June 29, 2022

How to Restart a Smart Car Software System

Editorial clarification: The Computer Weekly Developer Network blog exists primarily to cover news and analysis of the enterprise-centric software application development and data management industry – we sometimes look at hardware products from a internal software, hence the reason for today’s article.

Over-engineered

As we know, we’ve spent the last two decades and more putting more and more electronics into our automobiles.

From an in-car software perspective, this should all be good news, i.e. more in-car entertainment, electronic central locking, sat nav units and system health information… these are all good things.

Well, they are, if they work.

But there comes a time when you just want your car locks to work with old key-and-lock mechanisms, rather than the wireless “point and click” key fob systems we’ve all used so much. until now.

The story here is quite simple.

A Smart Car’s locking system goes haywire when started on Boxing Day after traveling from London to Salisbury in the UK – the ignition key cannot be removed from the car without the central locking n ‘enters into a kind of ‘possessed dance’ with itself, constantly clicking on and off.

Your driver (that’s me) has the foresight to a) leave the ignition key in the car first so the locks don’t burn out, then b) disconnect one of the battery terminals so the key can be removed.

A dead car with a disconnected battery is not an attractive option for a thief, it seems, the car has been like that for two weeks untouched.

So what to do?

Green Flag Breakdown’s awesome fleet of engineers (often Polish, luckily those guys are awesome) are still on hand and our mechanic suggested it might be due to ‘rear lock solenoid burnout’ – he was close and in the right park.

The problem was with what’s called Smart’s ‘Zee control unit’ – and it’s basically built-in software (firmware, if you will) that resides on a small motherboard below the board panel close enough to the fuses.

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The Zee unit is accessed through a large port similar to the power socket on the back of an xBox360 – image credit http://www.evilution.co.uk/545

Mercedes leans

But here’s the deadliest part of this story, I took my car to the main London Smart hub which is Mercedes Brentford – and these guys knew what was wrong.

They presented me with an invoice estimate of £960 to fix everything that was wrong with the car including the Zee unit (which was individually estimated at £264 including VAT plus £156 plus VAT for recoding the keys – making a total of £420 GBP).

The heartbreaking thing is that the fix was so simple, but I wasn’t offered the option of just a quick reboot.

To Mercedes Brentford’s credit they should have charged me for the consultation but as my car is only worth £1000 and the estimate was £960 for the repair even they felt bad.

So to the fix

After much research on the web and Facebook chat (thank you all!), it turns out that your best option (if you need to reinstall automotive software) is not just a local garage, but an independent specialist who is not a primary dealer.

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Our savior in that car was the Smart Clinic in Harrow.

A (that’s his name) at the Smart Clinic saw our car almost dead, plugged in a Toshiba ToughBook thing, clamped in an Xbox 360 cable to connect it to our car, proceeded to restart the whole automobile – started the engine, problem solved.

Less than half an hour and £80 including VAT.

So the moral of this story is…

… electric locks are more trouble than they are worth, always trust a Polish mechanic, never go to a main dealer if you can find a dedicated independent specialist and ask your friends on the networks what to do if you have major mechanical problems with any piece of equipment because community knowledge is almighty.

Smart car? Well, sometimes.