Self drive cars take over the road

Self Drive Car's don't look like this

Will self drive cars take over the road?

This may not be a subject you’d expect to find on my blog, but it’s something I’m very interested in personally so I thought I’d put this article together. And what I’m talking about, of course, is self drive cars. Self drive cars are the talk of the town at the moment, with trials and testing going on in various cities all over the world. But will self drive cars, or autonomous cars as they might otherwise be known, take over the road as much as some people think they might? Well that remains to be seen, but in the February 2016 edition of 4×4 Australia magazine, Fraser Stronach says he doesn’t think so. In his article he makes some valid points about why he feels that self drive cars are a little further away than some people might expect.

I’m not so sure I agree. Lets take a look at the points he makes in the article.

There are alternatives to self drive cars

In Fraser’s article, he says that people won’t adopt self drive cars because there are alternatives such as taxis, busses, trains, trams etc. He also points out that the rise in app-based ride sharing (such as Uber) means that people will have plenty of alternatives.

But with all of these existing forms of transport, you have to wait for them. A self drive car will be where you told it to be, exactly when you told it to be there. It will learn your schedule and adapt its routine to suit you.

And with these other services, you’re putting your own safety into the hands of a person whose driving history you have no idea about. People may argue that surely a person is much safer than a self drive car! If that were the case then why are we putting so much computing technology into our cars already? In fact, look at the safety features of the all new Pajero Sport and tell me how many of these features are NOT driven by a computer. You have Blind Spot Warning, Forward Collision Mitigation, automatic wipers and lights, ultrasonic misacceleration mitigation, multi around monitor, ABS, ESC… the list goes on. ALL controlled by computers and designed to make the car safer than it is when it’s driven by a human. But what’s more, and the proof is in the pudding, Googles self drive vehicle is in fact ridiculously safe!

I actually think that self drive cars will put an end to taxis, ride sharing and even public transport.

Self drive cars won’t be cheap

Fraser believes that these self drive cars won’t be cheap because there is an awful lot of technology required to drive a self drive car. And it’s true. There is a huge amount of technology, research, testing that makes up a self drive car. He points out that these cars will require radars, cameras and proximity sensors that will all be held together with intelligent computing systems and that this will cost money.

Well I think he’s party right. Self drive cars do require a huge amount of modern technology. But if you take a look at the list of safety features that I listed above, you have to admit it’s a pretty impressive list. And they’re all held together by a computer! Every modern car has one already! And Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport is one of the more affordable 4wd vehicles on the market!

Yes but what about the computer programming that goes into controlling a self drive car? Well… how many of you own a mobile phone? Or an iPad? Or a laptop? These all run software that has taken many hours of coding and does it make them unaffordable? Will a self drive car really be any different? Is it that much of a stretch to add in some additional coding and robotics? I don’t think so.

But a more interesting question is… will you buy a self drive car anyway? And in my opinion the answer is no, you won’t. But you will subscribe to a self drive car service.

I think that companies, such as Uber, will offer multiple levels of subscription to their self drive car service ranging from exclusive use, where the car is effectively your own, through to scheduled service where a car will be waiting at a certain point at a predetermined time ready to take you home from work, through to an ad-hoc service where you ‘summon’ a car when you need one. And many levels in between.

Conventional vehicles come in a myriad of flavours

People like what they like. I like 4wd vehicles while my neighbour might like sports cars. Fraser believes that self drive cars won’t be offered in an appealing range of flavours. And maybe he’s right. Or maybe not. But I do know that there are already a number of companies starting to investigate the production of self drive cars. Companies such as Google, Volvo and Tesla are part of the gang. And are these not extremely diverse and different companies? Why wouldn’t they produce a diverse range of self drive cars?

Who is to blame when a self drive car is involved in an accident?

Well this is a fantastic point. Who will actually be responsible probably depends on what actually happens in each individual accident but it probably won’t be the owner of the vehicle. In the same way that a passenger on a bus isn’t responsible if the bus is involved in an accident. The responsibility for proving the safety of the vehicle will lie solidly on the vehicle manufacturer/software developer.

So why, then, would any company want to produce millions of self drive cars if they’re opening themselves up to such liability? They would do so only if they thought that it was going to be profitable. Which means that they believe that the amount they’ll pay in compensation will be limited. Which means that they believe that their self drive cars are safe. And they will be!

Self drive cars will monitor themselves and at the first sign of a problem, will shut themselves down and summon a replacement vehicle. Then a self drive town truck will come and take the broken car away for repair. But what’s more is the broken car will report back to HQ with diagnostic information. This information will be used to make improvements that will then be sent over the internet to all other self drive cars which will only help to make the entire system even safer.

How will they handle varying conditions?

Fraser points out that driving conditions change. And they sure do! Rain, snow, heat, road surfaces. Fraser points out that even something as benign as a plastic bag blowing across the road can trigger a self drive car to brake suddenly, causing the vehicle behind to rear-end it.

