The great electric experiment: Being at one with my car, in a digital sense.

I have been a car nut since I can remember, and a electronics geek for just about as long so the idea of throwing the two together has always fascinated me. I have customized every car I have ever owned. Usually at least with a custom audio system but over the years the idea of having full control over everything in the car electronically has compelled me to great lengths. Fifteen years ago I put together a race car for the ALMS series. The car started as a factory 911RSR race car but the customization bug took over. I removed the entire steel body and replaced it with removable/interchangeable carbon fiber body system. Then there was the computer, we replaced all the factor electronics with a Motec M48 computer and Motec ADL dash logger. Every aspect of the engine could be logged monitored and downloaded. The engine computer connected to the electronic dash and allowed all the parameters to be monitored and adjusted. A three axis gyro and sensors on the wheels, gearing and input from the engine computer tracked the car as it lapped the race track and even created a track map showing the gear, RPM, throttle position, break effort, and g-forces and allowed you to compare lap to lap, driver to driver and even compute what lap time a driver could do if he was able to make a perfect lap. This type of capability was almost as interesting as the driving itself. In fact all that knowledge helped not only tune the car, but tune the driver as well. I could compare my cornering speeds against my co-drivers and see where he did better and try to borrow his technique to help my lap, and visa-versa.


Flash forward a dozen years. I commute instead of compete now in my car. The things I care about are not gear selection and corner entry and exit speeds, but music selection, phone calls, navigation and driving economy. How can I have the type of digital relationship with my car that I had in my racing days? I am trying two parallel experiments. In one I am creating a double-din in dash Windows 8 Media Center touch screen car computer for a not-so-new car. In the other experiment I have purchased a new Ford Focus Electric car equipped with Sync, a Ford/Microsoft developed product.

The FFE is equipped with very sophisticated computer hardware software and electronics to monitor all the cars system, interface with the driver for navigation, infotainment and energy management. Many of its features can be accessed thru a website for the car. I can monitor the charging, remotely start/shutdown/lock/unlock and even have the car prepared for my commute warmed up to my required cabin temperature, the battery conditioned for use, all using the wall power so I won't use the on-board batteries for this as I am heading in to work. There are also tools that help train me for the best driving techniques and even a game that gives me a butterfly for every extra mile I extend the range over the target energy budget.

So in short there are two ways of going digital. Buy it turnkey, or roll your own. I am going to explore both methods over the coming weeks and provide comparisons of what I can do in each of the system, provide a practical building guide for those who want to roll there own, and review the efforts of what it is like living with the turn-key system.

I will be dealing with both efforts in parallel so stay tuned for more blog entries.