In my last post, I asked what interesting ways our customers were using Lenovo PCs. How about using your ThinkPad to help tune your car? I caught up with Jim, fellow gear head and ThinkPadder, to see how he is using a ThinkPad X60s to capture a plethora of engine and vehicle sensor data under a variety of conditions. Once captured, or logged, the data can be played back, graphed and the values cross compared and analyzed. With the help of an experienced programmer, the engine's operating parameters can be tweaked to take full advantage of mechanical modifications, and the ThinkPad is employed again to "flash" that updated code into the ECU's memory. (Engine Control Unit) Jim summarizes the how and why in the video below, but to really appreciate what he's doing, it's helpful to understand a bit about the mechanical work going on alongside the computer wizardry. I suggest you check out a few of the posts on Jim's blog. In this first one, he outlines some of the changes he's already made to his Mitsubishi Evo 9 including chassis stiffening, larger intercooler, variable cams, larger exhaust system, and upgraded turbo charger and radiator on the way. The computer programming will be interactively updated to optimize each of these changes.
I rode with Jim and manned the laptop as he collected real world driving data. I was impressed by the kind of data that the software was able to pull in - air temperature, turbo boost pressure, fuel injector pulse width, short and long term fuel trim, engine rpm and vehicle speed, ignition timing and knock count - perhaps close to 50 in all. I understood perhaps half of them. Equally impressive was the considerable power this programming produced. Knock counts (mentioned in the video) are important signs that there may be too much timing advance, too much boost pressure, too high an inlet air temperature, or too lean a fuel mixture. Managed optimally, the engine can run close to an ideal air / fuel mixture to make the most power with the least fuel, while maintaining longevity. Comprehensive data gathering and optimization of the ECU programming allow modern engines, especially turbo-charged / inter-cooled ones to deliver unrivaled power and efficiency. I guess this makes ThinkPad a real power tool.