


As you probably know, most vehicles nowadays have an On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) connector which is wired up to the car’s internal computer. It is used in many garages where the mechanic can probe the car through the OBD connector and read out parameters onto a display.


In an Internet of Things (IoT) world where the car can be easily connected to the Internet (perhaps via Bluetooth to a smartphone), it could automatically search an online knowledge base and not only report a fault code but also let you know the most likely cause either based on the car’s personal history or on the environment (an expert system could conclude “it is minus 15 degrees Celsius outside, and there is a water leak, and it is likely to be a cracked hose due to the cold temperature – and there was a manufacturer recall notice concerning this hose”). All this could occur before you visit a mechanic. It could proactively detect issues from engine coolant temperature or oxygen sensor readings. It could work with nearly all cars in use today.


As another example, if people were prepared to send anonymous data concerning their vehicle speed, then traffic reports could become more accurate not only for immediate use but also for longer term road planning decisions. Fairer vehicle taxation based on vehicle usage could be another possibility.


All these things involving vehicles, sensors and communications (telematics) would have been expensive and impractical to implement in the past on a mass market scale.


Today, the explosion of low-cost 3G/4G mobile connectivity, smartphones and cloud computing provide a unique opportunity for people. Designers can work on sensor technology within the car, and get deep measurements from the OBD connector. Other developers can work on exposing this rich information through smartphone apps as an example. Some companies are working on IoT middleware, running on a cloud based platform, to allow yet others to create end applications that can make use of the data. It will become possible to subscribe to the data (with permission and a fee or benefit for the car owner) and build applications that can make use of the sensor data.

The diagram here shows how vehicle data could be transferred wirelessly to a mobile phone which then connects to a cloud software service.


One major issue today is that people who have ideas for such vehicle applications will have to test their prototypes by physically connecting to the OBD port of various vehicles to get the data and be able to test their software and hardware.


This is a risky thing to do – early prototype hardware could be unsafe and furthermore no-one wants to drive their car while keeping an eye on their untested microcontroller board project that they’ve plugged into the car. In addition one car may behave very differently compared to another car. It slows development tremendously.

One way to work toward a solution is to create a system which can simulate a car. To all intents and purposes, under certain conditions, it should behave exactly like a real vehicle would, only in the comfort of a lab rather than a garage.


It could become possible to apply vehicle and journey simulation data-sets, or even make adjustments on a screen to simulate car speed and faults. One minute testing could be done with a Honda simulation, and in the next minute it could become a Hyundai.


The vehicle simulator could be taken to shows and exhibitions, and used to demonstrate new telematics offerings, without needing a real car nearby. People could adjust the simulated accelerator or change gear on a tablet display, and immediately see the impact.


Possibly, there is a lot of money to be made designing systems that could be sold to local governments to hand out to residents who complain of traffic hotspots. If you want to pitch a solution to a government representative, it is hard to do that when the car that is needed for the demonstration is in the parking garage. A compact vehicle simulator connected to a tablet displaying a graphical dashboard would be the better idea.


As another concept, computer games could become extremely realistic, with a simulation down to such a detailed level. Such a simulation may be useful for rallying drivers, using datasets and models derived from real vehicles. There are many possibilities that have not been thought of.


This project proposes an open source vehicle simulation tool to allow the Element 14 community and beyond to build applications rapidly without requiring actual vehicles for much of the testing. Open source will allow people to enhance the design over time so that it can simulate more and more parameters until it can be highly refined to meet many needs.


Today there are some commercial vehicle simulation systems out there, but they tend to be boxes with a small microcontroller and a few control knobs on them for limited parameters such as speed, and temperature.



It would be better to have a compact, modern Linux-based vehicle simulator with capability to be controlled from a mobile phone or tablet screen for highly visual and detailed simulations, and it would be great to see the community here advance this.


dougw this year’s first Member of the Month and the winner of the Smarter Life Challenge, has created some innovative ideas for such a simulation system. He is planning to take on the effort to turn the concept into reality, and he has backing from Element 14, Texas Instruments and Cisco Systems. It will be exciting to see in the coming days and weeks how he designs it, what gets discovered, and how the project develops. “Stay tuned”.



Project Updates


Vehicle Simulator Virtual Trip Runner (VTR) / Real Time Recorder (RTR)