RX8 Project – Part 13, Canbus #3, Labview!

If you just want the CANbus ID for the RX8 PS light and not all the background work just skip to the end!

So it’s been quite a long time since I had chance to have another go at getting the CANbus on the cluster working and while previously I manged to get everything apart from the power steering warning light working I decided I really should find out why not. This is a simple lesson in why getting sufficient sleep is really important!

I was contacted a while ago buy a guy doing a similar conversion to mine who happened to have a second complete RX8 and a variety of diagnostic equipment that can talk CANbus who had send me a block of CANbus log data that I’ve done nothing like enough work on since I’ve had it! Anyway the key here is I knew that the car some of the logs had come from had the factory PCM (ECU) working as intended and as such the power steering light doesn’t illuminate. This meant that somewhere in that log file was the data that turned off the light, I just had to work out where it was!

Now first off I took the approach of taking the two sets of data logs I had, one from a car with a functioning PCM and one from a car that doesn’t. Then list out all the ID’s that occurred in each set of data. I’m going to assume for my purposes that any that occur in both sets are not required. The logic being that the data that turns off the light must be present in one set and not the other. I admit that this might not be the case if there’s something more complex going on like if with the PCM removed the power steering computer doesn’t get the required data and sends a different value on the same ID. But for now it’s a starting point!

The ID’s that remain are as follows:

201, 203, 215, 231, 240, 250, 420, 620, 630, 650

A couple of these we’ve already seen elsewhere, specifically 201, which is the RPM and speed to the dash, and 420 which control the cluster warning lights. So after setting up the arduino and canbus data to strobe all these remaining address and nothing happening I gave up!

Many weeks went by and I it was nagging at me why I couldn’t find the right code. Eventually I decided to try a different tack so I ordered a USBtin which is a really neat little USB to CAN adapter which appears as a virtual COM device in windows and can be controlled using a series of commands known as the LAWCIEL protocol (details of which can be found here). The kit version is really quite cheap and would probably be a good option for the budget conscious but on this occasion I just decided to be lazy and buy the prebuilt one.

Clearly I’ve decided to PC control it at this point! Next up I needed a way to stop it when the warning light went off. I ordered a very cheap optical detector off ebay which can be wired into an Arduino or something similar. These are the ones that vary around £1-2  so difficult to argue with. They offer a potentiometer to adjust the switching brightness so I can tune it to what I need and a digital output so I don’t need to mess about doing analog reads or calibrating things on a microcontroller. Yes i know it’s not the neatest or most efficient way of doing it but for my purposes it’s so cheap and easy it really doesn’t matter! So I need to make that talk to a PC in a way I can use and that’s where this whole thing starts to get more interesting.

I’d pondered ways of interfacing a microcontroller to a PC easily and while it’s not terribly hard to make it shout over serial when an input goes high I came across something much more interesting. There’s a company called National Instruments who make lots of very expensive software and equipment for recording data from experiments but fairly recently they started supporting hobbyists by producing the Labview Makerhub, and more specifically a package called LINX. LINX includes a series of drivers and firmwares to allow things like Arduinos, Beaglebones and even Raspberry Pi’s to be used as IO devices (the Raspberry Pi can actually have programs loaded to them as a full remote node). This is quite a major step because it suddenly allows hobbyists to use really good professional software without having the problem of only being able to use NI’s extremely expensive hardware! This gave me and idea – use labview as the core software then I can use the supplied LINX firmware to set up an arduino as IO. To make this deal even sweeter you can also download Labview for free from NI for home use. Take a look here

So after a quick bit of following the instructions we have a basic labview program that will read the arduino IO via serial:

Labview Lynx1

Basically what this does  is it starts by opening a serial connection via the LINX toolkit, this returns a device name to an on screen string display and passes a reference which identifies the connection to the read stage. The next bit the larger grey rectangle is how Labview handles a while loop so it’ll keep performing the enclosed functions constantly from left to right until the conditional term in the bottom right goes high – in this case it’s a stop button. So basically the loop just calls a LINX channel read of channel 2 where I connected the light sensor to the Arduino. The inner rectangle only executes when the read value is false (i.e. when the light goes off) and while there’s a lot of information recorded here from elsewhere in the program basically if it sees the light go off it records the current ID being tested, the time that has elapsed since the test started. This means we know when it’s right!

