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RV Camper-Van Power Cabinet Fan Controller System with Arduino :: Student Project

Sometimes you have a problem, and you just need a solution.

Jack Tinsley (a customer of PEA) had a problem with the power-cabinet in his Camper-Van. In his own words:

The real problem happens when I’m driving on a long trip, I don’t know how hot it is in the power cabinet or what the voltage is for the two batteries. As a result the refrigerator shuts off and could be off for hours until we arrive at our destination.

Jack used an Arduino to build a system that measures the battery voltage, reads the temperature of the power cabinet, operates a cooling fan, as needed, and transmits this information wirelessly to a second Arduino that displays the data on a screen so he can easily read it while driving.

What is a camper-van you ask?

According to Jack, it’s just a truck.  But if you take a look at his video below, you’ll see just how decked out it is…

I’ll let Jack describe the tale of this project below.  What follows was shamelessly borrowed from Jack’s cool website about the truck and project here (You should check out his site – it’s got a ton of great pictures on the build).

How can I solve this problem?

This is our RV Camper Van power cabinet as it appears today.

Power cabinet, with two deep cycle 12 volt batteries, a 3000 watt inverter, a 75 amp battery charge

Behind the doors are two deep cycle 12 volt batteries, a 3000 watt inverter, a 75 amp battery charger and an automatic power switch.

Although I was cautioned from several sources that this power cabinet would need adequate ventilation, I thought there would be enough space for cooling. Early on I installed a 120 volt ventilation fan that operated when the battery charger was operating.

The power for the fan and charger came from a shore power plugged into a 120 volt 30 amp service. Several times over the past 2 years the inverter overheated and shut off as designed. It was caused by excessive heat.

The real problem happens when I’m driving on a long trip, I don’t know how hot it is in the power cabinet or what the voltage is for the two batteries. As a result the refrigerator shuts off and could be off for hours until we arrive at our destination.

So why not take the easy way, install a 12 volt cooling fan and a switch?

Dr Duino arduino shield and arduino with breadboard and wires

Where’s the fun in that!

Or I could come up with a very complicated solution that requires knowledge that I didn’t possess.

I could be misquoting this but with my weak knowledge of science and philosophy let me give it a stab. William of Ockham is quoted in Ockham’s razor;

“When the solution to any problem has multiple correct answers the simplest is always the right choice.”

I gave myself two months to solve this problem or go for the easy answer.

The only hint that this might work was an NPR story I heard about these kids in Los Angeles who made an electronic device that played music using plants (or something outragious ). The reason for their success was they were able to use a new device that helps make complicated electronic things easy to learn and build.

I thought I had a 30% chance of success but I would learn a lot and that is worth something, right?

Imagine telling your family “You can get me and Arduino Uno for Christmas” (I’m 68 years old). “So what is an Arduino?” they asked. I replied “I don’t know but I might be able to make something with this thing.”

Arduino, dr duino arduino sheild, small lcd display, rf arduino shield breadboard and wires

What does my project do?

It measures the battery voltage, reads the temperature of the power cabinet, operates a cooling fan, as needed, and transmits this information to a second Arduino that displays the data on a screen so I can easily read it while driving.

I could go into a lot more boring detail about how this whole thing works but you really don’t want to know. Suffice it to say it took two months and it works.

plastic enclosure holding arduino and arduino shields
How was the success possible?

I assure you that I stand on the backs of giants.

After completing the initial Arduino training videos which gave me the basics I turned to YouTube. I discovered a subculture that I had no idea existed.

The videos I found ranged from very helpful to crazy bad. It took a lot of patience to wade through hundreds of videos.

What I was missing was structure and a foundation on computer programming and electronics. I found exactly what I needed on the web at “Programming Electronics Academy”

In full disclosure, I have written computer code using Basic programming language 35 years ago.

So I have some knowledge of how computer programs work. But it’s kind of like knowing English and learning French or Italian. They all have similar structure but now I needed to know the words and their syntax. I finished the programming course in 30 days. Then I dove right in and three weeks later I had working prototypes.

I packaged the devices in two 3D printed boxes and enclosed the sensors and the display in small housings that were also printed.

electronics circuit board vice holding arduino shieldsmall lcd display in nice enclosure showing temperature

I wanted to prove to myself that I could learn something new with hard work and determination.

I’m not a twenty year old and learning doesn’t come as easy as it once did.

Last year there was a news story about the death of a 27 year old pro football player who killed his friend. The autopsy revealed “After years of severe head injuries his brain resembled that of a 67 year old man”, shocking!

Wait just a minute, so what you are really saying is “At 68, I have a brain of a 27 year old man who has had thousands of severe head injuries over 15 years and may be prone to homicide”.

Take a look in the mirror and tell yourself that.

You may be too old to play pro football but you are never too old to learn.

Jack Tinsley resides in Orlando, Florida when he is not touring the world with his wife in their camper-van.

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