Ingo Vision backup camera

If you’re not already sweating with anticipation, just from the title of this blog post, you may wish to tune out.  This is a geek session.

I got my IngoVision backup camera installed yesterday, along with the Mid-City Engineering interface module for the Mercedes COMAND unit (that’s the factory-supplied “all in one” box for the radio/CD/DVD/nav/Bluetooth/iPod etc.).  The result has been exactly what I was hoping for — a good, clear, full-color rear view while towing.

Here’s how it attaches to the car.  The Ingo “PremiumCam” kit includes a very tough external connector which we mounted on a gusset attached to the receiver hitch. It looks just like a miniature version of the 7-way connector for the Airstream.

The rest of the kit (left, click for larger view) includes a coiled cable that runs between the Airstream and the Mercedes, a second plug to mount on the tongue of the Airstream, and a long run of cable that will go to the back of the Airstream.  The camera will mount on the bumper compartment lid at the back of the Airstream.

Inside the car, the Mid-City VIM164p interface box was attached to the back of the COMAND unit, and the camera cable was connected to the COMAND’s backup camera input.  That part of the installation is completely invisible, since it is all hidden inside the dashboard.

In the picture above at left, you can see all the cables and camera plugged into the Mercedes for a test, since I haven’t yet put it on the Airstream.  Ingo mounted the Airstream plug on his propane tank cover, which is very slick and looks like a factory design.  I’m mounting mine on the flagpole holder, which is bolted to the electric jack.  The cable will run in a protected loom under the bellypan, so it should be a quick installation with some ties and rivets.

mercedes-cam-screen-1.jpgUp front, the interface module allows the camera to be tied into the COMAND system as if it were OEM equipment.  I just press one button on the steering wheel and there’s the picture from behind the Airstream.  It’s a little stretched, probably due to the difference in aspect ratio between the Ingo-supplied screen and the Mercedes screen, but it looks good.

The camera also automatically activates when in reverse.  The nagging text you see at the top of the screen is superimposed by the Mercedes COMAND unit, not the Ingo system.

If you have a truck or SUV with more interior space, and don’t go for the fancy integrated nav screen deal that I did, you can get the same camera system for a pretty reasonable price.  The IngoVision PremiumCam (two-camera) system runs $599.  The BaseCam (one camera) system is $399. That gets you everything you need including the screen.  Installation can be DIY, or you can bring it to a local automotive electronics store and have them do it in a couple of hours.

I think this will qualify as a legitimate safety improvement.  I’ve seen a lot of Airstreams with backup cameras (usually older models and Classic motorhomes), which suggests to me that at one time it was probably a factory option.  Well, those cameras have come a long way since then — they’re smaller, cheaper, and have color, “night vision,” and better resolution.  I think it’s time Airstream consider bringing back this option as a way to improve safety for owners.

I can’t wait to get try this out on the road.  My first chance will probably be in May when we shove off for the big summer/fall trip. I’ll report on our experiences with it once we get moving.

Readying for summer 2010

As always, we are looking six to eight months into the future to plan our travels this season.  This year the plan is fairly ambitious for a family that is supposedly not full-timing anymore.  We will leave Tucson in early May and likely not return until mid-November.

I’m not entirely sure about this amount of time on the road this year.  Life in Arizona has been pleasant and easy, and I like to be here for at least a little of the hot weather.  Last year we stayed until mid-June and got a solid month of 100-degree days, which I actually like except for the air conditioning bill.  And usually we get back in October, just in time to catch the last week or two of hot days and warm nights.  So I find myself reviewing the tentative travel plan and wondering, “Do we really need to be out that long?”

2011tour.jpgBut when I flip over my Magic 8-Ball, the answer keeps coming up “Yes.” We have a lot to do this year.  I am launching a new magazine (first issue due out in October 2010, topic to be announced later) and that means double-duty on the road.  We’ll be doing both Airstream stuff, like Alumapalooza, and prep work for the new magazine all over the country.  Plus, we are expecting to attend a wedding on the east coast, and visit family.  So Eleanor and I have been playing “connect the dots” with the US map, and we’ve strung together a route that basically goes like this: AZ-CO-OH-NY-VT-MA-CT-VA-NC-GA-FL-LA-TX-NM-AZ.  I figure we’ll log about 14,000 miles all inclusive, over six months.

(Flags on the map are only the stops we know of at this time.  We’ll make others …)

This may be the last year we can pull off this sort of mega-trip.  Our daughter is reaching an age where she has responsibilities and long-term projects that can only be completed at home base.  I am gradually accumulating projects that may require a little more air travel, too. We’re going to have to face some tough decisions in 2011.  So as always, we need to look at this trip as if it might be our last, and try to make the most of it.

