What’s better than the ability to pull up to class lounging on a pool float?
Enjoy lounging on a pool float, but want to use it outside a swimming pool?
Or perhaps you just want some cool swag utility vehicle (SUV) for fun?
If any of those descriptions above suits you, I’ve got you covered!
The goal of this post is to explain this project and how I plan on accomplishing it!
This pool float car is extremely simple in construction. It consists of a three-wheeled design for cost reduction and simplicity.
A frame will be made of wood (for easier machinability). On top of this frame, the pool float will be attached.
Two fixed-direction wheels support the front of the mobile. These motors will not be powered.
One wheel upon a steering mechanism will be present in the back of the mobile. This wheel will be a hub motor, similar to those commonly seen on commonly-available electric scooters such as the Xiaomi M365. Steering will be implemented by mounting this motor on the rotor of a turntable. This turntable will be turned via a stepper motor.
The stator of the electric steering system will be mounted to the bottom of the rear of the mobile’s frame. This stator will contain a stepper motor with a small spur gear, which mates with a large spur gear manufactured directly upon the rotor of the steering system. A potentiometer will be added to allow the computer to calibrate and center the steering at boot.
The design of the steering system allows the mobile to turn in place with a steering angle of 90 degrees! Do doughnuts without even trying!
Drive Wheel and Steering Electronics
The main SoC used in this design will be the ESP32 (showin in the middle), a dual-core microcontroller with the Xtensa architecture. This microcontroller will be connected to the controller via a wired signal connection (blue solid arrow) and a wireless link (dashed blue arrow).
The SoC can read the battery voltage for safe low-voltage cutoff and high-voltage regen cutoff. The SoC will be communicate power, brake and regen with the ESC. The ESC will drive the hub motor, using hall sensors for commutation feedback.
The SoC will be connected to a stepper driver to move the steering column, and a potentiometer to measure the absolute (although not precise) steering angle.
Depending on the complexity of the control protocol with the
The controller is designed similarly to the drive wheel and steering control system. The peripherals connected to the SoC are the LCD, and the controls used to control the mobile.
The LCD shows information such as speed, charge status, connection status, drive mode, instantaneous torque, and other important information.
The X-axis of the thumb stick will be used for steering. The Y-axis may be used for throttle / brake, although those will likely be another control.
Buttons will be used to navigate the menus, control the mobile (change drive modes, etc.) and act as a power switch for the controller and the drive wheel and steering control system.
Wired Communications Electronics
Wired communications will use the SPI protocol for maximum performance. A mclk of 5 MHz will be used, allowing for 5 Mb/s link performance. To support hot-plug, when a wired link is not established, the steering control system will pull up the MISO pin. The controller will connect the MISO pin to GND (low). When the controller is plugged into the steering control system, the MISO pin will be driven low which should wake up the steering control system. The steering control system shall now set MOSI to LOW, which should be pulled HIGH by the controller. This should wake the controller up to initiate reconnection.
To allow for hot-unplug, if two or more packets are lost (20 ms), the link will be considered broken and a wireless command will be established.
If the controller is unplugged while the mobile is driving at a speed higher than 1 MPH, the mobile will E-stop.
Wireless Communications Electronics
The wireless communications will use the ESP32’s built in support for WiFi. No extra electronics are necessary, except possibly a high-gain 2.4 GHz antenna with an IPEX connector.
Communications will use packets, individual pieces of information that are separate from each other. Wired packets will be slightly different from wireless packets. Wireless packets will be encrypted using AES-CTR 128 bit (explained later). The encrypted payload of the wireless packets will be similar to the wired packets. All packets can be represented by a packed structure.
The diagram above shows what a wired packet looks like. It includes a packet type, a payload length, a payload, and a hash (may be a different hash) to verify integrity.
The payload of above wireless packets is a wired packet encrypted with AES-CTR 128-bit.
The subpacket above (payload in the packet) updates the steering angle (signed, maps between -90 deg to 90 deg) and the throttle (signed, maps between 100% brake and 100% throttle). This subpacket has a type, 1. This packet is sent from the controller to the steering control system.
The subpacket above, with type 2, negotiates an AES 128 bit key for secure, encrypted wireless communications with the AES-CTR 128-bit cipher.
As this project is developed, more subpackets will emerge. They will be explained in future articles.
This wouldn’t be a project by Yash without some curveballs!
The steering column needs to be entirely 3D printed using a small delta 3D printer. This requires much more care as I need to manage the stress on the plastics in all situations. I might even need to 3D print low-speed disk/drum brakes to engage when the drive motor is too slow to brake electromagnetically.
Technically encryption is not necessary for this project because who will are about hacking this?! I’m using encryption because it is forcing me to learn how to properly use AES, choose the correct cipher for the job and implement it securely.
I need to minimize latency over WiFi.
3D Printing the Entire Thing
The rotor is designed to be as small as possible to fit the required parts, but as large enough to fit in my printer by diameter to maximize the volume supporting the wheel mount.
The stator will be either printed in multiple pieces then glued together with super glue, or printed on a school printer (yeah, I hate the lead time) which can print it in one go.
Lower-Level Communications Protocol and Security
To skip the bulk of having a heavy IP stack, I will be transmitting and receiving raw packets via the 802.11 baseband. This will hopefully reduce the connection latency.
Of course, we have the issue that security is no longer implemented for us via WPA2. We gotta secure ourselves!!!
For this project, the wired connection is being considered as a secure channel. Through this secure channel, a pre-shared key (PSK), 128 bits of length is shared to allow for secure communication via AES-CTR 128-bit.
All packets received with the correct MAC header will be “decrypted” using the key, nonce and CTR (counter). The end of each message is a hash. If the message does not match the hash, the message will be discarded.
To prevent replay attacks, the highest-received CTR will be tracked. If a packet is received with a CTR below the highest recorded CTR, it will be discarded. The CTR, while sent unencrypted, cannot be modified, because modifying the nonce or CTR would cause decryption to fail, and the packet to be discarded.
If replay attacks become a huge issue ever, a timestamp can be sent with each packet. The clock would be synced every time the controller is connected via a wired connection.
The communications protocol I am using is lossy. Most AES ciphers work on streams of continuous data. Missing pieces of data must be retransmitted to decrypt later bits of data.
We are sending a ton of extremely short packets. If we use the same AES key over-and-over again with most ciphers, we slowly expose our key more and more. Stream ciphers allow the same AES key to encrypt multiple blocks by mixing in data from the previous block, fudging the relationship between the plaintext and ciphertext for the block being encrypted. Thus, we need the previous block to decrypt the next block.
We can “change” the AES key used for every encryption/decryption by specifying parameters for an “initialization vector,” which can be viewed as a salt for the encryption key.
Instead of using the bare AES key to perform the encryption and decryption, we derive a new working AES key by applying a different initialization vector every time we encrypt. This is how we accomplish this:
Our initialization vector is the same length as the AES PSK. For us, this is 128 bits. We initialize this IV on the sender with a random number. This is called the nonce (number used once). Generally, with AES-CTR, we only fill the bottom 64 bits with the random number, and the upper 64 bits with the counter (or some other split). Instead, this project will implement the nonce using a 128 bit random number for initialization.
To allow the sender and receiver to use the same AES PSK, the controller will increment the nonce for every encrypted block. The steering column will decrement the nonce every time a block is encrypted. Note that each side will track its own nonce, and this won’t get updated when data is received.
I hope you enjoyed this!
This is a fun project I’m working on with a friend of mine, Orkut. Most complexities laid out in this article have the sole purpose of creating a practical environment through which I can learn a bunch of new concepts. Hopefully, I can share what I learn with the world!