Built-in computer dashboard

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The enhanced understanding of my motorhome’s operation I gained by using VMSpc on my laptop was so great that I undertook building a dedicated system into my 1996 Safari Serengeti. I picked the VIA SP13000 mini-itx motherboard since this would make a compact installation and would provide the ability to display the VMSpc data as well as GPS data and rear view camera data.

In addition to the motherboard I purchased a M1ATX power supply that is designed to power a computer from a 12V DC supply, a 100 MB laptop hard drive, a DVD R/W, a WXGA 15.5” LCD display and a Hauppauge WinTV-PVR-150 TV converter. The VIA SP13000 has pretty capable video and sound chips as well as a wide assortment of I/O ports including a serial port for the VMSpc. I didn’t want to deal with a USB to serial converter. To lessen the vibration input to the system I mounted the computer on a plywood base which I isolated from the motorhome with a soft foam suspension system. I replaced the existing dashboard with one I fabricated from 1/8” aluminum with the display occupying the entire center section. I chose to retain the speedometer, fuel, oil pressure and turbo boost steam gages and put them on the side as backup in case of a computer failure somewhere down the road. Since I had to fabricate the new dashboard I elected to include a Smart Tire system and a variable speed wiper control. I also included a switch and indicator lamps for the computer power and hard drive activity. I installed the DVD in the dash as well as RJ-45 LAN and USB ports. The USB port allows me to plan a trip on my laptop and transfer it to the dashboard for display. I am an active digital photographer so I included a CF card reader for dumping photos into the computer. I installed a track ball on the console beside the driver seat and use a wireless keyboard for setup or if I want to use the computer when we are in camp. The Hauppauge unit includes a remote and lets me display TV and record video on the hard drive to give a “TIVO” capability. I have made provisions for driving a remote display. I intend to remove the existing TV and replace it with a flat panel monitor driven by the computer. Sound data is passed to a Panasonic radio and amplifier system. Internet access is via hot spots and a Linksys wireless router into the RJ-45 port. I also had to purchase a new rear view camera as the original one did not provide a mirror image and the computer did not have enough capability to flip it.

I purchased some wood veneer which I used to cover the aluminum dash. Since the new dash is almost three inches taller than the old one I had to fabricate a new cover for the dash. I used aluminum and fiberglass to build it and covered it with foam and vinyl. Without question this was the hardest part of the installation. The cover provides a small sun shield. The display washes out somewhat in direct sunlight but is still quite readable. For night driving I reverse the streets colors and turn the display brightness down.

I am running Windows XP Home as the OS with VMSpc 2.2, WinTV and Street Atlas which I just recently upgraded to 2007. I have arranged the VMSpc data across the top and down the right side of the screen. Street Atlas 2007 fits beneath and to the left of the VMSpc data. I run the WinTV always on top but with no controls visible and have positioned the window over a non-critical part of the Streets display.

I originally provided a relay system that would power the computer up when the key was turned on or by a switch on the panel. I have since disabled the key activation and just turn it on before I start up the engine. The display runs from 12 V DC. I wasn’t able to get any data on allowable input voltage range so I regulate the voltage to the panel to 12V to make sure I am not supplying to high of a voltage to it. I am running the computer from the house batteries to avoid any transients from the starter. I have had the system installed for over a year and 7000 miles now and the only problem to date has been a faulty hard drive cable. I had used the circular cables rather than the flat ones but switched to the flat ones after the failure.

I have attached photos of the installation and the screen layout. My only regret is that I waited so long to do it.

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Outstanding

I am a longtime user of DeLorme and a new user of VMSpc and your dash looks perfect to me. I made my own stand beside the driver's seat for my laptop with a swivel to allow me to position the laptop as needed. Your dash not only puts the screen where you want it, you eliminate ALL of the wires outside of the dash. If you would post this to a couple of other forums I know they would go nuts over it. They are forum.delorme.com and rv.net/forum.

Jim Walker
Northern Virginia

Very nice.

I happen to own a '97 Ivory Edition, which has exactly the same dash. I'm in the process of putting our Glass Dash in - I'm just waiting for a new piece of dash material from Monaco parts. (I wanted all the plastic to still match.) Once you've had glass, you'll never want to go back to needles.

Matching Plastic

Yeah, after I finished the dash I didn't like the looks of the side consle so I made a new one of those and covered it with the veneer also. Got rid of the ash tray in the process. I would post an image but can't break the code on adding one after the fact.

Comment

Jack, After a period of time I came up with just one minor drawback of your dash and perhaps you have already taken care of this. Occasionally the sun beams down directly on my dash which impacts my rear view monitor visibility. I finally got wise and made a shield for the monitor and now no more direct sun. I would think that a shield would aid your in-dash monitor also.

Jim Walker
Northern Virginia

Sun

It really isn't a problem. The closeup of the screen was taken with direct sunlight on the screen. As you can see it is quite readable. The worst case is when the sun comes in over my left shoulder and if it is really bright I slap one of those static cling sun visor on the window behind me.

Sun

I have used various LCD displays(Compaq Tablet, etc) for this and brightness was always an issue. Of course one can $olve this
problem by using a tran$flective LCD display as Glass Dash does but found the price to be
exorbitant. After looking at many monitors, I finally found one that is relatively inexpensive(~$125 on eBay) and very bright(450 cd/m2 ). The specs are here:
http://www.cmv.com.tw/en/product.asp?pid={1340E741-40EE-4FCC-BC8F-999E9401B876}
I think they've been discontinued but are still
available on eBay, etc.
As the specs verify they are much brighter than the typical notebook dsplay making them easily readable in most bright environments.
Tom Fisher

Sun

I should have known that you would have a solution for the sun issue. The static cling shade would be a good idea for me also.

Jim Walker
Northern Virginia

Great Idea....

What a great idea....

It is not exactly clear where the motherboard is located. Is it built into the dash, behind the monitor?

what did you use for 'backup' camera?

TV card... nice touch.

- Roger Berke -

Motherboard location

One of the pictures shows the motherboard mounted on a wooden bracket. I used a piece of foam rubber about an inch thick under the wood. I attached the rubber to the wood and then attached the rubber to the motorhome behind the dash panel. It is not attached to the dash panel but is right behind it. There isn't a direct connection from the computer to the motorhome except through the foam rubber. It is a reasonably firm foam but still gives a lot of isolation from vibration and shock.

I bought one of the CAM cameras. Don't remember the exact model but they are available on the net for 30-40 dollars. You would need one that has a mirror image output.

Backup Camera...

Jack...

Does the camera connect to the computer via the TV card or does it hook up to one of the USB ports?

What is the field of view of the camera?

- Roger -

Backup Camera

The camera I bought has a composite video output that I feed into the TV card. I wanted the TIVO capability so I didn't look for a camera with USB output. I think some are available that have a USB output which would eliminate the need for a TV card. The field of view is slightly narrower than the original one but I don't know exactly what it is.

So is there a collection of sample layouts?

Just got my system and would like to see some samples of what others are using. Are they available?

Thanks!
Safe Travels!

Samples

I and others have tried to post at this site without success. Too bad as it's very useful for new users.

I'm a big fan of the product.

I have some samples from other sites that I'll be happy to share. drop me a note at:

paulb4333@gmail.com

Bear in mind that you may have trouble with the .scr extension as it triggers virus/script warnings.
Zip sometimes works, but sometimes you have to change the file name.

2006 Fleetwood Excursion