Open-source life

What’s so great about guys hacking the Toyota Prius is not just that it shows the potential of fuel economy if only Detroit/Tokyo would get behind it, but also that it shows the power of open-sourcing your product. This guy did the work of a dozen guys in lab coats and it didn’t cost Toyota a thing. If companies would let their customers improve their products, everyone would win. I keep pointing to the mods a blogger proposes on Treonauts. And come to think of it, why does Apple say you void your warranty if you open up one of their boxes; they should reward you for opening up the box and helping them think out of it.

  • Heh… and the first death or injury case will allege negligence on Toyota’s part for allowing yahoos to modify the cars.

  • The problem with the math on the plug-in Prius is that “80 mpg” is really just substituting electricity for oil. It’s not using less energy, and it’s not necessarily cleaner — it’s just pushing some of the pollution upstream to the electrical power plant

  • So Apple should just open their warranty so no matter what some idiot does after opening the box, they’re covered? They don’t prevent you from tinkering, you are just doing it at your own risk.

  • Yes, of course, that’s the concern. But the bigger question is: How would Apple benefit if it did?
    If Apache, WordPress, Firefox did not allow you to bust open the cover and do things, they would not be what they are.
    So how does one bring this to the hard world? A question worth exploring, I’d say.

  • jerry

    Upstream (for now) where the producers can have larger and more effective ways to reduce emissions. Right, the big power plants can generate teh e- but use expensive technologies to filter, clean, abate the waste.

    And later, you can recharge at work with similar economies of scale, and recharge at home off your solar arrays and wind generators.

    Conceivably, upstream can even be a new nuke plant.

    Or you can just tsk, tsk. Too bad, Georgie Porgie didn’t ask or demand Detroit and Texaco to get behind this four years ago.

    Jeff, if you wanted to truly honor and commemorate our sacrifices on 9/11 and truly make America and the world safer, you should be screaming from the rooftops that Georgie get behind conservation and alternative energies.


  • Michael L.

    No one really knows how long the batteries on a Prius will last. Toyoda will cover them for 100,000 miles. The batteries will be expensive to replace after that limit, plus the cost of recycling or disposing of them.

    A better enviroment and cost effective approach, not mention cheeper and reliable, is turbo desiel. Most cars in Europe get Prius mileages with a TDi engine. They are about as clean to.

    The high energy prices will create market forces that will force consumers into smaller cars or into using more efficent engines. I expect that in the future the cute/utes and crossover vehicles will replace the supersize SUV/Minivan. I include the Mazada 5 mini-mini van in that catagory (in Europe its the Ford FOCUS C-MAX)

  • Carson Fire: As far as liability is concerned, don’t people rip open their cars and change out the guts all the time? Is Toyoya liable if Mike the Mechanic puts a new engine into his Camry? If not, why should they be liable if some scientist fiddles with his Prius?

    Scott Ferguson: your comment is dead-on. Their new cars aren’t getting 80 miles per gallon–they are travelling 80 miles while using 1 gallon of gas AND gosh knows how much battery juice. The cars must have WORSE efficiency with all of those heavy batteries! What a friggin’ mess.

    Jeff: I don’t think any company would subsidize people who rip open their music players because it lowers the disincentive to be careless. However, any company that wants a healthy modder community can support it by being open about the products’ specs and providing a high degree of technical support for established modders.

    A real-world example of this is Valve Software’s hit game Half-Life. Some amateur modders released “Counter-Strike,” which went on to become the #1 online game for a very long time. I won’t bore you with the details, but Valve sold many more copies of Half-Life than it would have otherwise because it built support for its modder community into the product from the start (there was an established procedure for creating your own mod, you didn’t have to “hack” the game or break it in some way to get access).

  • Hybrids aren’t there yet. And the plug ins simply move the energy consumption to a fossil fuel power plant. Plus, the batteries that go into the cars are chock full of nasty chemicals, that will one day need to be disposed of. And no one knows how long they will last.

    I’ve heard lately that some of the claims about the current hybrids are wildly out of line with reality. I believe that CR did a study of some of the larger hybrids, the small SUV types, and found that the gas mileage was about the same as a non-hybrid vehicle.

