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Mapping and engine monitoring

by Wayne Malone

I mounted a computer monitor to the bottom of the cabinet over the motorhome steering wheel so I can monitor the diesel engine condition and performance. Located there I only have to raise my eyes a small amount to see the monitor and the road pretty much at the same time. The picture is large enough to see what is necessary without devoting too much attention. Safety should not be an issue. The engine monitoring takes up about ¼ of the screen leaving ¾ for a mapping program. The mapping program uses a GPS receiver so a green dot shows the motor home’s position on the map.

I use the Silverleaf VMSpc hardware and software for the engine monitoring and Delorme Street Atlas 2007 for the mapping program. My GPS is a Garmin 76. The Garmin 76 was a carryover from a previous MH which had a badly calibrated speedometer. The GPS had a large readout so I could easily see the speed. It has a RS232 serial output and requires a serial to USB converter. I will probably change the GPS to a Delorme Earthmate sometime soon to simplify the installation. The VMSpc hardware is also serial and requires a serial to USB adapter.

I chose a 17” Hanns-G HW-173-D wide screen monitor because of its performance and low cost. This monitor sports spectacular 1440 x 900 WXGA+ resolution, 500:1 contrast, 250-nit brightness, along with a .255 pixel pitch and fast 8ms response time. It also has 160 degree vertical and horizontal viewing angles. It has both analog and digital video inputs. I use the digital interface. The cost was about $130 plus shipping. A larger or smaller widescreen monitor certainly can be used to suit the driver. However, good 15” widescreen monitors are hard to find.

To mount the monitor I removed the base and mounted a square piece of aluminum on the back, using the 4 screw positions provided. At the top of the aluminum plate I mounted 2 small door hinges. These hinges were in turn mounted to the bottom of overhead cabinet. The weight distribution of the monitor and cables, angles the monitor just about perfect for a 90 degree view for the driver.

The Silverleaf VMSpc hardware is available from at a cost of $340.55 plus shipping. The latest program can be downloaded from the Silverleaf website for free.

I looked at several possibilities for a computer but decided on the Acer Aspire L 310-EC352M. The small desktop computer is 2.4”x 9.8”x7.9”. The power supply is separate. For the interface it has a DVD + RW reader/writer, audio jacks and USB2 ports. It also has 802.11b/g Wi-Fi with a small removable antenna on the back. Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 comes pre-installed. The computer can be used for all of the needs required of a standard desktop. I mounted the computer and PS in the compartment above the monitor. To keep the number of connecting cables to a minimum I used a 4 position USB hub and one connecting cable to connect the inputs from the GPS, VMSpc, keyboard and mouse.

I mounted a small keyboard about the same size as the keyboard of a laptop and a mouse pad on a board which I use to control the computer. I found the computer on sale at CompUSA for about $350.

Neither the monitor nor the computer has speakers so I mounted a pair of $15 speakers from Wal-Mart on each side of the monitor. It is a good idea to wire the audio so it can use a noise cancelling microphone/headset for voice controlling the mapping program. A switch is nice to turn off the audio when it says “off route recalculating” incessantly. Of course you can turn off the off route feature inside the program.

I have obtained a Microsoft model 1044 keyboard which includes the mouse function. The interface is infrared so no wires are required. The package really looks great, but I have not been able to get it to work. Cost was about $90.

So for less than $1000 you should be able to get the parts to install a great mapping and monitoring system.