The Internet of Anything: The Little Box That Hooks Your Old Car Up to the Internet

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Detroit native Josh Siegel is a car
guy.
He bought his first car, a 1955
Chevy 210, shortly before his 15th
birthday. He liked it because he
could tinker with it. After restoring
this classic car, he moved on to
more ambitious projects, tweaking
the timing, swapping out the cams,
and rejetting the carburetors. “It
might take time or cost money,” he
says, “but I could make the ’55
exactly what I wanted.”
But this wasn’t the case with his
next car, a 2004 Chevy Impala.

Though he wanted to tinker with it
too—tune the engine or play with
the automatic lock setting—he
couldn’t. “Any sort of tweak,” he
says, “required dealership
diagnostics tools.”
It took him six years, but Siegel, an
engineering student at MIT, now
has a solution. It’s called Carduino,
and it’s the first product from
Siegel’s new company CarKnow.
This tiny device plugs into an
automobile diagnostics port, letting
you equip your car with all sorts of
tools you otherwise couldn’t. You
can set your windows to
automatically roll up when the
weather changes, tie your doors to
a smartphone app that lets you lock
your car from across the internet,
or, well, dream up something no
one else has ever thought of. The
idea is that anyone can use the
Carduino to build any app they like.

Traditionally, the car you bought
was the car you bought. You
couldn’t add parking assistance or
blind-spot monitoring after the fact
—unless you took it back to the
dealership for an expensive
upgrade. But the Carduino is part
of a movement that aims to change
that. As it stands, the connected car
movement—driven by the big-name
car makers as well as tech giants
such as Apple and Google—is
limited to newer, high-end vehicles.
But with Carduino, Siegel wants to
extend this kind of thing to a new
audience, giving anyone the power
to plug their car into the internet.

The Cost of a Smartwatch
It’s called Carduino because it’s
meant to evoke the Arduino—a tiny
open source circuit board that lets
you build your own electronic
gadgets. But Carduino is a more
powerful machine—about as
powerful as your smartphone. It’s
set to arrive early next year, and
Siegel says it will cost about as
much as a smartwatch.
There are other tools that plug into
your car’s diagnostic port, such as
Automatic and Carvoyant, but for
the most part, these just pull data
from your car. They can tell your
car’s fuel efficiency—or what a
certain “check engine” light means.
They even offer services that let
developers build apps based on
information pulled from you car, so
that you can do things like
automatically text your spouse
when you leave the office. But
Carduino goes further.
It taps into a car’s controller area
network, or CAN—the system the
car’s various components use to
communicate with each other. That
lets it do more stuff. But it’s also a
difficult thing to pull off.

The CAN Conundrum

Part of the problem is that not all
cars used CAN. Siegel says its
available on most cars built since
2004, but it has only been required
since 2008.

Security is another concern,
considering that Carduino connects
your car to the net. But Siegel says
Car Know has taken several
precautions to ensure that the
Carduino is safe. The company
designed the Carduino to run only a
certain set of white listed
commands. It always checks these
commands against a list of black
listed commands. And since the
platform will be open source,
outside developers will be free to
examine—and patch—the tool’s
security.

But the biggest problem may be
that CAN isn’t really a standard.
Each manufacturer sends messages
in its own way, and these messages
can even vary from car to car. In
order to make Carduino work
properly, Siegel and company will
have to reverse engineer all the
relevant messages for every single
car that the tool is supposed to
work with.
Automatic’s tool can handle CAN
messages in Ford vehicles—in a
limited way—but the company had
to partner with Ford in order to
make this happen. “It’s a very
delicate system,” he says. “A lot of
cars don’t like when you add traffic
to the CAN bus.”

