Tag Archives: connected cars

Stewart wants to be the middleman between you and your autonomous car


This tactile interface is designed for fully autonomous cars and hopes to help mediate the trust issues between man and machine.


Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic idea, with an estimated 10 million expected to hit the roads by 2020. In fact, companies like Mercedes, BMW, Tesla and Nissan are among countless others that have already begun to implement these autonomous features into their automobiles. Although such vehicles offer obvious benefits such as faster travel times, enhanced safety and more convenience, some folks believe it eliminates a sense of freedom, expression and control while behind the wheel. In order to promote a positive relationship between man and his machine, Felix Ros has developed Stewart — a servo-controlled joystick that will help overcome society’s reluctance in embracing fully autonomous vehicles.

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Stewart will provide you with constant updates about the car’s behavior and its intentions. However, if you don’t agree on the car’s next course of action, you can manipulate the tactile interface to change this. The device will learn from you in the same way that you can learn from it, hopefully resulting in a mutually trusting relationship. It should be noted that Stewart is merely a middleman between the autonomous vehicle and its driver, and is no way intended to actually control the car.

Through nuanced force feedback, Stewart will tell you what the car plans to do next, such as which direction it will choose and whether it will accelerate or brake. Yet, if you disagree with the vehicle’s planned course of action, you can intervene with the joystick to get the car to take your preferred route, or to simply drive in a different style. According to Ros, this puts emotion back into driving within the margins of what is considered safe.

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“So why would you want to control a car that drives itself? Learning to trust a (new) technology takes time. A feeling of control can help to build a mutually trustful relationship,” Ros explains. “Humans are very unpredictable creatures that tend to change their minds frequently. For example: while driving you want to make a detour or you may need a coffee break. These changes of plan can easily be communicated to the car trough Stewart.”

Stewart is equipped with six servos, which are controlled by an Arduino Uno (ATmega328). A Processing sketch calculates the transition of all the six degrees of freedom and feeds that information to the Arduino. Intrigued? Check out the Maker’s official page here, as well as his step-by-step breakdown on Instructables.

4 designs tips for AVB in-car infotainment


AVB is clearly the choice of several automotive OEMs, says Gordon Bechtel, CTO, Media Systems, Harman Connected Services.


Audio Video Bridging (AVB) is a well-established standard for in-car infotainment, and there is a significant amount of activity for specifying and developing AVB solutions in automobiles. The primary use case for AVB is interconnecting all devices in a vehicle’s infotainment system. That includes the head unit, rear-seat entertainment systems, telematics unit, amplifier, central audio processor, as well as rear-, side- and front-view cameras.

The fact that these units are all interconnected with a common, standards-based technology that is certified by an independent market group — AVnu — is a brand new step for the automotive OEMs. The AVnu Alliance facilitates a certified networking ecosystem for AVB products built into the Ethernet networking standard.

Figure 1 - AVB is an established technology for in-car infotainmentAccording to Gordon Bechtel, CTO, Media Systems, Harman Connected Services, AVB is clearly the choice of several automotive OEMs. His group at Harman develops core AVB stacks that can be ported into car infotainment products. Bechtel says that AVB is a big area of focus for Harman.

AVB Design Considerations

Harman Connected Services uses Atmel’s SAM V71 microcontrollers as communications co-processors to work on the same circuit board with larger Linux-based application processors. The software firm writes codes for customized reference platforms that automotive OEMs need to go beyond the common reference platforms.

Based on his experience of automotive infotainment systems, Bechtel has outlined the following AVB design dos and don’ts for the automotive products:

1. Sub-microsecond accuracy: Every AVB element on the network is hooked to the same accurate clock. The Ethernet hardware should feature a time stand to ensure packet arrival in the right order. Here, Bechtel mentioned the Atmel | SMART SAM V71 MCU that boasts screen registers to ensure advanced hardware filtering of inbound packets for routing to correct receive-end queues.

2. Low latency: There is a lot of data involved in AVB, both in terms of bit rate and packet rate. AVB allows low latency through reservations for traffic, which in turn, facilitate faster packet transfer for higher priority data. Design engineers should carefully shape the data to avoid packet bottlenecks as well as data overflow.

