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madlock

20/40 Hindsight

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I've made pretty considerable progress toward providing my TC with some rearward visibility.

I've been wanting two types of rearward view, one that effectively provides the visibility to overcome the Cargo Van's horrendous blind spots and a second that functions as a conventional backup camera. They're two different views from two different perspectives that serve two different purposes. For example the "rearview mirror" camera should be able to operate all the time while the backup camera would activate when the vehicle is shifted into reverse and provide a conventional "bumper view" with superimposed distance markers.

TC poses some challenges for both of these. First, there's no way to mount a camera on the centerline without drilling into the bumper. However, it does feature a plastic blanking panel in place of the European supplemental brake light which also makes a convenient place to mount a camera from a higher perspective that more closely mimics a rear view mirror, and the part can be bought for a mere $30, meaning it can be drilled, mutilated, and indulge any manner of "do overs" and the original can always be reinstalled to leave "no harm no foul".

The backup camera is another matter. The two obvious solutions are to drill the bumper or mount a license plate bracket camera. I'm no fan of the license plate camera because it's so far off-center; but others have tried it and seem to be relatively satisfied. There's no "great" solution as far as I'm concerned, but I figure I can buy myself some time using the rear view mirror camera until I can come up with something more elegant, both inside the vehicle and out, as so much of the overall challenge could have been resolved by Ford offering any sort of decent and reasonably-functional integrated touch screen to display all this wonderful content.

So, I went after the lowest hanging fruit first. I found the Audiovox CMOS2 camera, a very wide angle (170 degree diagonal field of view) that I would mount in the blanking panel. What makes the CMOS2 so good for this application is that it also comes with a series of flexible mounting hardware to accommodate just about any implementation ranging from suspending it below the bumper to drilling and mounting it inside the bumper or even angling the camera from an embedded mount (the option I chose). I ordered the camera and a spare blanking panel; and with a 15/16" bit and my Dremel, I went to work mounting it in the blanking panel, using the included angled collars to overcome the fact that the blanking panel isn't exactly vertical or perpendicular to the vehicle centerline.

mount.jpg

(Please bear in-mind that I've yet to apply clear coat to the painted parts)

Because my Frozen White aerosol paint has yet to arrive from the UK, I used the closest Duplicolor match I could find. Frozen White is a very blue shade of white, and while Duplicolor's "Super White" is about as close as I could come. The finish will be much closer once a clear coat is applied; but for a first attempt, I was pretty pleased with the overall fit and finish.

It's important to note that the angled mounting collar doesn't entirely overcome the pitch of the blanking panel and the camera points somewhat "up". Fortunately, the camera is of such a wide angle that it's not nearly as prominent on the display as it would seem at first. Even so, I'm wrestling with the notion of sculpting the hole I drilled in the blanking panel to allow the camera to tilt down just a bit more, making the bottom edge of the lens collar flush touch the blanking panel surface. We'll see.

For viewing the image, I could have gone several routes. The first would have been to route it to an in-dash LCD as part of a "Carputer" set-up or aftermarket navigation head unit, but I'm not yet settled on the head unit I want an I'd prefer to have the display appear where the rear-view mirror would otherwise be in a van with rear windows. I purchased an OEM Ford Mirror that's used in Mustang, Fusion, and other vehicles that features a small integrated LCD monitor. While this would have been ideal if there was any useful purpose for an actual mirror, it's otherwise a very expensive way to display a very small image.

Instead, I settled on the Magellan 1700T GPS unit which I mounted to the windshield where the rear view mirror would otherwise normally be. It's a whopper of a unit with a 7" display that's perfect for use in van. It's display and touch screen controls are relatively huge and as easy to use as anyone could imagine. Best of all, it includes a n 1/8" video input that automatically switches to display a video signal when it detects one. The result is about as close to a digital rear view mirror as I could imagine.

nav.jpg

Keep in mind that the cables are only temporary. The left cable will be replaced with a right angle plug an the wires will be run straight up to the headliner by the dome/map light. Even so, it's possible to see just how wide a field becomes visible.

live.jpg

One drawback of the Audiovox CMOS2 is that it's low light (nighttime) visibility is marginal. It's certainly usable, but it's hardly as ideal as a fully infrared capable camera. The challenge is to find a camera that's wide angle, infrared, and mountable in a fashion that allows it to be installed so it looks OEM. Even if I choose to upgrade the camera in the future, I'm very happy with the improvement it provides over no rear view at all.