Car Crowdsourcing

Siegel’s plan is to crowd-source
much of this reverse engineering,
asking outside developers to
document a world of CAN messages
and post all of their findings on a
publicly accessible wiki. Given the
number of car geeks out there, this
may be doable—but then again,
maybe not. “There’s a part of me
that wishes them the best of luck,”
says Automatic founder Ljuba
Miljkovic. “But I think it’s going to
be a huge challenge.”
That said, Siegel has already made
huge strides during the six years he
developed Carduino as a research
project at MIT. The device will
include several apps that will work
on most supported cars right out of
the box, and developers will be able
to work with the CAN commands
he’s already identified to get
started building new apps right
away.
“Frankly,” he says. “I can’t wait to
see what people do with their
cars.”
CarKnow founder Josh Siegel.
CarKnow

THIS TINY DEVICE PLUGS INTO AN
AUTOMOBILE DIAGNOSTICS PORT,
LETTING YOU EQUIP YOUR CAR WITH
ALL SORTS OF TOOLS YOU
OTHERWISE COULDN’T.

Traditionally, the car you bought
was the car you bought. You
couldn’t add parking assistance or
blind-spot monitoring after the fact
—unless you took it back to the
dealership for an expensive
upgrade. But the Carduino is part
of a movement that aims to change
that. As it stands, the connected car
movement—driven by the big-name
car makers as well as tech giants
such as Apple and Google—is
limited to newer, high-end vehicles.
But with Carduino, Siegel wants to
extend this kind of thing to a new
audience, giving anyone the power
to plug their car into the internet.

The Cost of a Smartwatch

It’s called Carduino because it’s
meant to evoke the Arduino—a tiny
open source circuit board that lets
you build your own electronic
gadgets. But Carduino is a more
powerful machine—about as
powerful as your smartphone. It’s
set to arrive early next year, and
Siegel says it will cost about as
much as a smartwatch.
There are other tools that plug into
your car’s diagnostic port, such as
Automatic and Carvoyant, but for
the most part, these just pull data
from your car. They can tell your
car’s fuel efficiency—or what a
certain “check engine” light means.
They even offer services that let
developers build apps based on
information pulled from you car, so
that you can do things like
automatically text your spouse
when you leave the office. But
Carduino goes further.
It taps into a car’s controller area
network, or CAN—the system the
car’s various components use to
communicate with each other. That
lets it do more stuff. But it’s also a
difficult thing to pull off.

The CAN Conundrum

Part of the problem is that not all
cars used CAN. Siegel says its
available on most cars built since
2004, but it has only been required
since 2008.
Security is another concern,
considering that Carduino connects
your car to the net. But Siegel says
Car Know has taken several
precautions to ensure that the
Carduino is safe. The company
designed the Carduino to run only a
certain set of white listed
commands. It always checks these
commands against a list of black
listed commands. And since the
platform will be open source,
outside developers will be free to
examine—and patch—the tool’s
security.

But the biggest problem may be
that CAN isn’t really a standard.
Each manufacturer sends messages
in its own way, and these messages
can even vary from car to car. In
order to make Carduino work
properly, Siegel and company will
have to reverse engineer all the
relevant messages for every single
car that the tool is supposed to
work with.

Automatic’s tool can handle CAN
messages in Ford vehicles—in a
limited way—but the company had
to partner with Ford in order to
make this happen. “It’s a very
delicate system,” he says. “A lot of
cars don’t like when you add traffic
to the CAN bus.”

Car Crowdsourcing

Siegel’s plan is to crowd-source
much of this reverse engineering,
asking outside developers to
document a world of CAN messages
and post all of their findings on a
publicly accessible wiki. Given the
number of car geeks out there, this
may be doable—but then again,
maybe not. “There’s a part of me
that wishes them the best of luck,”
says Automatic founder Ljuba
Miljkovic. “But I think it’s going to
be a huge challenge.”

That said, Siegel has already made
huge strides during the six years he
developed Carduino as a research
project at MIT. The device will
include several apps that will work
on most supported cars right out of
the box, and developers will be able
to work with the CAN commands
he’s already identified to get
started building new apps right
away.

“Frankly,” he says. “I can’t wait to
see what people do with their
cars.”

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