This is surely the biggest challenge for the software developers. But as technology improves I’m sure they’ll work out ways of making self drive cars smarter.

But in regards to the car behind… What if that car was fitted with collision avoidance technology? Which, by the way, is a technology that you can find in many current vehicles. But take this a step further… What if the car behind was fitted with self drive car awareness technology. A way of ‘talking’ to fully autonomous cars, so to speak. I think that if this were the case, the scenario would change dramatically. The self drive car could be in constant communication with the car behind, telling it to stay a certain distance away. Variable cruise control and driver warning systems would help maintain the distance. The self drive car sees plastic bag and hits the brakes. But at the same time communicates to the vehicle behind that it is applying the brakes. The car behind then reacts before the driver can and applies the brakes safely. And so on down the road…

“Sure” you say “But my car doesn’t have self drive car awareness and there is no way it’ll ever get fitted”. Really? Well there was a time not so long ago when the government forced people to change from leaded fuel to unleaded. And you won’t find a car now days that doesn’t have an immobiliser. And all Australian cars must now be fitted with some kind of active stability control. So all it takes to implement this kind of technology is a directive from the government. Not to say that you MUST drive a self drive car, but that your car must be self drive car aware. Done.

Self drive cars will have to have a 100% reliable computer

Really? Cars currently have computers in them. Very sophisticated computers with very sophisticated safety features. Are these computers fault free? As long as a self drive car is carefully designed to stop on fail then I don’t see that there is a problem. There are lots of examples where machinery and technology is designed to fail safely.

What’s more, when the self drive car fails, it will broadcast this status to all other self drive cars and self drive aware cars in the vicinity so that they know to avoid it. Perhaps other self drive cars will be programmed to push it off the road to get it out of the way. It will then send diagnostics back to HQ and call itself a self drive tow truck. A replacement self drive car will arrive in a matter of moments to keep you on your journey.

Self drive cars will ‘talk’ to each other.

Fraser is sceptical that this will be possible. He believes that for this to happen, all self drive cars will need to have the same operating system and current updates.

But lets look at current technology. I’m writing this on a computer running Microsoft Windows. I have an iPhone which is running Apple iOS. These are two very different operating systems developed by two rival companies. But using a standardised technology called Bluetooth, I can get my two devices to communicate. There is absolutely no reason why self drive cars from different manufacturers wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other. They would just need to communicate in a standardised language, so to speak. And this standardisation will be regulated by an international standards body. This is not a new concept.

Google is currently leading the way in self drive car development

Well… they’re certainly involved anyway. Are they leading the way? Maybe. Don’t know…

But regardless, making the car is really the easy part. All you need to do is put together 4 wheels and an engine and you have a car. The hard part is the computer technology that will make self drive cars efficient, safe, reliable and fun. And why shouldn’t a technology company like Google lead the way in that space? Once they have proven their technology, I’m sure that they will have a queue of vehicle manufacturers knocking at their door wanting to fit it into their cars.

But also, as mentioned above, there are a number of vehicle manufacturers who are also joining the race.

So when will be see self drive cars for real?

Fraser’s timeframe is decades. He doesn’t feel that they’ll be common on our roads anytime soon. And really, only time will tell.

But trials of self drive vehicles have started around the world already. In fact a self drive bus is set to be trialled in my home town of Perth this year. THIS YEAR!!! And I can’t wait!

So will they be decades away? I think Fraser and I will have to agree to disagree on this one. I think that they will be common on our roads much, much sooner than that. Much of the technology that is being implemented in self drive cars is current. It’s not actually developing anything that is new, it’s just extending its use. We already have trains in many cities around the world that drive themselves, large passenger planes already do a lot of the work automatically, heavy mining machinery is becoming more and more autonomous. So I don’t think self drive cars are really such a big step.

But what else is interesting about self drive cars

Self drive cars will probably, for the most part, be electric. Electric cars are more reliable and require much less maintenance than traditional combustion engine cars, and the expected life of an electric motor is orders of magnitude longer than a combustion engine. So in order to make them more affordable, I think that manufacturers will make them electric. This will make them much more energy efficient as well, particularly with the drive towards green energy. But even without green energy, a combustion engine powering a vehicle is significantly less energy efficient than an combustion engine generating electricity. Every time you put your foot down to accelerate and your engine revs and you blow black diesel smoke out of your exhaust pipe, that’s engine inefficiency. Listen to your generator next time you’re running it (if you have one). Do you hear it revving? Does it blow black smoke? Or does it just putt away steadily making electricity? That’s the difference in efficiency right there. So removing all combustion engines and replacing them with electric engines will produce a much greener planet.

