Despite its role as the center of many creative designs, the Arduino was created to be an educational tool about microcontrollers.
Similarly, the Raspberry Pi targets computer education. Now, there will be a similar piece of hardware for automotive electronics education.
CULMINATE (CUstomized Laboratory using MIcrocontroller for New Automotive Technology Education) is a project now in development at Indiana State University's electronics and computer engineering department. The university aims to create a board with a microcontroller and common automotive sensing and control electronics that will allow component substitutions and other experimental activities to help students explore the principles behind automotive electronics design.
Because the Culminate project is being funded by the National Science Foundation, the final result is likely to be public domain. This would allow schools free access to the design for incorporation into their automotive engineering programs. With more and more microcontrollers supplanting mechanical systems in automotive design, the project holds tremendous educational promise.
But it may also turn out that Culminate becomes the Arduino of the automotive world. Many former backyard mechanics and motor enthusiasts have complained that the replacement of mechanical with electronics systems in automobiles prevents them from making the repairs and enhancements to (or just plain tinkering with) modern automobiles. Culminate might change that.
I can envision the rise of a community centered around using the Culminate design as a springboard for creating tools. These would allow exploration of how engine controllers work and the diagnosing of network signals to track down faults in peripheral systems such as automatic mirrors and locks. Once more, the backyard mechanic would have access to all the key automotive systems.
Gaining access to these networks could also allow creation of specialty add-ons. For instance, someone might create a data logger that automatically calculates gas mileage. How about an accessory that makes your car's lights flash in patterns synced to the music on the sound system when you're parked at the beach for a party?
The plan calls for the development team to take up to two years in board definition and development, with a third year set for "beta testing" among the university's students. So don't look for this board to become available soon. In a few years, though, the automotive electronics world may well have its own equivalent to the Arduino.
What might you do with a car and such a board?