To give an idea of the kind of wide angle perspective it actually provides, here's a photograph of the vehicle relative to the buildings. The distance is actually less than 3 feet, yet it's easy to see how wide the field of view happens to be. The only issue I continue to wrestle with is whether it's worth the time and trouble to lower the angle of view a bit by remounting the camera and all of the Dremeling, puttying, sanding, and repainting it would require. I'll have to think about it over time.

perspective.jpg

When driving, I was taken aback by how "ordinary" it felt. It was just like a rear view mirror, and I immediately enjoyed a degree of driving confidence I'd not experienced since buying my Cargo Van. One of the biggest differences from a conventional rear camera, even one capable of displaying such a wide angle, is that the perspective point is at the rear of the vehicle rather than the center of the windshield. The result is that every reasonably close item looks a bit like Jimmy Durante; and any vehicle that appears reasonably close is actually dramatically closer than it appears. Nevertheless, it's the kind of thing to which I'll quickly become accustomed and it's already a quantum improvement of what existed (or didn't exist) before.

Because I want this to be "always on", or at least have the option of it being "always on", I've finally found a useful implementation of the reverse fog lamp switch. Rather than wiring the camera into the reverse light, I wired it to the supplementary tail lights that are activated when the rearward fog lamp knob is pulled-out. I can now power the camera whenever I choose. All-in-all, for a 2/3 complete home brew solution, I'm very happy with how it both works and looks.

rear.jpg

The reverse camera remains an open issue, but it's something I'll continue to work on as I ultimately decide on a touch screen head unit. At least I can now cast a wider net and perhaps use a system that doesn't require an integrated navigation unit since I already have navigation on the rear view mirror GPS. Of course, all of this would be solved for by Ford offering even the most basic of SYNC compatible navigation solutions. With two other vehicles that are SYNC/navigation equipped, it's a void I feel particularly keenly when driving the TC.

I'll continue to update the thread as I continue to complete the project after wiring items permanently and adding a proper reverse-only backup camera.

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Hey Mad,

That is pretty cool.

I like the whole setup. That display is off the hook. GPS too?

Now.... tell the truth. Are you just spying on the neighbors?????

Where are you getting the aerosl paint from?

Thanks,

Roland C.

Happily Transiting shift.gif

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madlock,

Very clever implementation, looks really good !

I've got the window version of the TC, but the rear view via the mirror isn't much better than no view at all, due to the rear seat head rests and the blind spot created by the center section between the door windows.

I'll be watching your post for any updates.

Thanks for sharing.

boomer43

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Hey Mad,

That is pretty cool.

I like the whole setup. That display is off the hook. GPS too?

Now.... tell the truth. Are you just spying on the neighbors?????

Where are you getting the aerosl paint from?

Yep. GPS. The Magellan 1700 isn't overly feature-rich, but it's a knockout of a unit for placing where the rear-view mirror used to be. Everything is super-sized, and Magellan has a really innovative "one touch' interface that makes use particularly easy. The only drawbacks are its relatively limited (but not "lacking") feature set and its lower-resolution display compared to say a Nuvi 5000 which is a high resolution 5" unit that also supports video input.

I'm going to test the 5000 tomorrow. I know I'm not going to like the smaller screen, but it's certainly more elegant. All connections are concealed behind the unit rather than sticking out from the bottom. It's a real toss-up, but at first blush, I think I'm likely to stick with the Magellan for its better-suited form factor and damn-easy interface. I also prefer how it displays maps. I just wish Navigon was still in the business and made a compatible product.

The paint I used is a piss-poor match from Duplicolor. The Frozen White is en route from Ford Europe. I'm hoping a local body shop that's supposed to fix the broken door catch which will require painting won't mind just spraying the assembly I've cobbled together for me.

madlock,

Very clever implementation, looks really good !

I've got the window version of the TC, but the rear view via the mirror isn't much better than no view at all, due to the rear seat head rests and the blind spot created by the center section between the door windows.

I'll be watching your post for any updates.

Thanks for sharing.

Thanks, and you're welcome. I hope it provides some food for thought. As I wrote, the only really questionable aspect of the implementation is that the camera angle is a bit high and the trade-off between this camera that's so well-suited for installation in this manner and one that has infrared or better low light performance but might not accommodate the mounting as is (which might require some custom fabrication) or give such a broad field of view. It's really amazing to let a car pass on either side; and because the camera angle is so wide, the car almost instantaneously disappears from the pseudo-mirror and appears out the driver's window.

I suppose it has already met the Gold Standard in that even in its current form, mounted temporarily and with a suboptimal angle, I found myself having driven as if I simply had a regular rear view mirror without giving it a thought until much later, especially when I had to merge or turn onto a thoroughfare at an obtuse angle that would have normally rendered me blind, even to my side mirrors, but was almost like driving a convertible today instead. :)

It's certainly usable as is, but I just have to bite the bullet and resort to the Dremel and a little filler putty to get the camera orientation exactly as I want it to be. Even if I have to build another from scratch, I'm only in for about $100 so far; and given that this is my first attempt ever at such a thing, I figure it's not too bad a price of admission to get it the way I want. I'm just particularly happy to have been able to tie it into the "fog lamp" switch.

