Have you ever loved an older car for its timeless design and comfortable interior but wish it had new technologies? Workshop 12 co-founder Tim Neil felt this way about his 2002 Subaru WRX and has developed a revolutionary infotainment computer interface which utilizes built-in sensors and OBDII diagnostics data to provide insights, control and automation. The device is called Brainiac. It is bringing the future of in-cabin automobile technology to popular enthusiast cars today.
I met Tim Neil at a cruise night car show in Mississauga last summer (2014) while admiring his highly modified Subaru WRX. I was impressed to learn that Tim did all of the custom work himself including the engine, stereo, exterior and interior fabrication. When I visited Tim at his Mississauga workshop to conduct an interview, I recognized his Subaru and remembered meeting him a year prior. The big difference with the Subie was the addition of Tim’s Brainiac infotainment system.
Being a Batman fanatic, Tim’s first big automotive project was custom building a replica 1989 “Michael Keaton era” Batmobile. Neil enlisted the expertise of programming and electronics specialist Rob Williams to help develop an interactive infotainment system. All aspects of the car have been custom built and are automated using a BlackBerry smartphone application in conjunction with an Arduino open source board. The success of the “BatBerry” project car inspired the duo to form an alliance and Workshop 12 was born.
When asked about the company name Tim Neil explains “We wanted a simple non-specific title like workshop and twelve has always been a lucky number for me.”
Tim and his business partner Rob Williams worked together at BlackBerry (RIM) on the product development and developer engagement team. Both (40) have degrees in computer science and an enthusiasm for programing technology and automotive fabrication. Neil and Williams left Blackberry in 2014 and started Workshop 12 with the vision to bring futuristic automotive concepts into real world products available today to everyday consumers. Their goal is to bring the latest technology back to the cars people love, which is the essence of the Brainiac project.
Brainiac replaces an existing stereo head unit with a new intuitive Android platform computer controlled by a capacitive touch screen interface and a row of buttons. It is connected to the car’s computer by OBDII (without blocking the port) and also connects to the web and integrates with any smart phone.
Its core features are data logging for commuting and performance. Infotainment provides a great multimedia experience including Google Maps, a full in-dash browser, hands-free calling and integration with smart phones for media and apps. Brainiac automation is the integration backbone for controlling vehicle accessories and systems. This could include running a set of relays for switches and linear actuators or plugging into a digital air suspension controller or boost controller. Plus Brainiac has a community feature were the system creates an online profile for the car so data, achievements and performance stats are synced with a user profile.
The Brainiac 7” touch-display unit is a standard double-din stereo replacement and will fit almost any vehicle utilizing an existing aftermarket stereo installation kit. Estimated price is $699 USD. Brainiac is also available as a 10.1” snap-in touch display for a growing number of vehicles. Estimated price is $1399 USD.
The installation kit will include a central Brainiac computing unit along with a beautiful 10.1″ touch screen display plus replacement dash trim pieces to ensure a great automotive design. The replacement trim pieces have a factory fit using plastic injection moulded parts that utilize stock clips and mounting points. The Brainiac install process is similar to that of an aftermarket stereo.
“As a car enthusiast the notion of a world of integrated hardware and software in my car is extremely exciting” expressed Tim Neil. “Especially if I can add it to the vehicle that I already own and love and expand it when I choose.”
“Our goal with Brainiac is to provide the integration platform for hardware and software. We offer computing power capable enough to create rich new experiences pulled together into a cool looking package for different vehicles” commented Workshop 12 partner Rob Williams. “We aim to bring new in-cabin experiences to your vehicle at the pace of the technology industry rather then the automotive industry.”
Currently the Brainiac 10.1” unit is available for the 2005-2007 Subaru WRX/STI. Neil and Williams are also in the process of developing Brainiac for and 2003-2005 Nissan 350Z and 2012-2015 Subaru BRZ / Scion FR-S. Future plans include developing Brainiac for fitment in the Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis, Chevrolet Corvette and Dodge Challenger to name a few.
“We are focusing on everyday enthusiast cars to start. We attend as many car shows as possible with our Brainiac demo model to gauge consumer interest and feedback” commented Neil. “We just got back from the SEMA show in Las Vegas and are ecstatic about the enthusiastic response to our Brainiac project.”
Tim took me for a ride in his WRX and demonstrated Brainiac’s features including tracking performance stats like 0-60 and quarter mile times. It can also measure performance characteristics like drift angle and lateral g’s. Plus everyday commuter stats like fuel consumption and tracking the most efficient routes. Brainiac is a fully featured stereo interface, GPS and integrates with your smartphone and PC through a mobile app. Visit workshoptwelve.com to install the Brainiac Emulator on your PC and experience all the features of this technology rich interface.
Neil and Williams are launching their Kickstarter campaign this month to build capital for manufacturing. They project the first run of Brainiac units to be ready the first half of 2016. As an automotive enthusiast I fully appreciate and admire the approach they are taking with Workshop 12, to bring new technologies to the older cars we love. I asked Tim and Rob if they would be able to develop a Brainiac to fit my 1990 Nissan 300ZX. They said, “Anything is possible!” Now that’s what I like to hear.