But what about batteries? We all know that batteries run out of life eventually and need replacing. But there is an emerging technology in this space that will change how we feel about battery technology. Super capacitors will have a significantly longer life span and will also have the capability of holding significantly more power than today’s chemical batteries, increasing the range of an electric vehicle from a few hundred kilometres to literally thousands.

“But I love the power of my twin turbo v8. An electric car will never give me the same get up and go, right?”

If that’s how you feel… watch this… I have no words… just watch…

Self drive cars will also bring an unprecedented freedom to some members of the community. Visually impaired people, the elderly, people with disabilities and even children will be able to benefit from this technology. You’ll be able to put your kids in the car and send them to grand-ma’s house for the afternoon, people who are unable to drive will be able to get themselves to appointments, drunk people will be able to get home without endangering themselves and others.

I’m very much looking forward to self drive cars. In my mind, the benefits significantly outweigh the negatives in this emerging technology. I’m hoping that we see them on our roads very, very soon.

ARB Fridge-Freezer and Battery Life – How long will it last?

Deep Cycle Battery

The ARB Fridge-Freezer and Battery Life – What You Need To Know

Previously, I did a very unscientific test using a 100ah deep cycle AGM battery and my 78L ARB fridge. Since then, I have been contacted by a representative of Ark and given some great information on what you might need to know about your ARB Fridge and battery life.

Do you own an ARB Fridge? Or any car fridge for that matter… Did you know that you probably shouldn’t run it from your car’s battery for too long? Draining your cranking battery will severely limit its life span. In this article, I’ll lay out the information that was given to me by Ark. Hopefully it makes sense!

How is battery capacity measured?

Basically, battery storage capacity is measured in Amp hours (Ah). So if you have 2 x 12V batteries, a 100Ah battery and a 50Ah battery, the 100Ah battery will deliver 12V of power for longer (can you guess how long?). Which means you can power your car fridge for longer between charges.

An amp hour (Ah) rating is just what it sounds like – the number of hours a battery can provide 1 amp of current at 12 volts before the battery is completely dead. NOTE! This metric is not completely accurate! But it does provide a good way of comparing one battery to another. So now we have some kind of understanding of Amp hours, right?

A crucial element to understand when it comes to batteries is the difference between deep cycle batteries and cranking/starter batteries. Your cranking battery is the one that was delivered under the bonnet of your car when you purchased it from the dealer. Its purpose in life is to deliver a huge amount of power for a very short time. Once your engine is running, it maintains that full charge. Whereas a deep cycle battery is designed to deliver low amounts of power continuously for a longer period. So comparing a 100Ah deep cycle battery and a 35Ah starting battery doesn’t make any sense. They’re two different batteries designed to do different things.

Deep-Cycle vs Starter Batteries and Your Car Fridge

Pretty much all cars have a “starter” or “cranking” battery. This is the one that delivers the power to turn your engine over until it fires up. On those cold mornings when your engine won’t start and you hear that “RehRehRehRehReh” while you sit there saying “C’mon! C’mon! C’mon! Start damn-it”. That’s all on battery power. Do it too long and pretty quickly your cranking battery runs out. Starting your car requires a burst of 100 to 200 amps. And 300 amps isn’t unheard of. Your cranking battery is designed to deliver it for a short period of time.

Which is why running your car fridge off your cranking battery isn’t the best idea. The same applies for anything that you use for a long time while your car isn’t running (camp lights for example). If you over-discharge your cranking battery more than a few time then it rapidly stops being able to hold a charge at all. Cranking batteries can’t be discharged more than about 25% before their lifespan is depleted.

Your typical deep cycle battery, however, is designed to store energy and deliver it at lower amperages for longer periods of time. Most can be discharged to 50% of their capacity before their life is compromised. And some of the best ADM or Lead Acid batteries can be run down to 75% of their maximum charge without damage. So these are the guys you want to be using to power your car fridges, camp lights etc. You might think of deep cycle batteries as marathon runners, and cranking batteries as sprinters.

Deep Cycle vs Starter Batteries

How To Power Your ARB Fridge Freezer Without Killing Your Vehicle Battery

Well… Really… the simplest answer to this question is… Use a separate battery to power your fridge. Your starter battery may well be able to manage the load over the short term, you will eventually ruin it. This is not only expensive, but if you’re in the middle of the bush and can’t start your car it can be inconvenient at best and life threatening at worst.

Battery Capacity and Size

The best solution is to get a deep cycle battery, drop it into a good quality battery box (like one of the ArkPack ones) and power your fridge from that. The table below gives you an indication on how long you might be able to run it for without recharging.