Figure 2 - Bechtel

Bechtel once more pointed to Atmel’s SAM V71 microcontrollers that provide two priority queues with credit-based shaper (CBS) support that allows the hardware-based traffic shaping compliant with 802.1Qav (FQTSS) specifications for AVB.

3. 1588 Timestamp unit: It’s a protocol for correct and accurate 802.1 AS (gPTP) support as required by AVB for precision clock synchronization. The IEEE 802.1 AS carries out time synchronization and is synonymous with generalized Precision Time Protocol or gPTP.

Timestamp compare unit and a large number of precision timer counters are key for the synchronization needed in AVB for listener presentations times and talker transmissions rates as well as for media clock recovery.

4) Tightly coupled memory (TCM): It’s a configurable high-performance memory access system to allow zero-wait CPU access to data and instruction memory blocks. A careful use of TCM enables much more efficient data transfer, which is especially important for AVB class A streams.

It’s worth noting that MCUs based on ARM Cortex-M7 architecture have added the TCM capability for fast and deterministic code execution. TCM is a key enabler in running audio and video streams in a controlled and timely manner.

AVB and Cortex-M7 MCUs

The Cortex-M7 is a high-performance core with almost double the power efficiency of the older Cortex-M4. It features a six-stage superscalar pipeline with branch prediction — while the M4 has a three-stage pipeline.  Bechtel of Harman acknowledged that M7 features equate to more highly optimized code execution, which is important for Class A audio implementations with lower power consumption.

Again, Bechtel referred to the SAM V71 MCUs — which are based on the Cortex-M7 architecture — as particularly well suited for the smaller ECUs. “Rear-view cameras and power amplifiers are good examples where the V71 microcontroller would be a good fit,” he said. “Moreover, the V71 MCUs can meet the quick startup requirements needed by automotive OEMs.”

Figure 3 - Atmel's V71 is an M7 chip for Ethernet AVB networking and audio processing

The infotainment connectivity is based on Ethernet, and most of the time, the main processor does not integrate Ethernet AVB. So the M7 microcontrollers, like the V71, bring this feature to the main processor. For the head unit, it drives the face plate, and for the telematics control, it contains the modem to make calls so echo cancellation is a must, for which DSP capability is required.

Take the audio amplifier, for instance, which receives a specific audio format that has to be converted, filtered and modulated to match the requirement for each specific speaker in the car. This means infotainment system designers will need both Ethernet and DSP capability at the same time, which Cortex-M7 based chips like V71 provide at low power and low cost.

Driverless cars to hit Australian roads as soon as November


The ARRB Group has announced its first on-road trial of driverless cars.


The possibility of driverless cars in Australia is now one step closer to becoming a reality with autonomous vehicles set to hit the streets of Adelaide in November as part of the country’s first-ever road trials.

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Led by the the national road safety research agency ARRB Group, the pilot will be a collaboration between Telstra, Bosch and Volvo, who will be supplying its next generation XC90. For its initial test, the self-driving SUVs will be traveling at speeds of up to 62 mph on closed sections of the highway. Upon observation, the researchers will be able to better understand what it is that will be required to make this technology safe for Australian roads.

ARRB group managing director Gerard Waldron said automated vehicles are far from science fiction, but rather a short-term reality that the country needs to be prepared for.

“The trials in South Australia this November will be the first of many trials nationally, with discussions underway in a number of jurisdictions. We’re seeking technology and automotive industry partners to assist us in Australia’s driverless vehicle innovation,” Waldron explains. “Driverless cars have a range of benefits that could significantly improve road safety and the quality of life of everyday Australians, add to the nation’s economic competitiveness and help relieve rapidly growing congestion that is crippling our infrastructure and creating productivity deficits in our capital cities.”

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The agency’s latest initiative puts Australia right behind the UK, U.S. and Sweden as global leaders in automated vehicle research. The trials in South Australia later this year will be the first of many nationally, with discussions already underway in a number of other jurisdictions.

