By on March 17, 2017

macchina_1_d8c_9332_16x9_133dpi

Tuners and researchers have searched for ways to pull data from cars and modify it ever since the introduction of the first on-board computer in the late 1960s. The advent of fuel injection and computer-controlled engines in the 1990s brought computerized tuning front and center. And while the OBD2 standard — made mandatory in 1996 —standardized the interface and made it easier to read diagnostics and log some parameters, modification and advanced logging was still complicated and expensive.

Professional tools and open source hardware popped up in the past decade to allow deeper access into a car’s electronics, but most ready-made products were still expensive. Open source variants also required knowledge of soldering and programming. Now, Macchina has taken the best of both worlds and packaged it into an inexpensive product that should prove useful for researchers as well as tuners.

The Macchina M2 packs a lot of protocols into a small package, making it the Swiss Army knife of vehicle interfaces. The company’s Kickstarter page has proved very successful — with five days to go, the $25,000 goal has been surpassed four times over. While the page throws a lot of information at you, taking a step back shows that the product is really just an evolution of previous Arduino-based devices.

macchina-diagram2

Devices similar to the M2 have been built by enthusiasts by assembling an Arduino with a CAN-BUS shield and OBD2 interface cable.

One of these setups can be put together for around $65, though it requires assembly and customization by the end user. It’s also somewhat clunky due to the adapters it uses. The M2 takes that concept and packages into a smaller device with a built-in OBD2 port. The other benefit of the M2 is that it has a standardized socket for adding auxiliary devices, making it easy to adapt for a variety of situations. That allows a user to add Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to make it remotely accessible.

Like other devices, the M2 supports a variety of standard protocols (such as J1850 and KWP2000), but what makes it shine is that it offers support for SWCAN and LIN-BUS. The inclusion of LIN-BUS gives it the ability to read and possibly modify Teslas, which I have not seen from any other consumer product. All of this capability will run you $79 during the Kickstarter period or $89 retail after its release.

I plan to follow the project and pick one up myself, as it will be immediately useful just for the built-in MicroSD port. This should allow me to log PIDs from a car without having to string out a cable across my lap and bungee-wrap a laptop to a passenger seat.

[Images: Macchina/Kickstarter]

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39 Comments on “Macchina Brings Car Hacking To The Masses...”


  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    Inquiry of the Article (IOTA):

    Which company made the key featured in the headline image?

  • avatar
    George B

    There are a couple of issues with the Macchina wireless options. Two of the cellular boards use SIM808 and SIM900 GSM/GPRS modules. AT&T has already shut down their GSM/GPRS networks and T-Mobile is aggressively converting to LTE. The boards with built-in antennas put the antennas on a tiny PCB with the antenna near the noisy USB port.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    If there ever were a case for regulation, this is it. This product should ONLY be sold to law enforcement, or perhaps licensed private users.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Huh, why should only law enforcement know why the check engine light is on?

    • 0 avatar
      BigOldChryslers

      Of course, because only licensed auto mechanics should be allowed to repair your car. :P

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      There is potential for shenanigans with a write-capable, cellular data equipped device. Thinking about just things on the dashboard, you could turn off someone’s stability control remotely. Roll down all the windows in a rainstorm or continually turn off intermittent wipers. Or even just illuminate the warning lights so they have to stop.

      Bigger scale, downshift the automatic transmission, engage the ABS, turn off the vehicle, feed the lane keeping system false data, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        So first of all you have to get the device in the vehicle, if it isn’t plugged in then it has no access.

        Many of the things you talk about aren’t controlled by a computer and to get it to accept data from a device to do things like run the ABS self test the vehicle has to be off before it can perform those functions.

        • 0 avatar
          benders

          Easy enough to get access to the OBD port on a car, especially if it’s someone like your estranged wife. Just because you need physical access doesn’t mean that will prevent unauthorized installations.

          And yes, those things can be controlled by software now. If you check the Kickstarter, they demonstrate starting a vehicle with it. Stands to reason that it could also turn it off.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      When comm link readers are outlawed, only outlaws will read comm links!

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      You should get a license to own and operate an OBD scanner? I’m not following the logic here… perhaps you can enlighten us. Aftermarket OBD scanners have been around as long as there have been OBD ports to plug them into.

    • 0 avatar

      What is it about freedom that frightens you so? Why on earth shouldn’t I have the right to access the information system in my own property?

