Adding horsepower to a modern computer-controlled car isn’t really a home-garage job anymore—today’s tuners have to be hackers. That’s where shops like Heffner Performance come in. Among other mods, the Sarasota, Florida, company alters customers’ cars to add more power. A recent project is a souped-up Audi R8. At 420 horsepower, the factory model falls a little short, according to company president Jason Heffner, so he and his team added twin turbos that boost horsepower to 625. “The trickiest part was sorting out the electronics,” he says. Ten years ago, he explains, the engine controller just ran the engine, but now the airbags, brakes, traction-control systems—they all communicate with one another. When you modify the engine, Heffner says, “all the aspects of the car need to work hand in hand.”
Stealing Australian Jonathan Oxer’s 2004 Mazda RX-8 would freak out any thief. That’s because Oxer can turn the engine on and off, lock and unlock the doors, check the car’s performance, and use GPS to track its progress on a Google map, all from a Web browser on a computer or smartphone. Oxer began his 18-month-long effort to boost his car’s intelligence because he hadn’t seen anyone else build a car-puter accessible 24/7, from anywhere in the world. He mounted a stripped-down computer in the trunk, ran USB cables through the car to connect the computer to the diagnostics system, soldered another connection to the stereo’s circuit board, and added 3G mobile broadband, which gave him online access and turned the car into a hotspot. Now he’s swapping the computer for a power-sipping microcontroller that should run for weeks and recharge when the car is running.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.