Labview is designed to capture data from lab instruments and so there’s a really handy thing called the VISA toolkit that allows blocks of data read and write via the serial port and basically you can just open a port with specified settings then make read and write requests and do things like crop the incoming data at a predefined character. In this case that character needed to be CR (Carriage Return) this is ASCIIcharacter 13 because LAWCIEL terminates everything with one.

Labview Lynx2

For the USBtin we open the correct COM port at 115200,8 Data bits, No parity, 1 stop bit and no flow control. The other thing to note is at the top right, this sets the termination character to the numeric value of CR, the benefit here is you can perform a read of any length and it will automatically break up the data in the buffer so a single read can vary in length but the start will always synchronise  with the read call. Opening the connection in a terminal program for the first time and you’ll see nothing actually happens as such, an OK is signified by a CR so all you see is the cursor move. At this stage we are only connected to the USBtin, not the CANbus. So next, configure the CAN connection, send a value of “S6\r” . The code is S6, this will set the USBtin to 500kbit correct for the dash, the \r is how you indicate a CR in a Labview string. Next I chose to send “v\r” which requests the version from the USBtin, we don’t need this but it gives a solid confirmation it’s talking to us. Next up Z1\r tells the USBtin to timestamp the incoming data, I thought this might be useful but never actually implemented it.

Labview Lynx3

With the setup complete we can start reading data by opening the CAN connection by sending O\r. On a terminal program (assuming you have the CANbus wired up) doing this would result in packets of can data from the cluster appearing. The initial read of length 1 byte reads just the confirmation from the USBtin that it has received the open request. Next is the main read, it’s worth noting the read length is set at 50 bytes but this will be cut short by the termination character set earlier so we can accept varying length CAN data. C\r closes the CAN connection and again another read 1 byte clears the acknowledge. Tacked on the end is a section to read the controller status looking for error states etc. The keen eyed amongst you will notice the majority of this code is conditional, this is because the code needs to insert send requests among the stream of reads. This is because if the data is not read from the USBtin constantly a buffer somewhere fills (I imagine on the USBtin itself but can’t confirm this) and the port crashes. I spent a lot of time finding this out the hard way!

Labview Lynx4This is the write data code, again very similar but it just opens the port, writes whatever string is in the buffer and closes the connection. Once the connection is confirmed closed it resets the Boolean that causes the ‘write’ condition so on the next loop it goes back to reading again to keep the buffer clear. The read loop runs at the maximum possible speed but it is slowed down because it waits for either a termination character or 50 characters to be received before it completes and loops again.

Beyond that the only other bits of code just generate the data for the write buffer using an increment counter for the ID field and toggling between either 8 bytes of FFFF or 0000 every 100ms for 20 cycles and setting the write flag high to send the data..

So after letting this run for a fair while it started spitting out values, specifically the ID 300 for the power steering light. Wait a minute that wasn’t in the list earlier. Yes I know that, that’s where getting enough sleep comes in. Originally I split the data based on whether or not the PCM was fitted and ignored the ones that occurred in both sets, the obvious mistake here is that of course the power steering light isn’t controlled by the PCM, quite logically it’s controlled by the power steering controller!

So there we go, ID 300, the first byte (leading) controls the light, values below 80 turn the light off. Unplugging the PCM causes the controller to send 80 on loop hence the the warning light.

Get data from ID: 4B1
0	0	0	0	0	0	0	0	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 81
43	6F	1	4B	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 300
80	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 231
F	0	FF	FF	0	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 430
95	5F	83	0	0	0	60	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 81
25	6F	1	4B	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 81
16	6F	1	4B	
-----------------------------
Get data from ID: 630
8	0	0	0	0	0	6A	6A

Looking at the log data again we see that ID 300 is getting a value of 80 – this is during the self test before the engine is started. I previously tried sending this data on the original Arduino CAN setup and go no result so what did I do wrong. Again this is based on another assumption, I though the logger was ignoring high order bytes with zero value (ie this value if could be 00-00-00-00-00-00-00-80) well it turns out that was totally wrong, it actually ignores trailing zeros, the value of the can data here should be 80-00-00-00-00-00-00-00.

