1998 G20 Van/Toy Hauler/Camping/Storm Chasing/etc. super-vehicle
I just found this part of the forum and so will settle in here to post updates on my project listed elsewhere. As I take new pics, I will also post them here.
In the meantime, let's recap what I have done so far. This vehicle is to serve as kind of an all-purpose utility for a variety of things I enjoy doing. As such, my additions and alterations will continually change to reflect how I can see myself using the van at various times. It has been and will continue to be equipped to do just about anything I can dream of doing in a vehicle. That means as I gain an interest in a new pursuit which requires transportation or technology once I get to where I am going, then the van will most likely receive a modification.
Here is where I currently am:
1. Toy Hauler/mobile garage
Directly behind the driver and front passenger seats has been gutted all the way to the back cargo doors. I left one metal storage unit in place. There is a thick rubber mat with about an inch of insulation below it covering the entire cargo area floor. Mounted just behind the center console cabinet is an electric winch with a wired remote control. Using the winch and an foldable ramp, I can self-load any motorcycle or similar vehicle up to about 1000 pounds. The cargo area is big enough to hold an estimated maximum of 4 dirtbikes or 2 sport bikes. Helmets and riding gear are stored in the metal cabinet or hang on the outside of it. All tools and related battery chargers along with extra parts, fluids, and adjustment equipment are also kept in the cabinet.
2. Camping vehicle
All the camping gear I own is stored in the metal cabinet as well. There is still room left for supplies, food, additional gear as needed. I also installed an external power outlet to plug into at campsites or other locations where electricity is available. Then is simply becomes a matter of unplugging my power strip from the 400 watt power inverter and plugging it into a side side socket internally.
The computer is a Dell Optiplex GX270, Celeron 2Ghz, 1 GB of RAM, with 3 hard drives: 2 at 40 GB each, and 1 at 60 GB. Elsewhere on this forum I listed their sizes incorrectly because I didn't the computer online at that time.
The computer is mounted next to the winch and bolted to the front metal cabinet. The rubber mat and insulation absorb a lot of the shock one would expect from driving and the placement allows me to make changes relatively easily. It has an onboard CD-RW/DVD, 802.11g WiFi, Gigabit ethernet, stock video and sound. The monitor is a 15" touch panel LCD, mounted at the front of the metal cabinet directly in front of the dash. It can swivel to face either seat and angles up or down quite well. I am currently using the stock keyboard and optical mouse on the rest of the surface area of the center metal cabinet.
Mounted on top of the van directly over the computer is a Hawking WiFi antenna. The metal of the van is quite prohibitive of WiFi signals from inside and so I had to go exterior.
In the back of the van, facing internally is a webcam to keep an eye on the secured bike or bikes. This can give me immediate feedback on whether an adjustment needs to be made on rough roads.
Planned work in the coming weekends:
Since much of time and energy thus far has been spent customizing the van to do as I ask it to, the groundwork is now laid for many of the future modifications I wish to make. One in particular was suggested to me tonight and I have already placed a bid on eBay to accomplish it. Details further below:
1. Increase vanputer integration
Since my vehicle is OBD2 compliant, the next step will be to find an appropriate scanner to interface with the computer. Additionally, I want to utilize some sort of biometrics for access control to the vehicle and computer functions. I have a Magtek card scanner which holds promise of accomplishing that, but I need to work out how to make it control vehicle ignition and so on.
2. Audio systems
I am not the audiophile others on this forum are. Yet, I do want the option of playing my 11,000+ mp3 files. This means I need to relace the stock stereo and speakers with an upgraded system. It doesn't have to thump, but only sound good to me as I drive to parts unknown. Running the computer and my XM radio through it then becomes easy.
3. GPS system
I already have an Axiom A2 GPS. It is an older model and one used for active tracking with an onboard analog cellular phone. I am working with the manufacturer to retrofit just the GPS board to interface with my computer in realtime.
4. Active radar system
There are multiple uses for this type of thing, but I can see the most immediate use chasing storms that run over my part of the US during the summer months. Having some way of seeing that kind of activity from my vehicle would be fun and useful.
5. Roof-mounted telescope
This was actually suggested by my girlfriend tonight when we encountered a sky watching manual at a bookstore. It took me all of about 10 minutes to work out the engineering of mounting the telescope on the roof, interfacing it to the computer, motorizing the mount, attaching a camera to the eyepiece to also interface with the computer, and enclosing it in a weatherproof housing that can open and deploy the telescope from inside the vehicle. If my bidding on eBay tonight is successful then I already have the telescope, motorized mount, and computer interface on the way. This also has storm-chasing applications in being able to see high activity from afar and get a good recording of it.
6. Power system
The first thing I am doing is building a switchable interface box between external and internal power sources. No more plugging and unplugging inside the van. I simply plug the vehicle in outside and hit a switch to change over to external power.
I also want to get to the point where I can keep the computer up and running nearly all the time. This means installing some sort of continuous charging system and solar seems the way to go. I can now install a solar array on top of the vehicle for about $300 which will provide enough continuous charge to keep my battery topped off while the computer and a few minor systems remain active.
7. Environmental systems
Because of the storm chasing and other reasons, I am going to add an array of temperature, humidity, and barometric sensors which can all interface to the computer. Additionally, I am retrofitting a couple of webcams to grant infrared and night vision capabilities. A heat sensing camera would also be nice and I am currently looking for good ways to accomplish this.
8. Better bike loading
I want to further automate loading and unloading the motorcycles. The idea I see in my head is to drive the bike onto a small platform. Wheel locks automatically engage. The bike is raised into the van and I can then slide it over to a mounting position in order to bring the platform back out for another bike.
9. Prettify everything
I follow a strict function over form philosophy. I don't think a lot about something is going to look so much as how well it work for what it is intended to do. That said, I do realize the vehicle holds promise for some corporate sponsorship to get some of plans in motion. This means I will need to clean up my work quite a bit and possible pay some attention to interior/exterior design.