CAN Protocol and Adaptronic CAN System

This article describes the CAN protocol in general, and also describes the native Adaptronic CAN system.

Firstly, CAN is short for Control Area Network. It is a multi-drop broadcast protocol. The physical connection is via a twisted pair; with a high and a low signal. When the bus is in the recessive state, both high and low signals are at the same voltage. When the bus is in the dominant state, the high line goes to a higher voltage and the low line goes to a lower voltage, with the average voltage remaining the same. This provides excellent noise immunity and is a similar principle to many other protocols such as RS485, RS422, Ethernet and even good old analog phone lines – none of which are shielded usually.

CAN Bus Diagram

Multiple devices can be connected on the bus in parallel, and there is no bus master; any device can broadcast a message. The bus should be terminated at each end with a 120 Ohm resistor.

Because of the way CAN works, every device on the bus must be set to the same bit rate. If you have two devices with different bit rates on the bus, then as soon as one starts to broadcast a message, the second one will see that the message is corrupt (because the bitrate is wrong) and actually transmit over the top to ensure that no other devices can misbehave due to the corrupt message. Therefore it is very important to make sure you understand the bitrates of the different devices on the CAN bus.

Each CAN data packet contains an identifier, which is either 11 or 29 bits in length, and then up to 8 data bytes. The identifier is what allows the other devices on the bus to know which device sent the message and what it means.

All Modular ECUs have at least one CAN bus, with many such as the M6000 having a second CAN bus connection. All the settings and functions are the same for both busses, so we will only discuss one of them here.


In the Adaptronic software there are many CAN settings, and I won’t discuss them all in this article, but we will discuss the basics. The first is the bitrate, as discussed earlier. The default is 1 Mbps, which is also the highest rate, however lower rates can also be selected so long as they divide into 1 Mbps. You can also select an option here to disable the CAN function completely, and that allows the bus to be free (without bitrate conflicts described before).

The second is the inbuilt termination resistor; the ECU has an internal 120 Ohm resistor to terminate the CAN bus, and that can be enabled or disabled using the software setting. In accordance with what I described before about a CAN bus needing a 120 Ohm resistor at each end of the bus, this means that you should enable the termination resistor if the ECU is located at one END of the CAN bus, but if it’s in the middle, this should be disabled and the termination should be done at each end.

There are settings for receiving wideband over CAN, and also the non-native CAN output modes such as emulation of the Racepak or Haltech systems, but I won’t go into those here.

Each CAN bus can also send out data in the Adaptronic native format. This gives you a direct window into the live variables inside the ECU, in the same way that you can see almost any variable from within the Eugene software on the gauges or monitor panels.

All these live variables are 16 bits – so each variable takes 2 bytes. Therefore, 4 of these can fit into a CAN packet. The software supports up to 1024 live variables, and therefore there are up to 256 different CAN packets that can be sent. Each different CAN packet has a unique ID. The default base address is $300, so therefore these CAN packets can have the IDs in the range of $300 – $3ff. You can select which channels are transmitted, so that you can avoid a whole lot of data you don’t need and maximise the data rate.

The settings available are as follows:

  • Bitrate, described above. The default is 1 Mbps
  • Termination, the default is “on”
  • Enabling of the Adaptronic CAN output
  • The base address, default being $300
  • Enabling of any additional CAN channels

The channels which are always transmitted include the basics like engine speed, battery voltage, manifold pressure, throttle position and so on. They will appear at the bottom.

In addition, you can send any of the variables, which you can select in the software.

Furthermore, you can select a function in the software which generates a document showing all the variables which will be transmitted.

The document for the standard configuration is attached.

Adaptronic_Full_Configuration
Adaptronic_Standard_Configuration