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        You should have the right, including the ability to read and clear any data in the EDR.

        • 0 avatar
          jpolicke

          In theory you do. You also have the right to burn personal papers. The catch is what the data contains or what is written on the pages. This “right” will count for nothing when they charge you with destruction or spoliation of evidence.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      If a cyber criminal wants to do all of those things, they already can (though me thinks someone is binging on CSI Cyber if you think it is that simple). All this does is make the tech available to the automotive hobbyist who likely isn’t equipped to solder on PCBs and the like. There is no new tech here.

      Also if this is so dangerous then why no onus on the automakers to exercise “due care and diligence” in deployment of these systems. which is the standard businesses are held to. Why do you immediately default to placing restrictions on the individual? Restrictions any criminal can easily avoid using easily obtained currently available tech.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    I’m not seeing any value add in this unit other than the Lin-bus. My phone logs data just fine when it connects to my OBD Link MX over bluetooth as does my tablet.

    • 0 avatar

      The biggest benefit is the ability to add external modules along with the customization. OBD Link MX and a phone will be fine for 95% of people that just want to read/clear a code and log a few PIDs. For me, the interest is there because I can customize a logger that will output directly to an SD card and can sniff the CAN-BUS for custom values that may not be available through a PID.

      One such use that I am exploring right now is an OEM oil pressure switch on a Mazda MX-5 which has no output over the OBD2 port but does run over the CAN-BUS to send signal to the OEM cluster. Going to try and identify the signal and create it as a custom output for the digital dash in the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        What year MX-5? In the right year’s FORScan and the OBD Link of your preferred flavor will do that just fine. You can also change lots of factory settings depending on the particular application.

        Any ELM device can snoop the bus, it is all about the software that decodes the signals, and decides which ones it will give you access to, so again no value add in that respect.

        Also I’m pretty sure that the MX-5 does not have an oil pressure sender it has a switch and it is the cluster that decides whether to display the 0, low or high rating.

        • 0 avatar

          It is a 2006 and you are correct about the sensor. It is more of a switch but for now we would be satisfied with outputting to an alarm light just so we can know that the pressure is low.

          The long term plan is to install a tee with a proper VDO pressure sensor and build a custom sensor in the MXL software.

          You are correct about ELM-based devices and clones. They can do lots of stuff but they are not really customizable and there isn’t any good software that I’ve found for things that I want to do over CAN. Most of them communicate with ASCII over Bluetooth which can be very slow and does not work with IOS at all.

          I have 4 or 5 of the ELM clones and love them for a quick code check but that is all they will ever do. I have a Tactrix adapter with on-board MicroSD slot and it is the best thing that has happened to logging since I can set it and forget it and just open the logs later.

          FORScan is cool and I’ve used it a few times. I also have a copy of IDS with a VCM2 so that is helpful for lots of the OEM functions.

          There are tools out there that are fine for 99% of people but I like having the capability to combine some of them into one and be able to customize them.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            I’m still not seeing any value add to this over any other ELM device, they just spew 1’s and 0’s and it is the device you have them connected to that gives you the ability to read a particular item or not.

            I can connect to the OBD Link MX or my Son’s LX with their supplied software and be limited to the SAE PIDs and Mode $06 and Mode $09 or use the FORScan program to connect to it and read every bit of data from every module in the car as well as change all sorts of settings.

            On my F250 I switched tires sizes while on my E150 I turned off DRL and reset the tire pressure sensors based on the pressures I actually run on a day to day basis. I’ve read tire pressure sensor ID’s to find that my wife’s car has two sensors with the same ID which is why it was labeled a “pest vehicle” and retired early. I’ve read the keyless entry codes on my and my Son’s car.

            So no the problem isn’t the adapater it is the software and I don’t see any value add in being able to switch it between wifi, blue tooth and ethernet. Select the one you need and be done with it. Yea if you have IOS you are screwed and limited to wifi but this unit doesn’t change that again it is what you have it connected to not the device.