So while all these hours of work told me one thing I should have already known it’s actually worked out Ok because it highlighted this other problem (read ‘incorrect assumption’ !). This means The odds of me working out all the other data from the logs (that I’d previously written off as not usable) is actually much higher!

 

 

RX8 Engine Swap Project Intro

So the RX8 project involves making what is effectively a worthless vehicle useful again. For anyone not familiar with the Mazda RX8 they are a fairly high spec 4 seater car which is most widely known because it uses a Wankle rotary engine. This type of engine does not use pistons and so is incredibly smooth in operation and in the higher power (231) version of the car revs to 10,000 RPM as standard.

Sadly for all its good points the engine has a number of down sides. In terms of behavior the engine shares a number of similarities to a two stroke piston engine, one aspect is that it is designed to burn oil in normal operation to such an extent it actually has mechanical components to inject oil into the combustion chamber. This means the oil needs to be topped up frequently and it is recommended to check it every time the fuel is filled, though this isn’t as easy it probably should be and very few people do so. As a result many engines fail rapidly due to lack of lubrication once the oil gets low.

The other common failure is with the o-rings which seal the sections of the engine to each other if these fail water gets into the combustion chamber when the cooling system is under pressure (i.e. once the engine is hot). This is one common cause of the warm start/idle problems and where water gets into the oil you get lack of lubrication failure eventually as well.

The engines are expensive to get repaired assuming the fault is detected early enough and no major damage has occurred. If major damage has occurred then sections or even the whole engine may need replacement. Either way the repair is likely to cost more than the car is actually worth and this seems to happen at something around 60-80,000 miles. The combination of all of this is that these cars are abundantly available for very little money with engines in  varying degrees of failure but with relatively few miles on the clock. This leads us nicely to exhibit A:

Cheap RX8
Cheap RX8

This is a 55 plate RX8 I bought from ebay for grand total of £300 taken on the day I bought it in July 2015. While technically still road legal at this stage the car wouldn’t idle when warm so was not drive-able for any real distance without serious difficulty. In order to collect it I had to impose on a friend who has a van and car trailer for moving his racing car.

My plan for the car was to remove the engine and dismantle it to see how far gone the internals were and if possible repair the engine and reinstall it. Failing that the backup plan was to try to swap in an engine from something else simply because buying a working replacement rotary engine would cost approximately £3500!

So having got the car home the next day we started taking things out:

This may look a little unconventional but in the UK the RX8 was Thatcham security rated. Part of this involved preventing the ECU from being removed because otherwise any wannabe car thief could just swap the ECU for one from a scrap yard for which they have the matching immobiliser chip, then either hotwire it or force the ignition lock like older pre-immobiliser cars. RX8’s from other countries do not have the steel retaining plates as they do not have this rating. Since the retaining bars (gold in the picture) were several mm thick and held in place with any number of rivets the only option (well the only one we could come up with at short notice) was to drill the rivets outs. I recommend centre punching (creating a divot in the centre) the rivets before drilling because they are domed and the drill will skid off. Now technically you could probably remove all the plugs on the engine and leave the ECU in place but we wanted to allow as much room as possible to take the engine out.

Unfortunately in the RX8 the engine is mounted very low and well back with a lot of ancillaries on top of it making removal a little more time consuming:

RX8 Engine Bay
There’s an engine in there somewhere!

Incredibly the back end of the engine is nearly level with the visible firewall and the front is indicated by the alternator! Yes is really is a very small engine and this particular one is the lower power RX8 – so the output of this engine is *only* 192 bhp!

RX8 Engine bay end of day 1

And this was basically where we got to by the end of our first day removing parts. In truth this is only about three hours in as we’d had something of a heavy night and bright sunlight wasn’t helping the situation!

More to follow shortly…