“ARRB will establish how driverless technology needs to be manufactured and introduced for uniquely Australian driving behaviour, our climate and road conditions, including what this means for Australia’s national road infrastructure, markings, surfaces and roadside signage,” Waldron adds.

Volvo Australia managing director Kevin McCann believes that the technnology will deliver a wide range of benefits, even with a human behind the wheel, including improved traffic safety and fuel economy, reduced congestion, as well as the opportunity for better infrastructure planning.

Hosted by the South Australian Government, the pilot is expected to coincide with a Driverless Vehicle Conference on November 5-6th. Other partners supporting ARRB’s efforts include the RAA, Adelaide Airport Limited, Flinders University, Cohda Wireless and Carnegie Mellon University.

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Volvo isn’t the only car manufacturers vying for the market, though, as Audi has its sights set on a a driverless A8 available by 2017, Nissan with plans of their own by 2019 and Ford by 2020. Aside from that, the University of Michigan recently opened what they’re calling “Mcity,” the world’s first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of automated vehicle technologies that will lead the way to mass-market driverless cars.

So when it comes to Internet-enabled automobiles, it’s not so much an “if” it will happen as it is “when.” And with reports calling for one in five to be connected by 2020, not to mention new revelations around security, design will surely play an integral role in the process of bringing these cars mainstream.

3 design hooks of Atmel MCUs for connected cars


The MPU and MCU worlds are constantly converging and colliding, and the difference between them is not a mere on-off switch — it’s more of a sliding bar. 


In February 2015, BMW reported that it patched the security flaw which could allow hackers to remotely unlock the doors of more than 2 million BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce vehicles. Earlier, researchers at ADAC, a German motorist association, had demonstrated how they could intercept communications with BMW’s ConnectedDrive telematics service and unlock the doors.

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BMW uses SIM card installed in the car to connect to a smartphone app over the Internet. Here, the ADAC researchers created a fake mobile network and tricked nearby cars into taking commands by reverse engineering the BMW’s telematics software.

The BMW hacking episode was a rude awakening for the connected car movement. The fact that prominent features like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are all about safety and security is also a testament is that secure connectivity will be a prime consideration for the Internet of Cars.

Built-in Security

Atmel is confident that it can establish secure connections for the vehicles by merging its security expertise with performance and low-power gains of ARM Cortex-M7 microcontrollers. The San Jose, California-based chip supplier claims to have launched the industry’s first auto-qualified M7-based MCUs with Ethernet AVB and media LB peripherals. In addition, this high-end MCU series for in-vehicle infotainment offers the CAN 2.0 and CAN flexible data rate controller for higher bandwidth requirements.

Nicolas Schieli, Automotive MCU Marketing Director at Atmel, acknowledges that security is something new in the automotive environment that needs to be tackled as cars become more connected. “Anything can connect to the controller area network (CAN) data links.”

Schieli notes that the Cotex-M7 has embedded enhanced security features within its architecture and scalability. On top of that, Atmel is using its years of expertise in Trusted Platform Modules and crypto memories to securely connect cars to the Internet, not to mention the on-chip SHA and AES crypto engines in SAM E70/V70/V71 microcontrollers for encryption of data streams. “These built-in security features accelerate authentication of both firmware and applications.”

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Schieli notes that the Cotex-M7 has embedded enhanced security features within its architecture and scalability. On top of that, Atmel is using its years of expertise in Trusted Platform Modules and crypto memories to securely connect cars to the Internet, not to mention the on-chip SHA and AES crypto engines in SAM E70/V70/V71 microcontrollers for encryption of data streams. “These built-in security features accelerate authentication of both firmware and applications.”

He explained how the access to the Flash, SRAM, core registers and internal peripherals is blocked to enable security. It’s done either through the SW-DP/JTAG-DP interface or the Fast Flash Programming Interface. The automotive-qualified SAM V70 and V71 microcontrollers support Ethernet AVB and Media LB standards, and they are targeted for in-vehicle infotainment connectivity, audio amplifiers, telematics and head control units companion devices.