  • avatar
    runs_on_h8raide

    Macchina has nothing on what the CIA/NSA can do. But, it is reassuring that nothing bad can happen right? I mean…If you have nothing to hide… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK0SrxBC1xs

  • avatar

    Wonder if it will work on VIDA DICE (volvo) the knockoffs for those have a very questionable rep. My knock off ELM for OBD2 stuff works great thou, but it would be nice to run some of the diagnostics on body systems.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    You make it sound tempting. I’d be interested in seeing what changes I could make to the programming of my ’97 Ranger to get a few more horses out of it. (Expect I need to open up the exhaust a bit… runs out of wind pretty quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      SPPPP

      Hmm, I didn’t spend a lot of time reading the Kickstarter page, but from what I can see, this is basically a convenient interface to the OBD port. But I think that stops far short of being a total tuning solution for Fords or any car. From what I see, you will have to locate a tuning program that can modify the 1997 Ford code AND recognizes the Macchina interface. I don’t know if any such thing exists yet.

      Currently, one way to tune a Ranger would be to get a Moates Quarterhorse (the hardware, a PC to car PCM physical interface), Binary Editor (the software, for the human – PC interface), and a definition or strategy file for your specific PCM (basically a decoder ring for the software to use). Support exists for many models, but rare Ford models may lack the appropriate definition/strategy files. (People have to write these on their own time, as Ford wouldn’t supply them.)

      Macchina looks like it would address the hardware component. But I don’t see anything that addresses the software and definition components. You could potentially use Binary Editor with Macchina, but I don’t know if it supports it yet (or if it ever will).

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yea this is not a tuning device a programer is a different item and you need the software on the device you connect it to to make configuration changes.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I will admit I am not all-knowing; to me any plug-in device to the car needs to be an all-in-one solution.

        Based on another comment I just read, this specific interface is probably the worst choice anybody could make because it would enable wireless hacking on cars that don’t have any wireless connectivity in them. And I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with the level of wireless security these seem to offer.

  • avatar
    brn

    Oh good, another Kickstarter campaign! I really want to give them some money to someone that can’t get investors or loans, in hopes they’ll produce a product someday. What’s the success rate of Kickstarter campaigns?

    Maybe I’ll just do this instead: http://www.forscan.org/home.html

    • 0 avatar

      I’m in the process of bring an invention to market. If I had $5 from everyone who asked me about Kickstarter or Shark Tank, I wouldn’t need investors.

      I’ve thought about using IndieGoGo, but 99% of the engineering and design work has been done. The only thing I really need money for is to be able to buy components at quantity prices and I’m thinking of financing this startup the old-fashioned way, with my credit cards.

      The crowdfunding sites are a way to get publicity and attention, but I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the “I have a great idea and some nice digital renderings, give me some money to turn it into a product” aspect.

      If I did start an IndieGoGo page, I’d use it as a venue to sell early production models at a profit, not raise money from investors.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        “If I had $5 from everyone who asked me about Kickstarter or Shark Tank, I wouldn’t need investors.”

        I don’t recall asking, so I’ll keep my $5. It’s also a very strange argument. Why would people who question your tactics give you money?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      If you have a Ford the FORScan is the only way to fly. You can do a lot with your phone but if you want to get serious you’ll need a Windows machine to unleash the power of the the extended license. I use a Windows tablet but if you get a Wifi ELM you could use a laptop. Personally I went with the bluetooth OBDLink MX which reads the Medium speed CAN too which gets you access to certain modules on certain vehicles quickly and easily. You can use and adapter with a switch or add one but I like the automatic functionality of the MX. My son has the LX because none of his current vehicles have MS CAN modules.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    OK so I can do what with this? Read codes? Program the ECU?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @28-Cars-Later: One thing I’m doing is tying the car in with the home automation system. That way I can check on the charge status of the EVs and tire pressures. I’m actually planning a dedicated wall-mounted display with charge status/range. Already caught a slow leak caused by a nail in one of the cars. Rather than coming out to a flat, I got a notification on my phone that one of the tires was losing pressure. You also get mileage data and could have a system that reminds you of maintenance. Further enhancements could give you a system that not only spots pending codes, but sends you email with a link to forum posts related to the cars problem.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Went onto the web site and discovered that you can add a Pi Zero or Pi Zero W. Now we’re talking. I’m not a big fan of Arduinos, so having the option of a Zero-W and Ubuntu Mate with ROS is interesting to me.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Jeez, all I want to do is to change the shift points on my automatic transmission…

  • avatar
    buzzliteyear

    I refuse to purchase this company’s products until they produce a Deux Ex

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina


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