Reversing Camera Systems and GPS

I had several Mercedes 307's for many years. Looking in the wing mirror on the Merc's you could easily see the corners of the vehicle, so you knew where it ended. Now when you look in the mirrors of the Boxer you can't actually see the rear corners, so it was a real pig to park. Something had to be done....

Sadly I didn't carry out much research on reversing cameras before I actually bought one. I eventually bought a commercial vehicle black and white reversing camera setup from my wholesaler. All said and done it was an extremely good system which gave a good wide view of the back of the vehicle with a crisp image, though it was a struggle to see the image if bright sunlight was in the cab. The image was good even under low light conditions, especially with the brake lights on. I was going to fit extra red lights but didn't get round to it.. another day.

The screen was a 5" CRT which I sat on the dash with a single fixing. The system was fed from the switched side of the ignition, so was on all the time the ignition was on, unless I switched it off on the monitor. Apart from the on/off button it had a switch to reverse the image (same as in a reversing mirror) and another switch to switch between two camera inputs

The camera was very robust which I understand had its own internal heater to avoid it misting up. I mounted it above the rear doors to give an all round view of the rear end as you could get within millimeters of the vehicle behind (it used to freak the drivers out as they thought you couldn't see them ;o) ). If the camera is mounted low, you don't always get a true idea of how close you are to objects behind you. You always see questions on newsgroups and magazines regarding cable runs. I simply ran a length of white mini cable trunking over the top of the roof, using the grooves of the roof. Then in through the roof just behind the drivers door, and down the windscreen pillar. Job done.

All said and done the above system was very good. However I wanted extra facilities.... like GPS without extra monitors etc., 

so enter system two.

I think its worth pointing out, the image on the monitor IS reversed, its just that I took the photo whilst waiting while parked in a French village.

The new screen was a colour LCD which had multiple inputs and the ability to mirror/flip the image. The video inputs are for two cameras, on 'S' video input and a VGA input for use with a laptop. Whilst being used with the laptop it also has a touch screen, rather like a mouse, but you use your finger to activate various functions on the computer, very useful when using the monitor for the GPS system (as shown in the shot below).

 

Since I had so many inputs and a slight failing of the previous system, I decided to fit two cameras on the back of the vehicle to give me a close up view directly behind the vehicle, and another to give me a long range view to see nutters trying to hang on the back of the van out of sight of the long range camera or wing mirrors, like French moped riders - they all seem to do it in France.

Using a tungsten halogen light fitting I mounted an electric motor assembly from an electric mirror unit so I could move the cameras slightly from the drivers seat. Its a bit bulky, but its weather proof. The cameras I used, I bough from America as they produced a reverse image (though the monitor can achieve this, I thought it would save some fiddling) and are only the size of a 50 pence coin (or an American coin!).


A - Camera connections via phono plugs
B - Motorised base from a car wing mirror.
C - Camera

Installing the LCD screen wasn't easy as it didn't come with suitable brackets. So after a bid of cutting, filing and polishing of some aluminum, I managed to make a suitable quick release bracket as shown below.

To remove it from the van, its a simple job of unscrewing one thumb screw to release the bracket shown above from a male spigot mounted on the cab roof. 

 

The narrow bit in the middle of the bracket is a flexible ball joint, as on normal reversing mirrors, but much bigger and robust

I'm still working on tidying up the cables as it comes with a short lead as shown below.

The trouble with the above cable is that you have a load of connections hanging down under the monitor which obstructs your view and especially that of the passenger sitting in the middle seat. Extreme example shown below.

My answer will be to make a new lead the same as above, but about 700mm long, thus enabling me to have all the connections to the one side of the over-cab parcel shelf. The above cable provides all the necessary connections to the monitor, including the power. Basically two camera inputs via phono plugs, one audio phono, power. VGA input from a laptop, coupled with the USB for the touch-screen (mouse) plus another video camera input plug. To change from one input to another, its a matter of scrolling through the various inputs via a single button, this I found could be quite frustrating when you want to change from one camera to another and back again. So to overcome this difficulty using an existing small hole (used to be the fixing point for the B&W monitor) 



on top of the dash, I installed a miniature toggle switch, to switch between camera quickly and easily without delicate fiddling. Much better.

I do sell several complete systems on my store at Marcle Leisure, together with a selections of cameras and monitors. I'm going to also stock a range of roof mounted monitors which flip down for space saving. These will be available early 2006.

GPS

I use several digital map software packages to meet different needs. My main package is InfoMap Navigator from Directions Ltd (I now have an account with Directions Ltd. so I can offer their packages at a discounted price. My store is at MarcleLeisure.co.uk). This is a route finder package and its a very cheap package starting at less than £35 for Britain. The nice thing is that it offers voice directions (as well as clear on screen instructions - shown on a screen shot further up the page), thus no need to monitor the screen as the software gives you advance warning of junctions, then repeats them again when about 100 metres. If you make a wrong turn, or due to road works etc and you deviate more than a certain distance from your intended route, the software recalculate your route for you to continue without having to make any changes to the GPS software.

Another GPS software package I use is FugawiUK which is all the UK's Ordnance Survey maps 1:50,000 scale. The reason why I have this package is its detail of which I find useful for seeking overnight wild camp spots. I don't know if this package has route finder capabilities as I have never tried to find out as the above package works well for route finding and directions. An excellent feature it has is a MOB! This stands for 'Man over board', and when its clicked (on screen button) it puts a map pin on the map at the precise location when the button was pressed. Latter its then easy enough to add your own text like 'lovely views', 'water fall' etc. Whilst I bought FugawiUK, I understand that there is another package which also uses the OS maps called Memory Map. What its capabilities are, I don't know but would be pleased to hear from someone who has used FugawiUK and Memory Map for their opinion of both packages against one another.

The final package I use is Microsoft Auto Route. This does have the capability of route finding and producing direction instructions of which you need to monitor the screen. Sadly no voice instructions, otherwise it would almost be a market leader. There are many downloadable POI's (Place of Interest, or words to that effect) from the internet, these range from a list of Tesco stores, Petrol stations or even camp sites. Most downloadable POI's are in an Auto Route format, so it makes sense to have this package. The previous two packages don't easily import Auto Route POI's, so by loading the POI's into Auto Route, then getting the co-ordinates and details, its then easy enough to enter them on the other packages

One problem I found with the GPS was that the GPS antenna didn't always perform well sat on the dash, especially if raining, cloud cover or driving through tree lined roads. To overcome the problem of the GPS antenna trying to gain signals through the screen or being shielded by the steel structure of the van, was to mount it on the roof. Now I had another problem! How do I know the antenna is getting a signal?



On the side of the antenna is a small LED which flashes when its receiving signals from satellites, to overcome not being able to see the LED, I fitted a simple mimic circuit. On the antenna I attached a photo cell which monitors the LED, then when it detects a change in light level, it activates another LED on the dash as shown below.



A - Radiator fans
B - Reversing lamps
C - GPS signal LED

 

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