Saturday, July 4, 2009

Project iLux

In October 2008 I purchased a Toyota Hilux. Actually, a 2006 Hilux Vigo 3.0 crew cab, originally imported from Thailand but acquired by me from McConnon Motors. It replaced a Peugeot 306 that had served it's time well but was just too small for use for work (lugging video equipment around) and scouts (lugging camping gear around).

I was pleased. The HiLux is a fine pickup. The Vigo spec. is nice with leather interior, a/c and a few other luxuries you wouldn't normally expect in a pick-up. Mine has an aftermarket reversing sensor and a Nokia bluetooth kit for hands free calls.

I was aware on purchase that the imported Vigo model, while far exceeding typical Irish poverty spec. equivalents, might have a few problems. First, the chassis is not galvanised like European models and so is prone to premature rust. Secondly, as Thailand is a fairly hot part of the world, heaters are not fitted as standard, a/c only. On import, aftermarket heaters are added but are often not quite up to the job.

Having driven the car for a few months, it became clear that the heating issue was an issue. While there is a rotary heating dial running from hot to cold around about 270 degrees of travel, this control is effectively an on/off switch. Heat is either on at its full extent or off. Except on the coldest days, this is a problem as I found myself constantly adjusting the heating.

In addition, two mysterious rocker switches are present on the dash. It took a while for me to figure out that these control the a/c and, when engaged, the cold air gets colder. Hmm.

As a, (mostly), happy new owner of a Lux, I set about searching the internet for resources on the car. I had, in fact, came across the HiLux Pickup Owners Club website prior to my purchase during my research phase and it was through this site that I came across Adam from Samson Vehicle Services Ltd. They are based in Kent and specialise in 4x4 customisations with a particular focus on the HiLux. In discussing the heating problem online, I discovered Adam offered an upgrade service whereby he would swap out the problematic heater for a full uk spec. a/c and heater.

As it happened, and quite coincidentally, we were planning a family holiday to the UK and part of the itinerary involved a visit to my aunt who constantly reminds me has been living in Kent for 25 years and not once had a visit from her favourite nephew. A quick look at the AA routeplanner revealed that Samsons were located about 10 miles from where we would be staying. An opportunity too good to miss.

In looking at their website, it soon occurred to me that there might be a few other toys I could add to the car. They offer a cruise control add-on that looked attractive. However, the thing that caught my attention was the Pioneer Avic 700BT system. This is a cd/radio system with built in touch screen, GPS navigation system, usb support and, crucially, video input.

From time to time, I use the HiLux as a camera car, attaching video cameras and driving to obtain particular shots. I have a small video screen that I can rig up in the cabin to monitor the camera as it records but had previously considered the luxury of having a screen permanently in place that would save time and also provide additional gizmos. I had previously looked at the Kenwood DNX5220 but had discounted it on account of cost.

Now, however, I had an opportunity to get a similar unit installed while the factory fitted radio would be removed for the a/c conversion. That made sense.

Thinking on it a little more however, I had a brainwave. These all-in-one units were similar to computers in their functionality but were somewhat hampered in that the OS, firmware and feature set was restricted to manufacturer specification. Surely, it should be possible to put an actual computer in a car? I'd been here before having built a few home theater PCs that emulated the features of DVD player, PVR etc. but were a lot more flexible than those individual devices.

Some research was needed and the iLux concept was born.

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