OBD-based Engine Sound Simulator


We’ve all been there before… driving around in a small-displacement economy-oriented car that sounds like, well, nothing. But wouldn’t it be fun if it sounded more like driving a supercharged V8? The guys at BigBlock Entertainment have come up with a fascinating new way of handling that challenge: Drag FX.

The concept isn’t new — a few years ago there was a company that made a product that plugged into a cigarette lighter port and simulated an engine sound based on the frequency of ground difference which changed as the alternator sped up, and then broadcast the sound over short-range FM. However, there are two very distinct issues there, the first being the quality of FM transmitted audio and the second being variance in RPM range. BigBlock’s DragFX system addresses both by harnessing the power of OBD-II and your iPhone.
In case you’re not sure, OBD (On-Board Diagnostics) is a tool usually used for troubleshooting to tap into your car’s computer and have a look at what’s happening. The system usually gets used to “check for a code” when your check engine light comes on, which happens when the computer senses an issue. However, OBD also broadcasts a number of parameters realtime that can be read with an appropriate tool. (I have an Aeroforce Scangauge installed in my Grand Prix that can pull up 46 parameters, for example.) What BigBlock has cleverly done is used the RPM realtime to feed into your phone, which is then used to process the correct sound and then feed that out to your car’s stereo system. Even better, you can still select the music you want to hear.

Here’s a sample of the result:

One feature I’d love to see implemented in the future is mapping to the throttle position feed, or possibly the engine load feed, in order to change the sound from a high-load to low-load sample bank and back again. This would improve the realism in a way that video game sound has evolved in recent history. I also wouldn’t be at all surprised to see similar technology in future electric cars…

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