    You wanna save energy and help the environment? Don’t buy a big a car, and please don’t buy an SUV. If you MUST have a big car, try the Toyota Sienna or Honda Odyssey, both get great gas mileage compared with similarly sized SUVs.

  • zgatt

    Boy, that “80mpg” is just about a brazenly misleading as it gets, since it’s not counting the “fill-up” of the batteries. By their standards, I can also say that my truck gets 120mpg. You may ask whether the other 5 cylinders aren’t important, and it is true that I use them .. but let’s not split hairs.

    The idea that a garage tinkerer will be able to outperform the R&D team of Toyota is very questionable. This concept is an echo of the old urban legends of the 100mpg carburetor, or the car that runs on water (suppressed by the auto industry). Sure, people may be able to demonstrate expensive and fragile one-offs that optimize some feature, but making things durable, robust, and high-performance (along whatever axis) at the same time? Fagedaboddit.

    To be specific, the innovation here all goes back the the Toyota gas/electric powertrain, which is quite a significant systems design and engineering achievement. That didn’t come out of my neighbor’s woodshop. Wiring a few extra batteries to it? meh.


  • zgatt

    To answer another comment, the advantages and future of diesels are far from clear.

    In fossil fuel terms, it slightly mitigates but doesn’t solve anything (i.e. dependence on oil or greenhouse gases).

    In strict economic terms, the $1500-$4k markup for the engine makes it quite questionable as to whether it’s worth it for a consumer.
    And even this may all come tumbling down soon, because the free ride diesels have had in the US, w.r.t. emmissions controls, are (finally!) being addressed. Tough to say how this will play out, but there are some obstacles (like sulfur content in diesel) whose trends are not clear. The question, really, is: in 5 years will the cost advantages of diesel be nullified in the US?
    (starting point:

  • Pete Moss

    As the owner of a Prius I feel a bit more qualified to comment. the prius does indeed get spectacular mileage – I average of 48-52 mpg in everyday normal driving in a car that’s not small and spartan at all. It’s quite roomy and performs at least as well as a similarly sized diesel auto . I used to have a diesel and while I agree diesels are more efficient than gas engines hybrids of similar size have the efficiency and pollution edge. A diesel VW jetta which is close in size to the prius gets in the high 30’s in normal everyday driving…It will get in the mid to upper 40’s on higway driving if you are careful but will not match the prius for mileage in normal everyday use. The Prius is also far cleaner than any diesel running on diesel fuel ( I’m not sure about biodiesel but I suspect the NOx from biodiesel is higher than from a gas engined car.)

    Plug hybrds are a great idea but the advantages are only seen in specific situations, namely short trips. Depending on the amount of additional batteries a manufacturer may be able to create a car that can go 20 or so miles on battery power, then have the “normal” hybrid drivetrain take over. For people who drive alot during this may not be useful but if the car is used principally for shor trips this would save substancial amounts of fuel and money. I drive about 25 miles per day to work each way…If I had a plug hybrid that had a 25 mile range I would only fill up the tank once every 1- 2 months instead of my current 10 gallons every two weeks or so
    It’s more far more efficient and cleaner to generate electricity in a large central power station versus using gasoline especially if you factor in the total cost and pollutant production from raw material in the ground to delivered gallon/watt of finished product and that dosent even consider the geopolitical issues involved.

    I think the auto companies are cool on plug hybrids because they will only appeal to a small segment of the poplulation whereas toyota has spent alot of time and publicity to educate the public that a hybrid is just like a regular car

  • Daryl Herbert: Of course we modify, but I was joking about Jeff’s idea to let the consumers help change the actual product, and by that I understand to mean the subsequent product that would then be made to other consumers.

    I’m still being a bit facetious, of course… worst case scenario stuff… but imagine that something blows up in somebody’s face, and then it turns out that one of Toyota’s “citizen mechanics” was once arrested for, say, DWI. “Did Toyota knowingly empower this known criminal,” the lawyer would say, “to tamper with the fuel line of my client’s car?” Toyota already is liable to some degree for their own employees; what JJ is suggesting could potentially make them liable for complete strangers. The man who suggests even a small modification might have to go through a complete background check before the suggestion is implemented.

    It’s still an entertaining idea, though!

  • Pingback: » Blog Archive » If they had Malvo’s fingerprint in Montgomery, Alabama…()