ARB
Fridge/Freezer Size
Current Draw
(Amps/hr)
60ah Deep-Cycle
Battery
80ah Deep-Cycle
Battery
100ah Deep-Cycle
Battery
35L 0.85 49hrs 75hrs 82hrs
47L 0.87 48hrs 64hrs 80hrs
60L 0.89 47hrs 63hrs 79hrs
78L 1.07 39hrs 52hrs 65hrs

NOTE: These are theoretical maximums. Lots of factors will affect these times. For example, these times assume you discharge the deep-cycle battery 70% (30% of total charge remaining), and they assume that your battery has 100% of its’ listed capacity. I’d suggest taking a few hours off each estimate just to cover yourself. I don’t want your cursing my name when your beer goes warm! That’s way too much responsibility for even my humungous, muscular, Adonis-like shoulders.

Where to put your Deep Cycle battery

There are a number of options here. Many people install a second battery under their bonnet right next to the main cranking battery. That’s fine if you have the space up there. I found a place behind the trim in my boot to put mine, but for a while I had it in a battery box so that I could remove it if I wanted to.

The battery box I used was a dumb box. It basically held my battery and told me how much charge was remaining. But the ArkPak battery box is a much smarter unit. It includes a top notch battery charger/conditioner to keep your battery in good shape. It also includes the relevant cable work so that you can mount your ArkPak in your vehicle just as you would a dual battery. And it also includes an inverter that converts your 12v into 250v. That’s handy if you need to power things like laptops etc. In addition to this, the built-in, easy to read, digital meter lets you know when your battey is ready to be charged up again and an audible alarm warns you as your charge drops away. Given that a good quality AGM battery is expensive, why wouldn’t you want to get the most life out of it? Makes sense to me!

ArkPak Powering Fridge

As you might expect from a quality batter box, it does more than just run your ARB car fridge. You’ll also find that 240v socket for powering the laptop, coffee machine, or foot spa. You’ve also got a number of 12v power sockets and also a built-in USB port for charging your mobile devices. Now that’s a handy idea!

So I hope this article helps you out with working out not only what kind of battery you need to run your fridge, but also how to actually take your battery with you!

Cleaning the car with Kitten Glo Wash

Muddy PB Challenger

Muddy PB ChallengerI love coincidence. Especially when it goes in my favour. And the other day I got lucky. Not ‘save the world’ lucky, but lucky all the same. We’d been out on a great trip down near Margaret River and our car was muddy. Not “Where are the windscreens?’ muddy, but muddy all the same. And so, of course, I needed to wash the car. So I put the car out on the grass, got the bucket, pulled out the hose and went to get the car wash, only to find that the lid had cracked and all the shampoo had leaked out all over the garage floor. Argh!!!

As I was cleaning the garage floor, which is now sparkly clean thanks for asking, the postie arrived with a little package for me. When I opened it up, it was a 250ml sample bottle of Kitten Glo Wash with a nice message asking if I’d like to give it a go and then perhaps write up a review for my website. Well Ok then! Given that I had nothing else to wash the car with I thought I’d give it a crack.

Kitten Glo Wash

Reading the instructions, it says ‘Pour a sufficient amount of Kitten Glo Wash into a bucket’.

‘What is a sufficient amount?’ I thought. And then took a punt at ooohhhhh about… that much.

 

Then I squirted water into the bucket to get that nice bubble going. Being a cool and overcast day, I wasn’t overly concerned about the car drying out too much, but the instructions say to wash in sections so that’s what I did.

While I was washing I was trying to objectively compare my previous product (the one that cleans garage floors brilliantly) with Kitten Glo Wash… And you know what? I honestly think that the Kitten Glo Wash product was superior. I know that’s a very subjective statement. I have no scientific analysis or statistical measure to back that up, but I reckon it did a better job.

Did it get my car cleaner? Well probably not because a clean car is a clean car, right?

Did it restore my car to showroom finish? Well no. it’s not magic after all… To do that you’d have to polish out all the scratches and fix up all the broken bits. And anyway, they don’t promise to restore it to showroom finish, but if you were a bit more careful with your car than I am then it would maintain the look of it it nicely, I have no doubt!

Muddy PB Challenger

Was is easier to get all that mud off? Did it get the bug spatters off better? Was I able to get my car as clean as I wanted it in a shorter time with less elbow grease? You know what? I reckon so.

Would I try Kitten Glo Wash again? Well yes I would. Mainly because I didn’t use the whole 250ml yet so I’ll use it next time I clean my car. But more importantly I’ll be buying it again once this bottle is gone.

Muddy PB Challenger

Would I recommend that you go out and buy some? Sure! If you’ve run out of your car wash and you’re looking to give another product a shot then yes. Definitely give Kitten Glo Wash a go.

Lightnites – Quality LED Lighting Solutions

If you’re looking for quality LED Lighting solutions for your offroad situation, then let the guys at LightNites (http://www.lightnites.com) help you out. Having said that, the LED lighting solutions provided by LightNites can be used pretty much anywhere from your home, your shed, your boat, your camper/caravan, your car… Anywhere that has a need for light, and access to 12v power. As a small company they are dedicated to providing not only a great quality product, but great customer service, which counts for an awful lot these days.

