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Old 04-22-2019, 02:50 PM   #1
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"Smart" airstream?

I'd like to get a little better control over the hvac in my '67 Overlander. This thing is an antique and has manual controls of everything, so rather than get a bunch of new appliances and/or thermostats, I'm thinking of taking some spare PC parts I have and building an automation system. Think automatically operating roof vent/fantastic fan, a/c fan, a/c compressor, electrical heater, etc. Thought is when on DC power, it'd open (or close) the roof vent and control the fan to try to control temps, when AC is present it'd automatically switch over to a/c, control the heater at night etc.

The brains would be an Asrock a300W, which is a tiny PC that runs on DC power, so could be run right to the DC power (which is pretty much always working whether plugged in or not) and consumes little power when idle. I could also integrate with a monitor and sound system for smart tv/spotify etc, which would be a bonus for rainy days.

Anybody try anything like this? My biggest concern is the wiring, as it'll be difficult to hide all of the wiring without removing the interior skin, though there may be some wireless options provided I can hook into power nearby.
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Old 04-22-2019, 05:05 PM   #2
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Bob,

You don't state your expertise in computer programming or industrial automation. So I will give you my experiences.

I am a retired Systems Architect/Integrator who has designed and built data collection, manipulation, and tracking systems that have been, and to my knowledge, are still being used by major US Corporations and US Government Agencies. After I retired, I became interested in using computers to control "dumb" electrical devices. Call it Industrial Automation or the IoT (Internet of Things).

It is a different world. All my past systems revolved around computers talking to other computers, and through peripherals, receiving and disseminating information. I wasn't actually controlling anything physical.

To monitor and control electrical devices you are into the world of Analog/Digital and Digital/Analog converters, Analog and Digital IO, sensors that provide the input information, SSRs that convert the low power Output to line voltage electrical power, and SCADA programs that provide the Human to Machine Interface.

I am not trying to discourage you, but it gets complicated.

Pat
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Old 04-22-2019, 06:30 PM   #3
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I would consider an Arduino lots of stuff for interfacing what you want to do it has 20 I/O ports 6 are analog and programing is C++.


Arduino is more of a hobbyist PC with lots of on line help I'm not sure about the ease of programing and interface requirements of the a300w for all the things you are wanting to do..
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Old 04-22-2019, 07:31 PM   #4
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Hi

You will be writing, testing, and debugging a *lot* of code to get things running. Unless you have a *lot* of spare time, that's going to slow this down quite a bit.

First step is going to be to find a true RTOS to run on the PC. The other option would be to spend a bit of time customizing one of the stock Linux distributions. I would not even think about trying to do this with a modern version of Windows ....

Bob
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Old 04-22-2019, 07:46 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by uncle_bob View Post
Hi

You will be writing, testing, and debugging a *lot* of code to get things running. Unless you have a *lot* of spare time, that's going to slow this down quite a bit.

First step is going to be to find a true RTOS to run on the PC. The other option would be to spend a bit of time customizing one of the stock Linux distributions. I would not even think about trying to do this with a modern version of Windows ....

Bob
UncleBob is spot on. All the control computers I know of run some flavor of the Unix OS. Automating the monitoring and control of dumb electrical devices is not a trivial undertaking.

Pat
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:27 AM   #6
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Hi

Next gotcha is that most of the tiny PC's hat I know of only run USB for I/O. That's pretty limiting in terms of the devices you can use as interface modules for your system. A much more common approach for a scratch built control setup is a full sized chassis and a *bunch* of (often semi-custom) cards.

Once you go to a chassis, you get into shock and vibration. A typical PC enclosure is designed to spend its life under a desk. There are indeed "mobile rack mount" computer chassis made for this sort of thing. They are not cheap. They often do have DC power options.

Looking at power, you probably have an amp or two just to run the basic PC. If it runs USB I/O, each dongle will pull some fraction of an amp all the time. We all complain about the static current draw on our multiplex systems. This one will pull more than one of the "normal" setups.

Next up you have the displays. Running a video cable to multiple touch screens is not a good idea. I would suggest that some sort of CPU + touch screen at each location makes a lot more sense. Then you can run RS-485 / RS-422 out to each of them. A panel at each end of the trailer plus one mid-ships is likely the minimum. In the Classic there are way more than that. Running one straight to the PC - sure. The other two ... not so much.

