It’s no secret that the worlds of cars and computers are rapidly converging – and that’s creating exciting opportunities for new innovations that can transform how we build, maintain, and operate vehicles in the 21st century. Founded by cousins Earl and Josh Sharpe, Macchina is an emerging startup company focusing on the intersection of automotive firmware, software, and the rapidly growing aftermarket for devices that integrate with these new and smarter vehicles – everything from telematics to predictive maintenance to vehicle recovery.
Macchina’s roots date back to a project that the Sharpes began with a few friends: converting an old Ford Contour into an electric car. They replaced the gasoline motor and fuel tank with an electric motor and batteries. The team soon discovered a major obstacle was communicating with the various computers within the car. For instance, they wanted change the way the gears in the automatic transmission shift, convert the fuel gauge to display battery capacity, and other modifications. The closed, unpublished nature of modern-day car computers hampered their efforts.
Innovative Automotive Electronics to Unlock Auto Control Center
Soon, the Sharpes were sketching out a solution not just for their electric car project but for more general applications. “The sophistication of automotive electronics continues to grow,” said Earl Sharpe, “which is drawing the interest of so many market participants. A fleet manager might use a device on each vehicle to track its movements, speed, location, durations, and other metrics. Or an insurance company might want a similar device to create custom insurance policies based on a driver’s demonstrated diving history. Or a company might offer a safety device that lets parents ensure their teenage drivers are practicing safe-driving habits – or get a text notification with a GPS location if an airbag deploys or the emergency flashers are activated.”
However, with so many different makes and models, device manufacturers have been hampered by the need to create countless versions of their products to interface with different vehicles’ firmware and software architecture. In response, Macchina was born with a mission to radically simplify the design of automotive devices by creating M2, a single, universal, open-source hardware/software interface to all vehicles.
“Our vision is to offer a ‘one-to-many’ interface,” explained Josh Sharpe, chief technical officer. “In the database world, you might call this middleware. The device maker will be able to create one device with one interface to our board – and we handle integration to hundreds of vehicles. Another way to think of Macchina is that it’s like a key to unlock the control center of the car. Once you are in, you can use Macchina to make changes and tweaks to the car. You can do anything from simple projects like stopping that annoying ding to more complex upgrades like unlocking more horsepower or improving fuel economy.
“But Macchina arrives as a blank key - you have to cut it yourself. Learning how to cut that key with reverse engineering, writing code, and plain-old tinkering, is the fun and challenging part. And that’s why we’ve created it as an open-source platform – so that you can tap into a complete community of car hobbyists, enthusiasts, and professionals.”
Embedded Cellular Connectivity to Speed Development
Naturally, like virtually all sophisticated technology today, connectivity plays a crucial role in the success of Macchina’s innovative M2. The Sharpes turned to Digi for a solution that would provide 4G LTE in a small footprint at an affordable price point, ultimately choosing the Digi XBee® Cellular embedded modem for its design.
Digi enables Macchina and its customers to quickly integrate cutting-edge 4G cellular technology into their devices and applications without dealing with the painful, time-consuming, and expensive FCC and carrier end-device certifications. The Digi XBee Cellular modem is fully pre-provisioned and ready to communicate over the cellular network right out of the box, providing the industry’s fastest path to embedded cellular connectivity and the smallest end-device certified embedded cellular modem on the market.
“By integrating Digi XBee into the M2, you can immediately start working with things,” said Earl Sharpe. “The software is excellent. You can prototype and send text to a phone in minutes. You can have 4G cellular access from your car in minutes. This is well beyond Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Now, you can upload and download live data in real time.”
“All of the basics are covered by Digi – so you can let your creativity take over and focus on building more sophisticated solutions. Digi gives us built-in connectivity, right out of the box. It just works.”