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O'Reilly OSCON: "Getting Under Your Hood: Cars and Computers"

I’m presenting Getting Under Your Hood: Cars and Computers at O’Reilly OSCON 2015. It will be a 40-minute recorded talk including a brief time for Q&A.


There’s a war on open standards and software brewing, and it’s happening in a surprising location: under the hood of your car. In this talk, we’ll provide an educational introduction to hooking your computer up to your car and interrogating it with JavaScript, and show you how to access your car’s analytics data streams to make it available for viewing, remixing, and further insights or analysis.

We’ll also discuss the storied history of OBD, a suite of related diagnostic protocols that’s used by virtually every car sold in the US, EU, and China – and how your ability to own and examine your vehicle’s data might be threatened if some people have their way.

By the end of this talk, attendees will have the confidence to tinker boldly with what may well be the most expensive, complicated, and finicky computer they’ll ever own. Go ahead: introduce your car to JavaScript!


In this talk, I’d like to discuss three points:

  • the right to repair, an intellectual-property right which says if you own something, you should be allowed and able to repair it, and why that’s a good thing

  • how the increasing complexity of cars and heavy-handedness of manufacturers is making it harder for ordinary people to repair things they own

  • how OBD-2, a diagnostic protocol originally intended to make it easier for people to diagnose what’s happening with their cars, has effectively become a form of DRM in car software

During the course of the talk, I’ll also demonstrate how you can use a few simple open-source CLI tools to read OBD-2 diagnostic data from your car that can save you an expensive trip to the mechanic.

Ultimately, the goal for the talk is to encourage the audience to hook their computers up to their cars at least once and play around with things a little. It’s fun, educational, and it’s something that should be easy and legal for everyone to do.