Part of our pre-expedition prep is to get the tow vehicle and Airstream in shape.  The Airstream is already set to go, in fine running condition thanks to work done on our California trip in January.  (I can’t wait to log some real miles on those new Michelin LTX tires and see if they live up to the promise!  Finally, a trip without multiple tire failures?  Wouldn’t that be nice?)

The Mercedes is also set to go, but I’m going to make a few improvements.  One item to be installed will be a clear paint protector on the hood, mirrors, and forward part of the fenders.  Here in Arizona you can tell the mileage of a car just by counting the chips in the hood and grill paint, thanks to our sandy/gravelly environment.  The Mercedes is less than a year old, but already has two chips in the paint on the hood and a few more on the mirrors.  Since I plan to keep it for a long time, I guess I’ll spend the money on the paint shield.  Bah.  We didn’t have to do this on the Armada, because its hood was much higher off the ground. I’ve noticed that the lower the hood on a car, the more quickly it gets dinged.

Another upgrade will be to install Ingo’s camera.  Last January when we were camping in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, a fellow named Ingo Werk happened to be camping nearby.  Ingo and I “knew” each other only via the Internet (a couple of years ago he contributed a small article to Airstream Life magazine), so it was nice to finally meet in person.  He’s an Airstream owner of course, but it turns out that he also has a company that makes automotive upgrades — and his latest product is “INGO VISION,” a very cool backup camera system with “night vision” and two cameras.  One camera goes on your tow vehicle, and the other goes on your Airstream.

I saw this in operation on Ingo’s rig and was very impressed.  There’s a 7-inch LCD screen that mounts in your truck and operates the cameras.  At the push of a button you can see the view from either camera.  The system is wired rather than wireless (so you can get a reliable and extremely clear view in color).  With his “premium cam” Ingo supplies wiring and connectors so you can hook up the Airstream camera from the truck using a quick-disconnect plug.  When you are towing, you can constantly monitor the traffic behind your Airstream on the LCD screen.  When you’re not towing, the backup cam on the truck still works, which is handy for hitching up.

There was only one problem for us.  The interior space of the GL320 is pretty limited, and I could not find a place to mount the 7″ screen where it would not crowd us.  In a typical truck or larger SUV there would be no problem, but we are already struggling with a GPS and tire pressure monitor in a fairly tight cockpit.  Fortunately, I discovered the wizards at Mid-City Engineering, who make OEM-quality upgrade modules for various cars.  They have a little magic interface box that will make the Ingo Vision camera image appear right on the built-in nav screen in the car.  Very cool.

So I’ve gotten that box and arranged for the local car electronics place to install it tomorrow, along with the plug on the back of the Merc for the Airstream’s camera.  I’ll still need to mount the Ingo Vision camera on the back of the Airstream, and string the camera wire from front to back of the Airstream, but that should be a reasonable DIY job.  Once it is all running, I’ll be able to watch the view behind the Airstream while towing, which should be a huge help to my overall situation awareness.  (Normally I’m all about looking forward and not backward, but in this case I’ll make an exception.)  I’ll post pictures of the setup in a separate blog post, later.

Finishing up house projects is the other major task before we go.  We have begun to take our house a little more seriously, so we are very slowly fixing the things that we have ignored over the past three years.  None of the projects are huge, but it’s important to tie up all the loose ends before we take off. Mostly that means planting a few trees and getting them established, fixing some drainage issues, finalizing some painting projects, zapping the weeds, and other such homebody tasks.

Doing these things helps motivate me to leave.  I don’t like doing house maintenance.  Once we are on the road, we can forget we have a house and just live in the moment. It’s always briefly disorienting, then freeing, and finally comforting to know that don’t need to a house and all the stuff that goes with it.  When we are in the house, that perspective is hard to maintain.

We’ve got one more camping trip planned locally before we take off.  Sometime in the next two weeks we’ll go to southeastern Arizona to explore the wonderful Chiricahua National Monument and some great national forest campsites nearby. This will be a Caravel trip, since the big Safari won’t fit in those campsites.  The mountains run about 5,000-7,000 feet, which is why we’ve waited as late as possible in the season to visit them.  Even in mid-April we’ll probably have freezing nights.  But this area has been on our “to do” list for three years and if we don’t go in April we won’t be able to go again until sometime in 2011.   There won’t be nightly blog reports since I don’t expect any cellular service, but I’ll post a full report upon our return.