Finally! I have a GPS tracking system installed and working after almost pulling my hair out due to endless problems with the cheap piece of junk GPS tracker I bought off eBay.
No, I didn’t not get that cheap Chinese GPS tracker working; I gave up and now it’s sitting in a drawer until I can find a use for it. That might be a while, considering how useless it is… Anyway, I was going to use the car’s Raspberry Pi computer as a GPS tracker, but I soon realised it was going to mean a sea of cables and hours of learning how to write programs so I quickly gave up on that idea too.
It turns out the best solution was to just use an old Android phone! My wife just upgraded her phone, and her old one became spare so I jumped on it and installed it under the car’s dashboard!
First of all I installed Where’s My Droid, a free application which you can use to find your missing mobile phone. There’s no reason why it couldn’t be used as a car tracker instead! The installation and set up of this app was so easy my grandmother could do it.
Of course I needed a way to keep the phone charged up all the time, so I installed this 12 volt DC power adapter. I didn’t want to use the USB adapter that my Raspberry Pi was using because the Pi’s adapter only operates when the car is on, and the Pi’s adapter gets quite warm, whereas this one above stays ice cold even when running for 10 hours. Obviously I don’t want any fire risk with an appliance running 24 hours a day.
My control box is getting quite full as you can see, but I left a space right in the middle for this little always-on power adapter to fit in. The Raspberry Pi and the headlight warning system only operate when the ignition is on to save power, and for safety. I had everything pre-wired for the GPS tracker, so installing it took only 5 minutes and it was ready to go in the car.
Anyone with a Suzuki Swift knows that under the dashboard it’s chock full with electronics and ducting, so finding a spot near the top of the plastic where I could get to was near impossible. Eventually I tried removing the plastic cover above the speedometer – turns out the whole thing just pops off easily.
When I took the cover off it was like a gift from the Gods – there’s an absolutely perfectly sized space there for a mobile phone. It’s almost like the designers at Suzuki wanted me to put a mobile phone in that spot. I couldn’t believe it.
Look at that! It fits so perfectly snugly that I didn’t even need any screws or glue or holders – not a thing! The power cable runs back to my RS-232 cable which connects to my box of tricks, so as always I can remove the whole control box and take it inside in less than 5 seconds. Everything in my car has been designed to be removed and installed super easily, and I thoroughly recommend you copy these ideas.
With the phone installed and the box of tricks all wired up, it was time to plug everything in and test it. After the nightmare with my previous nasty Chinese GPS system, I was pretty nervous…
I put the dashboard back together which didn’t take very long (the designers at Suzuki are masters of making things just click into place) and I set the car up in the midday summer sun. I want to check not only that it works, but that it can handle the hottest time of the year unprotected. I really wanted to make it suffer to make sure it can do its job.
First I installed the program Remote Phone Access through Google Play. This allows me to check on the phone’s temperature, its battery condition, and of course its location. The free version doesn’t allow you to access the phone’s SMS messages, but I can get at those through O2 Slovakia’s online page anyway. The phone started getting very hot under the dark dashboard in the midday sun and I monitored every few minutes from the online app.
I did a series of tests throughout the day using both my computer (Remote Phone Access) and through my mobile phone (Where’s My Droid) to make sure the GPS locator was working. It never failed once.
Personally, I found Where’s My Droid to offer the best location information. Within approximately 12 seconds I received three SMS messages back from the car’s phone with coordinates, direction, accuracy, speed, a Google Maps link, and an actual street address.
This is awesome! At any time of the day or night, I can find my car if it gets stolen or if someone’s using it and I need to know how far away they are.
Some other benefits of having a phone in the car means I have an internet connection on wheels. This means I could turn it into a free WiFi hotspot, or set up a webcam under the dash running off the Raspberry Pi! Lots of possibilities for playing around!
Not only that – because the phone has its own battery which is always charged, if thieves steal the car and start stripping it for parts, or if they remove the battery, the GPS tracker will keep working for another couple of days running on its own battery!
I kept a rough record of the temperatures in the car. The outside temperature reached about 32°C today (90°F) which was hot but not unbearable. Good testing weather though, and the phone really felt the heat. Normally I use a windscreen shield to block out the sun, but I wanted this test to be super tough so I let the car get ridiculously hot and parked it so the dashboard was in full sun for several hours.
As you can see above, the phone’s temperature peaked at 64°C (147°F) and at that point it stopped charging and began to lose battery capacity. It still functioned surprisingly, so I put my sunblocker behind the windscreen and watched what happened over the next few hours (we also went for a trip into the city for a while).
The car and phone had a chance to cool down during the drive, and immediately after we returned home the charging suddenly announced the battery was full. I actually suspect it restarted charging before we even left, maybe when the temperature fell below 50°C (122°F). These Samsung phones are tough little suckers!
UPDATE: The system was reeeeeally tested hard today! I forgot to put the sun shade up and the car was parked in full sun on a seriously hot summer’s day. I got back to the car at 6 PM and the car was still roasting inside. I got home and tried to log on to check the tracker, and I even tried calling the phone but neither worked. I suspect the phone must have reached at least 70°C (158°C) for around 5 solid hours and the phone battery went so flat it wouldn’t even charge up again. I took it out and let it cool down, then charged it for a few minutes inside. I then plugged it back into the car and it was good as new. So there’s a lesson learned: don’t forget the sun shield on hot summer days! It also gave me a chance to turn on Roaming, so I can monitor the car anywhere on the continent.
So there you have it. I finally have a working solution to the GPS tracker problems that have plagued me. It seems that the simplest ideas are always the best, huh?
Please feel free to take any ideas you like out of this and copy them, and as always feel free to offer any ideas of your own.
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