LightNites was founded on 2008 by Mark Murray from Broome 4WD and was the first sell remote control LED lighting for 4WD’s, caravans cars and boats.  When LEDs were still a new technology and just becoming affordable for the consumer, LightNites were right there selling LED lighting solutions from their online store.

Mark Murray’s background in electronics and a passion and affinity for the outdoors, particularly four wheel driving really guided him in designing his products. And his search for quality products and strong belief in customer service provided the basis for the business today. That philosophy has always been, and continues to be what stands LightNites out from the crowd.

Danny Dellaca purchased the business from Mark in 2013 and continues the philosophy of quality products coupled with excellent customer service. His passion for the outdoors, and in particular the boating world, gives him insight into what his clients want from his products.

Danny and the team came to my 4wd club to do a presentation on some of their LED Lighting solutions. They impressed me quite a lot on the night and so I approached Danny to see if he’d like me to review one of his products.

LightNites Remote LED Light StripHe was keen and so I was lucky enough to get a hold of their LED Remote Light Strip. The product specs for the LED Remote Light Strip are:

  • Colour: Cool White
  • LEDs per metre: 120
  • Power draw: 1 amp per metre of light at full power
  • IP65 rated and coated in a silicon waterproof gel 
  • Working voltage is 12 volts (4-5 amps)
  • 50,000 hour+ lifespan
  • Working temperature -20 degrees C to 50 degrees C
  • Backed with 3M Super sticky stuff (I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term)

So firstly, the LED Light Strip from LightNites is bright. The one I got was a single strip of LED lights backed with 3M sticky stuff that is really, really sticky! I stuck it to a strip of aluminium so that I could move it around and decide where to put it. On our camping trip I hung it up outside above the kitchen area. It was well and truly bright enough to give us enough light to not only to cook by, but we all sat around under it and shot the breeze well into the night. In the end I decided to put it inside the camper, pop-riveted to the cross bar that holds up the tent. Although we haven’t used it there in a camping situation, I’m sure that’s the place for it.LightNites LED Remote Strip Light

Now I mentioned that it’s bright right? That was just up there in the previous paragraph… But the cool thing is that there are a number of pre-set settings that allow you to adjust the brightness! You can quickly jump between 100% brightness to 50% and even down to 25%. Or you can set it anywhere in between! Turn the LED Light strip off and it remembers where you set it to last! Ingenious.

And if you want your camper to be the party place, you can select from a whole bunch of funky flashy modes that range from a cool pulse to an epileptic fit inducing strobe. Not sure how useful that will really be… in a real life camping situation… Maybe you could use it at night to signal overhead planes for help… A disco in the middle of the Aussie outback is likely to attract some kind of attention right?

“Ok”, you might say, “All these modes and brightnesses and stuff are all well and good, but once I’m in my camping chair, nothing gets me out!”

Well that’s perfectly OK. Most of the LightNites products come with a remote that allows you to control the light from quite some distance away. Yeah that’s right… A remote… Yeah baby.LightNites LED Remote Strip Light

So you could be hanging out in your camper in your stubbies and thongs, cooking up the catch of whiting you’d managed to get yourself and sucking on a VB or a XXXX, when suddenly the woman of your dreams walks up. BAM in an instant you’ve dulled the LED light strip down to ‘Mood lighting’… If only you had Barry White on remote as well!!

Or, and much more likely, you could be flumpped in your camping chair, beer in hand, an uncomfortable silence between you and your mates, when one of them says “Gee that light is bright!”. BAM, in an instant you’ve dulled it to 50 or 25% and everyone is not only happy, but now talking about this awesome LED strip light that’s controlled by a remote… What a conversation starter!LightNites LED Remote Strip Light

There are only a couple of minor negatives that come to mind for me with this product. Firstly the remote is coded to the light. So if you lose the remote then that’s it… All over for that LED light. You can’t get a new remote and re-code it. I’m sure you’d be able to pull it apart and re-wire it with a physical switch but then… no instant mood lighting!

LightNites LED Remote Strip Light

The second is that if you have a number of remote lights, say one in the camper, one over the kitchen area, one facing out beyond the awning, a few in the boat and maybe one on the car awning and even inside the car, then that’s a lot of remotes… How do you know which one is which?

Are these major issues? Not really… Just things to be aware of really. (UPDATE! Danny contacted me the other day to let me know that they now have a setup that allows a single remote to control up to 3 LED lights, and the remote is re-programmable. So if you lose one, you can get another one and re-code it to work with the lights you already have! Way to go Danny!)

LightNites LED Remote Strip Light

So what’s the future for LightNites? I’m sure they have their ideas for the future, but I’d like to see a remote with a strong magnet built in so that you could stick it to the camper or your car or something.

