This Cup Holder Crystal Ball Tells Your MPG Future


Hybrid vehicles, which combine an eco-friendly electric motor with a gasoline engine for extended range, are becoming more and more common. They’re a transitional technology that delivers most of the advantages of pure electric vehicles, but without the “scary” elements of electric vehicle ownership which are still foreign to consumers such as installing a charger in their home. But one element which hybrids are still lacking is a good method for informing the driver whether they’re running on petroleum or lithium; a way to check at a glance how “green” their driving really is.

[Ben Kolin] and his daughter [Alyssa] have come up with a clever hack that allows retrofitting existing hybrid vehicles with an extremely easy to understand indicator of real-time vehicle efficiency. No confusing graphics or arcade-style bleeps and bloops, just a color-changing orb which lives in the cup holder. An evolved version which takes the form of a smaller “dome light” that sits on the top of the dashboard could be a compelling aftermarket accessory for the hybrid market.

The device, which they are calling the ecOrb, relies on an interesting quirk of hybrid vehicles. The OBD II interface, which is used for diagnostics on modern vehicles, apparently only shows the RPM for the gasoline engine in a hybrid. So if the car is in motion but the OBD port is reporting 0 RPM, the vehicle must be running under electric power.

With a Bluetooth OBD adapter plugged into the car, all [Ben] and [Alyssa] needed was an Arduino Nano clone with a HC-05 module to read the current propulsion mode in real-time. With some fairly simple conditional logic they’re able to control the color of an RGB LED based on what the vehicle is doing: green for driving on electric power, purple for gas power, and red for when the gas engine is at idle (the worst case scenario for a hybrid).

Check out our previous coverage of OBD hacking on the Cadillac ELR hybrid if you’re looking to learn more about what’s possible with this rapidly developing class of vehicle



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