I'll keep everyone posted.

P.S. The camera image still has its protective film over the lens, so I'm hoping the image will be even-better, no matter how nominally, once it's been clear coated and I can remove the clear protective film.

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Thanks, but it ain't over yet. I'm indeed going to have to adjust the angle. The closest point of visibility on the road is 10 feet, so it really needs to be pointed lower. That means having to Dremel and fill instead of just drilling a simple hole.

The GPS displays are just as challenging. I just tried the NUVI 5000 today, and I'm really in a quandry. The NUVI is only a 5" display, and though it has far more features, I prefer the Magellan's 7" size and very straightforward interface. The NUVI is light on navigation features (like junction view etc), but it has some nice features like an Audio Book reader, etc. And despite being considerably smaller, the cable connection points on the mount are MUCH nicer.

To make matters even more conflicted, the NUVI is much higher resolution and it showed immediately with the image. Seeing the camera image through a different display also made me aware of something I hadn't noticed with respect to the Magellan. The camera is a standard 4:3 NTSC camera. The Magellan is a full (albeit lower resolution) wide-screen device. The device stretches and pinches the image to fit to the full area of the screen. While this makes for a very nice looking installation, everything in the image is squat and distorted, something the fisheye lens angle only compounds.

So, enter the NUVI. Not only is it 5" rather than 7", so it's only about 70% of the physical size to begin with, it too is a widescreen perspective; but rather than stretching the image, it only fills about 80% of the screen. The result is an image that's only about 55% of the size of as it appears on the Magellan. And while the image itself is crystal clear (in daylight), the overall sensation is of a camera image being displayed on a monitor rather than a surrogate rearview mirror.

It seems that both devices are equally lacking, just in very different ways. What's ludicrous is that the kinds of things that would make either device terrific would cost about $2 more to manufacture, or they're features that exist in each makers' other products.

I'm going to give some consideration to using a 7" Lilliput display unit that may be the best overall, albeit without navigation. I would then add a navigation-capable head unit. So, as of this point, I have the two challenges to solve of remounting the camera (while it's perfectly usable now, it could be SO much better if properly oriented) and continuing my search for the best display solution.

More to come as it develops.

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Interim Update:

I decided the view orientation was definitely too high and lowering it to both permit a shorter minimum viewable distance to road level and keep traffic more centered in the image which helps avoid the exaggerated "fisheye" effect of such a wide angle lens. I've been able to shorten the minimum viewable ground distance to 5' and, at knee-height, I can see almost 2' behind the vehicle, making it function well enough to serve dual duty as both rear view mirror replacement and backup camera.

Instead of using the provided angled lens barrels, I had to Dremel the already-drilled hole to accommodate the standard barrel positioned at my own angle. which is just barely perceptibly lower then true horizontal. Of course, relative to the panel, the camera appears to point downward to an even-more exaggerated degree. A little hot melt glue holds the barrel in place just fine.

The finishing work has really posed a challenge. Because angling the barrel downward meant I had to drill-out an ellipse-shaped hole by sight, I knew I'd have a little filler work to do. I was going to reach for conventional body filler which I knew could be sanded, primed and painted relatively easily, but I made the mistake of letting myself be talked into the equivalent of "Mighty Putty" which, despite fashioning into the thinnest "snake" I could to embed in the gap between the lens barrel and the blanking plate, just doesn't cotton well to being sanded with anything but the roughest grains, which is counter to what's required when finishing such small areas.

After trying to fix it until I happened to screw it up by gouging the plastic after trying to use a Dremel to do some detailed sanding instead of leaving well enough alone. I should have used a filler primer in the first place, and that's where things stand right now. I've shot one coat of regular primer and will be heading to AutoZone for some filler primer when they open. I will then resand the filled areas down using 400 and proceed to spray a final coat of standard primer before letting it dry in a curing cabinet and a final sanding with 600 grit before the first coat of paint.

I'm planning to finally have the body work done tomorrow to have the door check repaired. In the meantime, I'll spray a couple coats of a very close shade of white to Frozen White (I found a better match than before) and wet sand it before taking it with me to the body shop with the hope that they'll just spray the damn thing for me for a few extra bucks since the paint will already be matched for the warranty repair.

I'll post some pictures and an abbreviated recipe for others when the final job is done. Presuming I don't manage to screw it up any further by attempting to fix it some more, I'm really going to enjoy the lower angle and believe it will make the TC both easier and safer to operate.

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It is a shame there isn't a ready-made camera to fit in that spot. The location seems ideal except for being so high. I'm on the same quest, although the back-up camera will hook into a Pioneer AVIC-Z120BT I bought to replace the stock radio/CD player. The Pioneer also has a secondary video input, which I'm thinking about hooking to an interior camera that will overlook the cargo area or rear seat.

Keep posting pictures. I think you're on the right track.

4D

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