Also maybe a small portable LED light that has a magnet on the bottom of it. Something that you could stick somewhere temporarily and then plug into the nearest 12v socket… And with an adjustable head to target the llight towards where you want it…

As a small business, if you’re after a specific LED lighting solution then get in touch with Danny and the crew. They’re a very approachable bunch and are more than happy to help you design a solution for your particular situation.
Want more info? Or to purchase something from them online? Check out their range of LED Lighting Solutions at http://lightnites.com/

Smiths Maxx Chips – The ultimate recovery tool

Smiths Maxx Chips

Smiths Maxx Chips

Now we all know how well Max Trax work, right? Take the easy way out and all that?

So this evening I was paying for fuel at my local petrol station when I spotted these… Smiths Maxx Chips… Maxx Taste. Maxx Crunch…

They came in a bunch of different colours (flavours), but how can you go past the original orange? I know the spelling’s not quite right but close enough!

On opening the packet, they’re a very solid looking chip. You’d probably only need a couple and they’re solid enough to use to get you out of trouble. Might get a bit soggy in the mud though…

The ultimate recovery tool? They’d certainly go well with a cold beer after a day on the tracks that’s for sure!

Mud Maps M7 Review

Mud Maps M7

NOTE: As of early 2014, Mud Maps have decided to stop manufacturing the M7 to concentrate on the development of their mobile applications for iPad and other mobile platforms. I guess that makes this article obsolete. Thanks for visiting though!

In today’s modern age, navigation using a GPS and electronic maps is par for the course. The days of relying 100% on paper maps are long behind us. Although having paper maps available as a backup is good safety, I’m betting that the majority of 4wd adventures are undertaken without ever pulling out the parchment. So when the opportunity to write a review for Mud Maps M7 device came up I jumped at it!

Mud Maps have placed their M7 as a direct competitor to devices like the HEMA Navigator HN6, and the VMS 700HDS II. The Mud Maps M7 gets you where you want to go both on the highway, and off the beaten track. iGo Primo with the latest street data from NAVTEQ, shows you the way when you’re on the hard stuff, and OziExplorer helps you out when the fun begins.

Whats in the Mud maps m7 box

Your impression of a new toy starts with the box. After all, it’s the first thing you see.

The Mud Maps M7 comes in a very tidy and good quality box that makes you instantly think that significant effort has gone into it. People care about this thing. People have put some thought into it and want you to like it even before you’ve opened it.

Mud Map M7 - Born to get muddy!Inside the box you get:

  • The Mud Maps M7 (of course)
  • A soft pocket to carry it in
  • A 240v power plug
  • A 12v power plug
  • A USB connector to plug it into your computer
  • An AV plug to attach a reverse camera
  • A bracket to stick it to your windscreen
  • A stylus
  • An instruction manual

 The Mud Maps M7

Let’s take a closer look at the M7 itself.

It’s a light-weight device, weighing in at only 201 grams. However despite its lightness, it doesn’t have that cheap plastic feel to it. It feels like a well put together piece of kit. Which is just as well given the punishment that I’m sure we’ll all be putting them though.

The device itself has a number of different ports and buttons on it. Along the top edge you’ll find the power button and two small slots that the windscreen bracket attaches to. There is nothing down the right hand side, but the left has the USB cable port, the Micro SD card slot, the video port for the reverse camera and a couple of other blank ports that are plugged up and not used for anything. Along the bottom are the other slots that the windscreen bracket connects to. And finally on the back is the reset button and the speaker.

The Mud Maps M7 contains 4GB of internal storage, and the Micro SD card slot allows you to expand that. The maximum capacity for the Micro SD card is 32 GB, but please make sure you get a good quality Micro SD card. I tried two. One was an el-cheapo and the M7 didn’t recognise it no matter what I did. The other was a 16GB SanDisk HC Micro SD and it worked perfectly. So you get what you pay for.

Mud Maps M7 peripherals

Mud Maps M7 and accessoriesThe other stuff you get in the box comes in handy at various times here and there. And of course most of them are pretty standard and probably don’t warrant much of a mention beyond the fact that they’re there. Of course some you’ll only use if you have the appropriate devices… For example I don’t have a reverse camera so I won’t be using the video cable.

But the one that I’d like to specifically mention is the windscreen bracket. This is probably something that could be improved on. The bracket only has one pivot point. Which is fine if your windscreen is very upright. But many modern vehicles have windscreens that are on a very steep angle. This forces you to place the device quite high on the windscreen so that it fits above the dash and that can restrict vision a little. I did find a place to put it without too much trouble, but I think that in some situations, and in some vehicles, it may cause a problem. But then again, maybe not.

The windscreen bracket also holds the stylus. Which is fine when you’re in the car, but if you work on the M7 in the camper trailer at the end of the day, you have to remember to bring the stylus with you. And hope you don’t lose it somewhere. In my opinion, it would be much, much better to somehow attach the stylus to the actual M7 itself.

