Month: September 2011

The OFF button

Geeks like to hack stuff, especially if they’re not meant to be hacked. But hacking computers or mobile phones is piece of cake, so some, more adventurous geeks hack cars. The Toyota Prius is a particularly interesting car to hack, since a lot of its functionality is based on control systems and they have interface ports that you can plug in debug systems and change (or add) behaviour to your car.

For instance, you can enable the SatNav screen to play video CDs or MP3s, since the system supports it, but there aren’t enough buttons on the panel and, well, you shouldn’t be watching videos while you drive, anyway.

Another less common hack, but doable is to change the voice commands. They’re normally hard-coded to respond when you press a button on the steering wheel and say something. For instance, on my Prius, if you say “fire photon torpedoes” it puts the air condition temperature down a bit. If you say “Khaaaaaaaan!” it turns off the radio, and so on.

Some controls are a bit less harmless, like activating the breaks or turning off the car, but normally you can’t access them from the control panel, anyway. That is, unless you by-pass the CAN network and connect the central control with the control panel.

Legend tells that a geek bypassed the system and, just for fun, added a voice command to turn off the car when he’d say “off“. That was his pride and joy, and (geek) friends would go jealous of his control over his car. Until the day the car was too old and he decided to buy a new one, with even more technology. Only he forgot to disable the “off” button.

A few months later, they say, the new owner was having a fight with his girlfriend on M11 at full speed and, well, as many would do in those circumstances, he was swearing a lot. Loudly. His unfortunate last minute of life began when he accidentally pressed the “talk” button and said something along the lines of “f*** off …”.

The car dutifully acknowledged the command and, since the previous owner forgot to add any security checks, turned itself off at once. Havoc and carnage followed, but that’s another story.

Now you know why Toyota voids your warranty when you open the panel…