Software Support

The second major advantage that Atmel boasts in the connected car environment is software expertise and an ecosystem to support infotainment applications. For instance, a complete automotive Ethernet Audio Video Bridging (AVB) stack is being ported to the SAM V71 microcontrollers.

Software support is a key leverage in highly fragmented markets like automotive electronics. Atmel’s software package encompasses peripheral drivers, open-source middleware and real-time operating system (RTOS) features. The middleware features include USB class drivers, Ethernet stacks, storage file systems and JPEG encoder and decoder.

Next, the company offers support for several RTOS platforms like RTX, embOS, Thread-X, FreeRTOS and NuttX. Atmel also facilitates the software porting of any proprietary or commercial RTOS and middleware. Moreover, the MCU supplier from San Jose features support for specific automotive software such as AUTOSAR and Ethernet AVB stacks.

Atmel supports IDEs such as IAR or ARM MDK and Atmel Studio and it provides a full-featured board that covers all MCU series, including E70, V70 and V71 devices. And, a single board can cover all Atmel microcontrollers. Moreover, the MCU supplier provides Board Support Package for Xplained evaluation kit and easy porting to customer boards through board definition file (board.h).

Beyond that, Atmel is packing more functionality and software features into its M7 microcontrollers. Take SAM V71 devices, for example, which have three software-selectable low-power modes: sleep, wait and backup. In sleep mode, the processor is stopped while all other functions can be kept running. While in wait mode, all clocks and functions are stopped but some peripherals can be configured to wake up the system based on predefined conditions. In backup mode, RTT, RTC and wake-up logic are running. Furthermore, the microcontroller can meet the most stringent key-off requirements while retaining 1Kbyte of SRAM and wake-up on CAN.

Transition from MPU to MCU

Cortex-M7 is pushing the microcontroller performance in the realm of microprocessors. MPUs, which boast memory management unit and can run operating systems like Linux, eventually lead to higher memory costs. “Automakers and systems integrators are increasingly challenged in getting performance point breakthrough because they are running out of Flash capacity,” explained Schieli.

On the other hand, automotive OEMs are trying to squeeze costs in order to bring the connected car riches to non-luxury vehicles, and here M7 microcontrollers can help bring down costs and improve the simplification of car connectivity.

The M7 microcontrollers enable automotive embedded systems without the requirement of a Linux head and can target applications with high performance while running RTOS or bare metal implementation. In other words, M7 opens up avenues for automotive OEMs if they want to make a transition from MPU to MCU for cost benefits.

However, the MPU and MCU worlds are constantly converging and colliding, and the difference between them is not a mere on-off switch. It’s more of a sliding bar. Atmel, having worked on both sides of the fence, can help hardware developers to manage that sliding bar well. “Atmel is using M7 architecture to help bridge the gap between microprocessors and high-end MCUs,” Schieli concludes.


Majeed Ahmad is the author of books Smartphone: Mobile Revolution at the Crossroads of Communications, Computing and Consumer Electronics and The Next Web of 50 Billion Devices: Mobile Internet’s Past, Present and Future.

Conrod is a dev board for the automotive world


Conrod is the world’s first fully-programmable, connected app platform for your car.


Ideal for auto enthusiasts looking to personalize their ride, Conrod is a small device that plugs into the CAN bus of a VW brand car and lets users customize its features. More than just a data logger or diagnostic tool, the dev board provides developers with the ability to create their own apps and run them right in the vehicle. In other words, the days of having to write programs on a smartphone and then connect them via a dongle are over!

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Conrod interfaces with any VW car — including Audi, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bentley — through its CAN bus, enabling a user to decode and manipulate messages to change the way that the vehicle operates. The fully-programmable unit can function as a standalone device, or can be paired with a 3G SIM to take advantage of its on-board cellular modem for Internet connectivity. For situations where 3G may not be an option, Conrod can sync to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth 4.0 as well.

