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Setting up Easymap & MBE985

Within some upcoming blog posts I'll be getting into the topic of an idle issue which struck the 7 around the same time as the radiator leak. Addressing the idle problem has involved researching and understanding O2 sensors, understanding the Throttle Position Sensor, and also getting to grips with MBE Easymap software. I have to say addressing the idle issue was next to impossible without Easymap so its importance shouldn't be underestimated. The software is also handy when validating whether the car is reaching wide open throttle, more on that to follow.

The goal of this post is to cover off purchasing, installing and running Easymap. This topic isn't exactly difficult, but my implementation isn't exactly normal, so I thought I'd write a detailed blog. Writing a separate piece also avoids polluting the upcoming posts discussing the idle.

I'll apologise in advance, this post might appear to be more Information Technology than 7. I am at the end of the day an IT professional so you'll have to permit my indulgence here.

A modern 7 like any modern vehicle is fitted with an engine which is managed using an automotive electronic control unit commonly referred to as an ECU. The ECU as the brain of the car, reads inputs from sensors, makes decisions based on those sensory inputs and sends signals to actuators to make things happen. I've oversimplified things here, but that is the general gist. Caterham's current line up of cars use Ford Sigma or Ford Duratec inline 4 cylinder engines, but they don't use all the standard parts from Ford. One of the most notable parts Caterham discard is the standard ECU, Caterham instead fit an ECU manufactured by a 3rd party, MBE Systems Ltd.

Before we talk about the MBE ECU and how it relates to EasyMap we first need to talk about CAN Bus. CAN or Control Area Network is a serial communication technology originally developed by Bosch for use in industrial and automotive applications. CAN is designed to be simple, for example, have a reduced line wire count and in some scenarios be resilient. It operates with only 2 network layers, a Physical layer and a Data Link layer, that's a pretty small number compared to many other networking technologies. Now let's consider a complex vehicle, say a Tesla, swanky BMW, or even a Volvo. It is likely they will have multiple ECUs, for example, one ECU will be responsible for engine management, another for an automatic gearbox, and another for instrument cluster illumination. In such a scenario each ECU needs to talk to each other, sending status updates, instructions and so forth. They all communicate across the car's CAN bus, messages are broadcast across the bus but delivery is assumed, it's commonly referred to as a connection-less protocol. Unfortunately, it's not the purpose of this blog to delve into the world of CAN bus signalling, although it's a fascinating topic. I just wanted to set the stage. Even on a 7 with a single ECU, CAN is used. MBE adopted the CAN Bus industry standard also know as ISO11898-1, messages aren't sent to other ECUs but are available for diagnostic purposes. MBE's Easymap software allows a user to read the CAN bus data and monitor what's happening within the vehicle, in the case of a 7 predominately engine management. Easymap can also change what is commonly referred to as the "map". A map is essentially a series of reference tables which dictate how an engine will operate given a set of input criteria. Caterham supply "locked" ECUs which prevent map modification regardless of the software, plus mapping is beyond the scope of the blog.

I mentioned earlier I would cover purchasing Easymap, to be honest, the software is free and available to download from MBE supplier, SBD Motorsport. The relevant page is provided below.

Physically connecting Easymap to the current generation of Sigma and Duratec Caterham cars isn't free, an explicit MBE cable is required, in this instance a cable known as an MBE 985. Total cost of the cable delivered 147.90GBP inc VAT Ouch!!

Caterham 7 blog SBD Motorsport supplied MBE 985 cable
SBD Motorsport supplied MBE 985 cable

The MBE985 cable is more than just a cable it's a converter of sorts which contains some active electronics most likely a microcontroller. The MBE985 takes the CAN bus signalling input, translates the data, and outputs via a USB interface. The USB can then be connected to a computer. and the data ingested into Easymap. I've not been able to identify what microcontroller is used but it is likely to contain proprietary microcode.

Connecting everything up is very simple. The "converter" part of the cable has an integrated SAE J1962 (OBDII) male connector which plugs into the female port available through the rubber grommet in the driver's side knee trim. The supplied USB cable is then connected into the converter, the USB B side goes into the rear of the converter and the USB A side into a computer. It is recommended to connect the cable with the ignition turned off.

Easymap v6 R71 is the current build of Easymap, it's a Microsoft Windows application which has a couple of key dependencies including Microsoft .Net v3.5 and Microsoft Visual C++ Redistributable. Luckily all dependencies are supplied within the installer archive. Installing the tool isn't difficult, just make sure you're a local administrator and double click setup.exe, then follow the prompts. Easy! no pun intended.

For my Easymap installation I opted to use a spare MacBook Air laptop as its diminutive size and minimal weight would be easy to handle in and around the car. The laptop was already running Ubuntu Linux, however, even with the standard MacOS OS it wasn't compatible with Easymap, I needed to run Microsoft Windows. Step in the wonderful world of virtualization. I intended to virtualize my Windows OS environment and install Easymap into the virtualized guest OS. My initial choice of virtualization software, commonly known as a hypervisor was Oracle Virtualbox. Unfortunately after hours of trying to get the MBE985 to pass through the host OS and into the guest Windows OS I gave up and went for a free non-commercial version of VMware Player.

VMware Player simplified setup tremendously, the MBE985 was immediately seen by the guest Windows OS and the Easymap install process was unaware of being virtualized.

For the readership that might not be familiar with virtualization, I've included the following video and some helpful pointers.

The video shows;

  • Macbook Air running Ubuntu Linux as the local operating system.

  • Application VMware Player is then started within Ubuntu.

  • A virtual machine is selected and started.

  • This provides a virtual computer or hardware environment in which Microsoft Windows is installed.

  • Easymap is also installed within the Microsoft Windows environment.

Hope you enjoyed the slightly different post. As mentioned at there start of the post there's lots of content coming related to the idle, so please check back soon.

Don't forget to like and subscribe. All helps support and keep the motivation to continue the blog.

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