Some people play golf in their spare time, some like to fish, watch rugby or read a book. For me I go through phases where I want to learn all sorts of new things. However one phase that always keeps coming back, is my overwhelming urge to play with gadgets and smart techie stuff. In this case it's making our caravan, a smart caravan / RV.
Now, in my mind I'm not a guru by no means but I do like to work out how things work. This could be due to being a mechanic for most of my life?. When I was younger I taught myself how to build and program a three wheeled robot with sonar sensors on it. This robot could drive around the lounge without hitting anything. Since then i've always been interested in the notion of bringing the digital age into real life.
I recall thinking 16 or so years ago, what if the toilet knew it was me entering the bathroom ? It could then automatically put the toilet seat up for me and back down again once I was finished. I never acted on it because, well, it was just basically being lazy but... now that we are in the digital age It got me re thinking.
If we had a house I would still love to automate it. I'd have this and that and things and stuff doing random geeky things.
That's when it dawned on me, "We own a house" all-beit on wheels it's still our house why don't I make that a smart caravan / RV ?.
What automation have we done so far ?
Rather than jumping in head first and drowning I've made a start on automating the RV / Caravan lights. Both Sue and I have always disliked the fact that the LED lights in the van are so bright and cold feeling, so that was a good place to start. As far as lights go :
I've replaced alot of the original "Cool White" LED strips with RGBWW ( Red , Green , Blue, Warm White) LED Strips. That's for those times we want some colour in our life or want to go with a warmer white rather than the bright "cool white" strips that are in the van from factory.
I then added RGBWW LED strip controllers to the wiring that are WIFI "smart " enabled. What that means is that the LED lights can now be controlled ( colour changed, dimmed, set to random patterns, dance to the sound of music etc) via a app on our phones over WIFI.
I then decided that I didn't like the Sphere light controller that come with the van cause it wasn't smart. So I've wired up three 4 channel Sonoff WIFI smart switches to be able to trigger the lights on and off using our phones over WIFI or by voice.
It was then a case of having a back up of being able to control the lights like normal should the WIFI drop out in a remote area. So next to be installed was a RF (remote frequency) compatible light switches around the van. We got ones that talked nicely to the Sonoff switches because the sphere ones wouldn't.
From there we bought two Google mini smart speakers to assist in controlling the lights around the van. I got one for inside and one for outside the van. These also effectively replace the need to have the outside dumb speakers that come with the van. Now we can listen to spotify outside if required without using the installed radio etc.
In the end what we have now is phase one of the light automation project well under way. We can control all of our lights using either voice commands, Using our phones, or by using Wall switches. We can also do it from anywhere in the world.
When operating the lights we can do it via keywords like telling google "Hey google , Good night" and google will turn off all the caravan lights, turn off the TV and AC (if on) and then play sleep sounds to us for an hour. Or we can simply say turn on/off kitchen lights etc.
What we can also do is change the colour of any of our lights from a warm white to a bright red or anything in between depending on our mood. We can also make them dim or become brighter depending on our needs. That last feature I'd have to say is gold in regards to the outside lights.
A good outcome
Our Awning light which sits in the tube of the carefree awning got replaced with a warm white LED strip. It then got fitted with a WIFI controller as well. We can now set the brightness to around %7. Generally speaking, we get alot less bugs at night now. This definitely helps when sitting outside and not have bugs dropping in our drinks like they used to. 7% brightness is still enough to not sit in the dark. So for that reason on it's own it's been a worth while project.
Phase two of the lights are now a work in progress. This phase has involved giving myself a crash course on flashing different firmware on the electronics that control our lights. It also meant a crash course on linux computer commands and understanding the Home assistant program. However, on the upside I now have the lights working more "automated" rather than just voice command etc.
With the new firmware and other geeky phase two bits well under way here is what our lights do now :
The toilet light comes on between 6am and 10:30 at night when motion is detected and turns off automatically when no motion is detected. During 10:30pm and 6am this automation stops and the lights simply wont come on so we don't light up the whole caravan or wake ourselves up to much.
At dusk ( based on our location) AND if we are connected to mains AND we are home, our three main lights that we use will come on automatically, otherwise if we are NOT connected to mains only one light comes on and a hour later the outside light will turn on.
If the rainwater tank pump is activated it will automatically turn off before the rain water tank goes dry.
If we are not connected to mains, the inverter that runs our coffee machine will automatically turn on at 6am and turn off at a preset time or when we turn it off manually.
The next post coming soon will be more of a "how to " guide for those that want a bit more of a in depth overview of adding what i'm calling "phase one" of smart lighting.
Other Smart caravan features done so far are:
Google Mini turns on/off the TV automatically via a Broadlink Infra red manager,
Set TV volume and channels based on voice commands,
Added a WIFI smart circuit board to the Air conditioning so i can turn that on and off remotely
Added a rain water tank under the van and a water pump that is voice or phone activated to fill our main water tanks.
Installed a WIFI router so all these items talk to eac other.
Made the van inverter (300w) voice/ phone activated.
Made the vehicle inverter (2000w) voice / phone activated
All of the above will be progressively touched on in future posts for those interested in making your home on wheels a Smart Caravan / RV.
Make the slideout open /close and stabilizer legs go down when we pull up to a camp spot.
Or may be have windows and vents open when we tell them to, if it gets to hot.
Turn the diesel Heater on if it gets too cold and we are at home.
Turn on/off the gas bottles.
Modify the sirrocco fans so they are "smart" fans
lower the aerial , bring in the slideout and raise the stabilzer legs and close all windows when we tell google " Time to hit the road"
These are things I like to do when I have too much spare time 🙂 Having lithium batteries allows me to not stress too much about the extra power consumption ( which is minor anyway) and if your thinking to yourself .. why bother when you can lean forward and turn the light on ?