The standard Conrod installation is designed to remain out of sight, with all of the configurations performed on a mobile device. To really let the platform shine, however, Conrod includes an add-on 3.2″ full color touchscreen for output vehicle information, which eliminates the need for a smartphone. This display comes in a self-contained case with GoPro mounting points, allowing a user to secure it in their car with any GoPro compatible mount.

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Conrod ships with several pre-installed apps for both Android and iOS gadgets, including a GPS data logger that keeps tabs on a vehicle’s location, a fuel economy tracker that monitors and records gas consumption, smart speed alerts that trigger emails and push notifications, as well as IFTTT-like logic blocks that can be defined to fit the needs and preferences of its user. For example, drivers can set it to roll up all the windows whenever the doors lock or sound the horn in the event of a sudden stop. Aside from displaying things such as oil and transmission temperatures, users can devise their own apps to view weather forecasts, tweets and just about anything else that comes to mind, all pulled down via Conrod’s cellular data connection.

In terms of hardware, the board boasts an Atmel | SMART SAM3X8E Cortex-M3 MCU, 8MB of memory, GPS, a SIM socket, Bluetooth 4.0 radio, an accelerometer and gyroscope, three temperature sensors, five CAN network transceivers, OBD-II diagnostic circuitry, and an external serial expansion jack. What’s more, Conrod is completely Arduino compatible.

While a number of startups have recently launched innovative products that can turn any older set of wheels into a smart car, Conrod taps into the CAN instead of the OBD-II port.

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“Unlike OBD2, which is an open standard that anyone can read about, the CAN protocols used by specific vehicle manufacturers is not public information, and each manufacturer uses a different CAN language. We’ve spent thousands of hours decoding the CAN protocols in recent VW Group vehicles to enable Conrod to communicate with the CAN networks as if it was installed by the factory itself,” its creators add.

So, are you ready to pimp your ride? Then hurry over to its Kickstarter page, where the Conrod team is currently seeking $77,786. Delivery is expected to begin in December 2015.

Remotely control your Range Rover with your smartphone like James Bond


Jaguar Land Rover’s new system lets drivers use their smartphone to back up out of a parking space and make their way around obstacles.


James Bond’s remote-controlled car from the blockbuster hit “Tomorrow Never Dies” has become a reality. While it may not be an Ericsson phone in command, Jaguar Land Rover has unveiled a new prototype SUV that can be driven via a mobile app.

While it may seem a bit absurd at first glance, there are some practical use cases for it. Think about those times where you’ve been jammed in a parking spot and were unable to open the door because someone else was too close. Or, perhaps a time when it would have been much safer to be guided through a series of off-road obstacles when you weren’t inside. While a vast majority of the conversation on autonomous cars to date have been focused on the driver being behind the wheel, not as much has been centered around the user being outside of it.

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In pretty the same fashion as a child would play with their RC toy car, Jaguar Land Rover’s latest system lets a driver turn a virtual steering wheel image on their smartphone’s screen, using their fingers to control maneuvering, accelerating, braking and ever gear shifting. The app, which employs the same sensors that its vehicles currently rely on for their autonomous parking features, enables a user to walk alongside their car at the top speed of 4mph, and within a range of about 30 feet.

Take rock crawling or bad weather, for example. Drivers can continually check ramp, approach and departure angles and allow precise positioning of the vehicle, as well as traverse slippery areas covered by ice and snow. The remote control function will only operate if the smart key can be detected, and will stop the vehicle if the driver ever moves out of range or gets too close.

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Meanwhile, a second prototype was also revealed that is capable of doing its own 180-degree, multi-point turns. This should come as great news for those not so great at maneuvering their vehicle, especially on busy or narrow streets. According to the automaker, this driverless SUV could extricate itself from the most difficult situations by taking over gear selection, steering, braking and acceleration to complete as many forward and backwards movements necessary to get the job done. This is accomplished through a set of embedded sensors that assess the available space and avoid pedestrians or other objects in its way.