The other item worth mentioning is the instruction manual. Where HEMA have gone with the ‘Document Everything’ philosophy by providing 126 pages of riveting reading, Mud Maps have taken the opposite approach. Their instruction manual is a paltry 21 pages. “Surely they’ve used a very small font to fit it all in!” you may say. But no. It’s a quick easy read that gives you all the basics on how to run the thing. From there you’re largely on your own. However the software is very intuitive so it doesn’t take much to find your way around. And if you get stuck there are some web links at the end of the instruction manual to help you out. I think it’s a very good approach.

The M7 software

The M7 comes bundled with two very popular and well known pieces of software:

  • OziExplorer CE
  • iGo Primo

 Mud Maps M7 iGo PrimoiGo Primo

iGo Primo gives turn by turn directions when you’re on the black top. It’s a great piece of software that you can update from the NAVTEQ website. Ongoing updates are subscription based and are well worth it if you ask me. Roads around me seem to change daily so it’s nice to know that updates are readily available.

The software is very user friendly and intuitive so working out how to use it is easy. I won’t go into any detail on how to use it. There are plenty of online resources if you’re stuck. Mud Maps even provide this demo video:

OziExplorer

OziExplorer is very common among 4wd enthusiasts so having it on your mobile GPS unit is invaluable. The CE version means it’s designed to run on Windows CE (which is the Microsoft operating system that runs the Mud Maps M7 device). You can use your PC software (available separately) to plan your tracks from the comfort of your home, and then transfer your plans to the Mud Maps M7 for when you’re out and about. You can use your M7 to plan trips of course, but the smaller screen may make it harder than a nice big computer screen, that’s all.

Need a video tutorial for OziExplorer as well? Mud Maps have kindly provided one and here it is:

Price

In terms of price, the M7 is streets in front. When you compare the features and prices of its nearest competitors, it’s very difficult to beat. According to the Mud Maps website:

VMS 700 HDs II HEMA HN6 Mud Maps M7
Screen Size 7 Inch 6 Inch 7 Inch
Onroad
Software
iGo Primo with
Aussi maps
iGo Primo with
Aussie and NZ Maps
iGo Primo with
Aussie and NZ Maps
Offroad
Software
VMS OziExplorer CE OziExplorer CE
Price RRP $699 $799 $499

 The Wrap

So what do I think of the Mud Maps M7 GPS navigator. Well in short, it’s awesome.

Mud Maps M7 OziExplorer CEThe only things I’d like to see changed are

  1. Put the stylus into the device itself. That way you can leave the bracket behind and not have to remember to carry a tiny little stylus around with you.
  2. Put a 2nd pivot into the arm of the windscreen bracket. It would just give it a little more versatility in terms of where the device could be placed.
  3. Windows 8. I’d love to see the Mud Maps M7 running Windows 8 in the background. I realise that Mud Maps probably doesn’t have much say in the matter. OziExplorer and iGo Primo may not be available on Windows 8 but one day, I’d hope that changes.

But apart from that, the software that the Mud Maps M7 runs is exactly the same as the HEMA HN6. And I mean exactly the same! Not some cut down version… It’s Exactly The Same! So really why would you pay $300 more?

Using the device is simple and intuitive and the GPS, as you’d expect it to be, is very accurate.

The device is very light weight, but is solid and comes with a 12 month warranty.

The Mud Maps M7 is available online and a 14 day, no questions asked, money back guarantee gives you the confidence to buy it and see what you think.

Although the last page of the Mud Maps M7 manual says “Now go and get Muddy” I’m pretty sure that refers to you, and your 4wd. Not the Mud Maps M7 itself…

My recommendation: Get yourself one, then go and get muddy.

MaxTrax Paper 4wd Models

MaxTrax Paper 4wd

While cruising around the internet the other day, I stumbled across the coolest thing. The awesome people at MaxTrax have provided us with a way to pass an hour or so of time when we’re not out in our exploring.

And I’m talking about their paper 4wd models! What a great idea!

MaxTrax have created two downloadable PDFs that you can print on your home printer. You then get out your scissors and glue and a bit of patience and start creating.

There is an FJ Cruiser with optional bulbar and spare tyre on the back, and a twin set of MaxTrax. There is also a 100 series Land Cruiser with a bunch of accessories such as dual spare tyres, a snorkel, and awning, a bull bar, a rear bar, spotties and shovels.

Both models used to be available from the MaxTrax website below. But they don’t seem to be around anymore which is very sad.
http://www.maxtrax.com.au/maxtrax-fj-cruiser-paper-model

I decided initially to put the FJ Cruiser together because it looked simpler. I’ll do the 100 series cruiser next. If you’re going to have a go at it then here are a couple of tips.

