TED1: OBD-II, ELM327 and Python

In the previous post I introduced you to Ted, a car computer that I plan to build. In this posts I describe my first steps: getting live data from the car using the OBD-II connector and Python.


OBD stands for On-board Diagnostics and every car sold in Europe after 2003 must have an OBD-II connector located near the steering wheel. To qoute Wikipedia: “OBD systems give the vehicle owner or repair technician access to the status of the various vehicle subsystems.” So the OBD interface can be used to obtain all kinds of information about the car. Think of error codes, the current speed, temperature of the engine oil, the engine RPM and so on. Each parameter has his own Paramater ID (PID). A big list of PID’s can be found on Wikipedia. Most car manufactures don’t implement all PID’s. In fact, my car has only 7 PIDs implemented.

Car manufacturers can choose out of 5 protools to speak over the OBD-II interface. Most cars only implement only 1 protocols, as does my car. My cars talks CAN.

It’s very easy to use the OBD-II interface to read the status of your car. For less than € 20 you can get yourself a diagnostic tool or an adapter which you can connect to the OBD-II connector. I bought a this OBD-II Bluetooth adapter. I paired my phone with this adapter. The app markets for Android and iOS contain several apps for displaying car info. I’ve tested my adapter with the Android app Torque Pro and it worked pretty well.


The Bluetooth adapter contains a ELM327 microcontroller. This chip acts as a proxy between you and the OBD-II connector. You can control the chip by sending commands. In order to get the current speed of the car you send 010D. 010D is de PID of the current speed. The ELM327 controller translates this command. In my case it sends out a request on the CAN bus.


Because I couldn’t get the Bluetooth adapter working on my laptop I bought this OBD-II USB adapter as well. After plugging in in my laptop (and starting the engine) it comes up as a serial device at /dev/ttyUSB0.

With the package brendan-w/python-OBD you only need a few lines of code to read data from the OBD-II connector. Below you can find some sample code with reads the current speed and RPM every second and print it to STDOUT.

#!/usr/bin/env python
import sys
import time
from obd import OBD, commands

def execute_command(con, cmd):
    """ Execute AT command and return result. """
    return connection.query(cmd).value

if __name__ == '__main__':
    connection = OBD('/dev/ttyUSB0')

        while True:
            # Do you recognize 010D, the PID of speed?
            # You could also writes this using base 10 instead of hexadecimals,
            # as:
            #   execute_command(commands[1][13])
            # or like this:
            #   execute_command(commands['SPEED'])
            speed = execute_command(connection, commands[0x01][0x0D])

            rpm = execute_command(connection, commands[0x01][0x0C])

            print('{:3d} kmh - {:4d} RPM'.format(speed.magnitude, int(rpm.magnitude)))

    except KeyboardInterrupt:


A little trip around the parking to demonstrate this code:

$ python read_obd_data.py
 0 kmh - 1304 RPM
 2 kmh - 1183 RPM
 5 kmh - 1152 RPM
 9 kmh - 1542 RPM
11 kmh - 1871 RPM
13 kmh - 2039 RPM
15 kmh - 2132 RPM
16 kmh - 2226 RPM
17 kmh - 2367 RPM
18 kmh - 2281 RPM
16 kmh - 2121 RPM
15 kmh - 1937 RPM
14 kmh - 1886 RPM
14 kmh - 1906 RPM
14 kmh - 1835 RPM
12 kmh - 1621 RPM
13 kmh - 1949 RPM
15 kmh - 2218 RPM
17 kmh - 2132 RPM
16 kmh -  984 RPM
15 kmh -  878 RPM
13 kmh -  851 RPM
11 kmh -  863 RPM
 9 kmh -  816 RPM
 4 kmh -  843 RPM
 1 kmh -  847 RPM
 0 kmh -  808 RPM

I’m able to read live data of my car! It’s legen - wait for it - dary!