Next up will be "automating" the A/C and the furnace. If they are all brand new, that will likely be one sort of task (I/O to their interface). If they are older, it may involve a lot more rip out / put in kind of work.

Is this an impossible task? Nope, far from it. Folks do this kind of stuff for a living. Some even survive the experience and retire ( and then buy an Airstream). Generally it's done in the context of "we are building a couple of $X,XXX,XXX.00 whatzits and need them to do stuff". If it takes a couple guys a year or two to work out and get running...not a problem.

Bob (Happily retired in the Airstream ...)
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Old 04-23-2019, 07:50 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by uncle_bob View Post
Hi

Next gotcha is that most of the tiny PC's hat I know of only run USB for I/O. That's pretty limiting in terms of the devices you can use as interface modules for your system. A much more common approach for a scratch built control setup is a full sized chassis and a *bunch* of (often semi-custom) cards.

Once you go to a chassis, you get into shock and vibration. A typical PC enclosure is designed to spend its life under a desk. There are indeed "mobile rack mount" computer chassis made for this sort of thing. They are not cheap. They often do have DC power options.

Looking at power, you probably have an amp or two just to run the basic PC. If it runs USB I/O, each dongle will pull some fraction of an amp all the time. We all complain about the static current draw on our multiplex systems. This one will pull more than one of the "normal" setups.

Next up you have the displays. Running a video cable to multiple touch screens is not a good idea. I would suggest that some sort of CPU + touch screen at each location makes a lot more sense. Then you can run RS-485 / RS-422 out to each of them. A panel at each end of the trailer plus one mid-ships is likely the minimum. In the Classic there are way more than that. Running one straight to the PC - sure. The other two ... not so much.

Next up will be "automating" the A/C and the furnace. If they are all brand new, that will likely be one sort of task (I/O to their interface). If they are older, it may involve a lot more rip out / put in kind of work.

Is this an impossible task? Nope, far from it. Folks do this kind of stuff for a living. Some even survive the experience and retire ( and then buy an Airstream). Generally it's done in the context of "we are building a couple of $X,XXX,XXX.00 whatzits and need them to do stuff". If it takes a couple guys a year or two to work out and get running...not a problem.

Bob (Happily retired in the Airstream ...)
Tell me about it. I'm working on a project for my off grid home (Not an RV) to control diversion loads. I'm using an industrial PLC and Modbus TCP as the communications protocol between major components. Diagram of the system is below.

Pat
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Old 04-23-2019, 10:33 AM   #8
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I like your idea of automating your Airstream. The easiest way to make it happen would be to start with a readily available, commercial home automation system such as "Insteon"https://www.smarthome.com/insteon/in...rter-kits.html. It has Wifi and radio capabilities and is designed to be used by regular people who have no experience in designing automated systems and programming PLCs. Once you understand the "Insteon" system, then you can adapt the devices in your Airstream that you want to control to work with Insteon. If this seems complicated and expensive then don't even think of starting with that Asrock.
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Old 04-23-2019, 11:51 AM   #9
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I have what I would consider a lot of experience with home automation—none with vehicle or RV automation except for the software that runs in my 2017 Volvo SUV and 2019 Ford truck. I’ve designed home automation systems and have had them designed for me.

The one thing I’ll say is that while many of these automation systems can be great, they are in their infancy. It’s easy to be wowed by speaking lighting scenes and having them turn on, opening your garage or unlocking doors from your watch, checking in on the house or controlling greenhouse climate from another contintent, etc. All of these things are great and in some cases allow us to do or manage things that would otherwise be impossible or that would require hired help. At this point I probably wouldn’t build or buy a home without one or without plans to install one.

That said, I have often wished that a door lock just had a key or that I didn’t have to update firmware or reboot a lightswitch. While I was working I spent all my time looking at screens and I resented it when something wasn’t working in the house and I had to spend more time on a screen getting things to work (often in the late hours when everyone was sleeping). Keeping track of versions of this and whether they are compatible with versions of that. Paying subscription fees. Troubleshooting things over the phone with vendors or family members. Having to reconnect dozens of devices to wifi if I change a password. It all works about 95% of the time, but the 5% of time when things aren’t working are exasperating.