  1. Print the PDFs in colour. I really can’t see the point in making black and white ones, right?
  2. Print onto good quality paper. Or even something a little thicker. Not quite cardboard, but whatever goes through your printer.
  3. Cut accurately. I accidentally cut part of the rear bumper off my FJ Cruiser. Not really a big deal but if you’re going to go to all that effort, then you want it to come out OK.
  4. Take your time and do it right. Once again, if you’re going to do it, you may as well get a good result.
  5. Have fun!

Here are some photos of my end result. I’m pretty happy with it!

MaxTrax Paper 4wd

MaxTrax Paper 4wd

MaxTrax Paper 4wd

Mitsubishi Super Select 4wd and Super Select II

Mitsubishi PB Challenger water crossing

Super Select 4wd and Super Select II

Mitsubishi’s answer to off-road driving comes in 3 flavours; the Pajero, the Triton and the Challenger. They are all very capable vehicles with some obvious differences. However somewhere between the engine and the wheels, there is a key element that Mitsubishi has included on all of the 4wd options of these 3 vehicle models. And they call it the  Mitsubishi Super Select 4wd system. The super select 4wd System is differnt from the Mitsubishi All Terrain Technolgy (MATT). MATT incorporates systems such as Active Stability Control, Traction Control and ABS, whereas the Super Select 4wd system allows you to select your driving mode based on the terrain you’re driving on.

The Super Select 4wd system provides you with 4 driving options to suit terrain and road conditions. Note that some of the models listed above are also available in a 2wd configuration. Super Select 4wd is obviouly not available on 2wd models. However MATT is.

Super Select 4wd driving options

Mitsubishi Super Select 4wd offeres 4 driving options. SuperSelect II is basically the same. These are:

  • Super Select 4wd 2H2H – Two wheel drive, high range. In this mode, the front wheels are completely disengaged from the drive train. All engine power is directed towards the rear wheels. This mode is said to be the most fuel efficiant and causes the least wear and tear on the vehicle’s drive-train. It is recommended for use on dry, good quality, sealed roads
  • Super Select 4wd 4H4H – 4 wheel drive, high range. 4H connects the front wheels to the drive train through a viscous coupling unit. This means that there is no physical connection between the engine and the front wheels, but power is delivered to the front wheels to assist with traction on wet or slippery roads. This mode is recommended for use in slippery conditions on sealed roads, or on good quality tracks. It can be used on dry, sealed roads with no adverse impact to the drive train. It is possible to change from 2H to 4H and back again while the vehicle is in motion. When changing from 2H to 4H, the engine must not be powering the wheels. I.e. the vehicle must be coasting.
  • Super Select 4wd 4HLc4HLc – 4 wheel drive, high range, locked centre. Locking the centre differential forces even power to be delivered to both the front and rear wheels. The advantage of this is that it provides significantly greater traction in more serious off-road situations. However it’s very important not to dirve on sealed roads in this mode. Locking the centre also will prevent the front and rear wheel from spinning at different speeds. When a vehicle is turning, the rear wheels will travel less distance than the front and will therefore need to spin more slowly. If the centre is locked and forcing the front and back to turn at the same speed, then the drive train can ‘wind up’. Rotational tension is placed on components and over time will rapidly cause damage. So it is critical to never use 4HLc on terrain where the tyres are unable to slip (such as roads). It is possible to change from 4H to 4HLc while the vehicle is in motion.
  • Super Select 4wd 4LLc4LLc – 4 wheel drive, low range, locked centre. This mode is the same as 4HLc except will provide greater torque for situations that require it. This mode can be used for steep climbing and decending or for slow driving where precision and power are required. As with 4HLc, it is important not to use this mode on good quality road surfaces. The vehicle must be stopped to move between 4HLc and 4LLc.

In addition to these 4 modes, some models are fitted with a rear differential lock, that is available in 4HLc and 4LLc modes only. 4wd Impassable When WetIt is recommended that the vehicle be stopped when engaging the rear differential lock. Having said this, the vehicle can be in motion when activating the rear diff lock, however locking will not actually occur until the vehicle is travelling slower than 6km/h.

The rear differential lock forces both rear wheels to spin at the same speed regardless of traction. With an unlocked differential, if one wheel loses traction then power will be directed to that wheel. This results in a loss of forward momentum. Locking the differential will ensure that the wheel that maintains traction will continue to recieve engine power and will drive the vehicle forward.

However it is critical not to drive the vehicle on quality sealed roads. When turning, the inside wheels will spin slower than the outside wheels. Locking the differential will prefent this and will cause windup and eventual damage to the vehicle.

When changing between 4wd modes, indicator lights on the dash board will flash to indicate that the mode has been selected, and will stop flashing when the mode has been activated. On occasion it can take some time to move between the different modes.

Super Select II 4wd System

Providing the same functionality, the Super Select II system is controlled via a twist dial on the dashboard rather than a gear lever. Additional features are the downhill assist button, the 4wd mode button and the electronic park brake.

Super Select II 4wd System