“Research into technologies like these won’t only help us deliver an autonomous car. They will help make real driving safer and more enjoyable. The same sensors and systems that will help an autonomous car make the right decisions, will assist the driver and enhance the experience to help prevent accidents. Autonomous car technologies will not take away the fun of driving,” explains Dr. Wolfgang Epple, Jaguar Land Rover Director of Research and Technology.

The company has even revealed a range of new road safety research projects that are being developed to reduce the number of accidents caused by drivers who are stressed, distracted and not concentrating on what lies ahead. By adopting technology typically used throughout sports, medicine and aerospace, the vehicle will be able to monitor a person’s heart rate, respiration and levels of brain activity through sensors embedded within the steering wheel.

What’s more, the UK-based team is looking into innovations that would diminish the amount of time the driver’s eyes are off the road while driving, and how to communicate with the driver via pulses through the accelerator pedal. The basis of this project is to see if a car could effectively read the brainwaves that indicate a driver is beginning to daydream, or feeling sleepy, whilst driving. An on-board computer will then assess whether someone is alert enough and emit vibration or warning sound accordingly.

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“If brain activity indicates a daydream or poor concentration, then the steering wheel or pedals could vibrate to raise the driver’s awareness and re-engage them with driving,” Dr. Epple adds. “If Mind Sense does not detect a surge in brain activity following the car displaying a warning icon or sound, then it could display it again, or communicate with the driver in a different way, to ensure the driver is made aware of a potential hazard.”

Beyond that, Jaguar Land Rover is in the process of devising medical-grade sensors that will be hidden within the front seat, particularly for the Jaguar XJ luxury sedan. Monitoring the physical health of the driver could not only detect the onset of sudden and serious illness that may incapacitate them, but will enable the car to monitor stress levels. This would let the car help reduce stress, for instance by changing mood lighting, audio settings and climate control. And in future cars with self-driving capabilities, it could sense whether someone was having a seizure or a heart attack, and automatically take control of the wheel.

Vinli is a $99 device that will drive your older car into the IoT


Making your car ‘smarter’ is now as easy as plugging a USB drive into your computer.


While one in five vehicles are expected to be Internet-enabled by 2019, there are more than 253 million cars on the road in the U.S. that remain disconnected from the web. Not to mention, even as this technology continues to evolve, the average car is still about 11 years old. With this in mind, one Dallas-based startup has developed a device that simply plugs into an automobile’s computer system and transforms it into a smarter set of wheels. Since it’s designed to work via the OBD II port, it should be compatible with any vehicle made after 1996. (Good news for that late ‘90s Civic sitting the garage!)

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Nearly nine months after its initial debut, the company has garnered over $6.5 million in a Series A financing round led by Samsung Venture Investment Corporation along with Cox Automotive, Continental and The Westly Group. Beyond that, the team has revealed several significant product updates, partnerships, and of course, the launch of an Indiegogo campaign.

Vinli works by plugging into an OBD II port, which allows the dongle to connect to a driver’s smartphone over Bluetooth and open up a plethora of apps. These include SmartThings to control devices upon arriving home, Dash to optimize a car’s performance, Beagle to keep teenage drivers safe, as well as Otto to identify and diagnose any mechanical issues before they become a problem. In its entirety, the startup hopes to have about 150 apps in its app store in the coming months, and even encourages developers to explore their creativity and build an app based on one of nine comprehensive sets of services, ranging from analytics to infotainment.

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The Wi-Fi connection, which is provided through an exclusive deal with T-Mobile and its national 4G LTE network, will cost $15/GB of data, or $40 for 3GB. However, drivers can still access Vinli using their smartphone by way of Bluetooth. Under the hood, Vinli boasts a three-axis accelerometer for collision detection, a Bluetooth 4.0 module for connectivity, GPS and GLONASS for location tracking, SMS for emergencies, and runs on Linux.

What’s more, Vinli offers services such as roadside assistance, automatic accident alerts, routine maintenance, real-time traffic reports and even helps locate a car should someone forget where it was parked.

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Ready to turn your old 1998 whip into a futuristic ride? Head over to Vinli’s Indiegogo page, where its team has already surpassed its initial $75,000 goal. Delivery is expected to get underway in August 2015.