I’m intentionally keeping this stuff out of my trailer though, largely to get a break from it. Don’t take this the wrong way—I think this would be a fun project for an Airstream and could potentially yield a really wonderful experience for its owner, both in the design and implementation and in the use of the system. Just thought I’d post a different perspective.
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Old 04-23-2019, 08:52 PM   #10
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I was thinking more of adapting one of the home automation packages out there - but I work in machine learning and AI, can program in python and scala, have a lot of experience with Linux etc. so if I wanted to, I suppose I could build something bespoke. I have also done some work on amazon alexa skills, so could build a skill to control some of it. To be honest, though, that's my day job and I'm not sure how much free time I'd want to use on that, so I was thinking more of an integration project than a build a complete system project.

So looking for different wireless controlled objects I could put in the system - like thermostats, switches, solenoids etc.

Looking more into it, Samsung SmartThings has a bunch of compatible stuff that would work, and it's all wireless. So you get the hub, various devices wirelessly connected to it, and could be controlled via smartphone or iPad - no monitor needed once set up. The goal would be to automate it, though. Set the thermostat and have it do everything automatically.

I don't really care about lighting and all that, it's more to keep the interior controlled temp wise. Looking at smart things, it looks like all of the a/c stuff can be controlled easily using one of these https://www.smartthings.com/products...control-module but DC is a different matter. You'd have to keep the hub powered up on DC (which wouldn't be too bad as it runs off of a 12V power brick), and the only DC controller I'm finding is this: https://www.thesmartesthouse.com/pro...er-fgrgbwm-441

Which could be used to control lights or switch some DC solenoids (6A max output on a single out, 12A total output). It also has 4 sensors coming in, so could be used to detect whether AC power is present. Hmm, opens up a bunch of possibilities there.


I may actually be over thinking it - incorporating something like this to control the electric heat and a/c:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

And adding one of these:
https://www.amazon.com/Fan-Tastic-Ve...62799727&psc=1

May be enough to accomplish what I want. I could basically replace the dial thermostats on the a/c and heat with the above controller, which would only work on AC power anyway. I'd have to manually control the roof vent, but that's not a big deal. The key thing, for me, is not having to wake up in the middle of the night to adjust stuff because it's too hot or too cold, which is currently how it is.

Thinking about the automation stuff, while I think it could be done using SmartThings without too much difficulty, I don't know that it'd be worth doing. SmartThings actually makes the miniPC redundant (unless I wanted it for Cortana voice control) as it could be controlled via my cell phone or an iPad. The Cortana integration is interesting as you could control anything in the airstream via voice, along with play music etc. One issue with SmartThings is some devices require an internet connection as they're cloud controlled, so you'd have to be careful in choosing which devices (particularly thermostats) so you don't lose functionality when not connected.
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Old 04-24-2019, 06:37 AM   #11
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You are going to push a lot of current into all those wireless gizmos. Also the magic via Alexa only works if she can connect via a reasonable internet connection.

If you are going home automation, just put in a Nest as the thermostat. (That *assumes* that your AC works with something normal vs something really weird). Then interface with it via whatever device is handy. No hub no PC no nothing other than the Nest. Yes, there are other brands ....

Bob
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Old 04-24-2019, 08:32 AM   #12
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bobzdar- You bring up a good point that many of these home automation systems, especially those with voice control, are dependent on cloud servers that require a reliable internet connection. The ideal system would operate on the Airstream's LAN with no need for an internet connection. Good luck. Hope you come up with an awesome design to share with us later.
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Old 04-24-2019, 05:04 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by uncle_bob View Post
Hi

You are going to push a lot of current into all those wireless gizmos. Also the magic via Alexa only works if she can connect via a reasonable internet connection.

If you are going home automation, just put in a Nest as the thermostat. (That *assumes* that your AC works with something normal vs something really weird). Then interface with it via whatever device is handy. No hub no PC no nothing other than the Nest. Yes, there are other brands ....

Bob
Nest requires a net connection and my ac doesn't work on a standard thermostat, it just has a dial on it, so that rules out something simple like that, unfortunately.
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Old 04-25-2019, 07:59 AM   #14
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Nest requires a net connection and my ac doesn't work on a standard thermostat, it just has a dial on it, so that rules out something simple like that, unfortunately.
Hi

A Nest does keep on working when the internet is down.

Bob
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