Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Floor Console Makeover

eL Blue Gets Serious...

...about a lot of things.   Here's a makeover of the Floor Console:

I needed a way to secure my 7" Galaxy Tab GT-P1000 to the floor console.  Its display allows me to see information that the Spark EV does not provide through the DIC; battery data (temp, current, SOC, etc), charger temp/current/voltage/wattage, 12V battery SOC, date, altitude and more.  All via Bluetooth connection to a Vgate Bluetooth Scan Tool OBD2 OBDII Scanner for TORQUE APP ANDROID and the Torque Pro app.

I also wanted to mount my iPhone somewhere within arm's reach but not docked in the typical fashion.

First version mount, tablet:  I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab Vehicle Dock.  This dock is specific for this tablet, and includes a sliding power connector that allows the dock to charge the tablet whilst docked.  Bought it used on Ebay for $15.

The suction cup never held very well, and the tablet is heavy, so sticking it to the windshield was a non-starter.  However, I was given one of these:

Rocketfish Universal GPS Dash Mount.  Right.  I stuck the tablet vehicle dock to the Rocketfish thingy and wedged the whole contraption into the floor console, just forward of the cup holders.  It would almost stay there through all types of street driving...until the suction cup would let go and the tablet + vehicle dock would go flying across the footwell!  This usually happened in very cold or very warm temps.

I needed a better solution.  I got ambitious over the 2016 MLK holiday and came up with a very secure mounting system for both tablet and iPhone.

For the tablet, I wanted to mount the vehicle dock in the same basic location in the console, perhaps slightly lower/forward of the original position but without the Rocketfish thingy  and without using the suction cup.  Thinking about this for a very long time, it was obvious that I was going to have to remove the floor console and take it into my shop.  So, let's get started.

Followed the repair manual to remove the floor console.  It's just three phillips head screws.  Hardest part was disconnecting the electrical connectors.  They were not difficult to reach; however, I was unfamiliar with the way to disengage the connectors, so I had to crane my neck lying in an awkward position on the floor behind the front seats in order to see the connectors.  Took a few minutes, but finally got them unhooked.

Put the console on my work table.  Disassembled the old mounting system.  Discarded Rocketfish thingy.

What you're looking at above, right, is what's called the "Compartment, Floor Console", according to Chevrolet.  It's #2 below:

Best price I could find for it is $29.47.  That is my backup plan.  If I destroy mine, I can buy a new one.  It is secured to the console with three hex head screws.  

There are three other pieces of equipment that I had been using:  
Multi-Use Vehicle Charger with Dual USB Ports and Dual 12 Volt Sockets - Magnadyne:

...a Wagan EL2537-5 Twin USB and 12-Volt DC Cup Holder Power Adapter:

...and an Air Dock 2.0 for the iPhone 5S:

I removed the Air Dock pad and mounted it to a Cobra Flex Mount:

Mating of the two created this:

Side view, rough draft:

The tablet mount blocks the cup holders. Not a worry, they're pretty small and don't hold a refillable water bottle, anyway (and there are cup holders in both front door panels).


Also, the Wagan cup holder power adapter had to go. It did not anchor the Air Dock very well and exasperated its polar moment...I mean, the Air Dock would flop around a bit and the Wagan cup holder was unstable in the cup holder unless shimmed.

Above: Floor Console without and with Compartment. I cut out the forward wall of the Compartment using my Dremel + cutting wheel.

I made a false floor for the Compartment so that I could mount the Magnadyne unit which would then provide a mounting point for the tablet vehicle dock:

Above: I used an old plastic cutting board to cut out my false floor; the rubber mat from the Compartment made a perfect template. I extended the floor a few inches in order to mount the Magnadyne unit a bit forward.

Below: Trimming it up and mounting the false floor and then the Magnadyne:

Below: Test-fitting the tablet vehicle dock and Air Dock...

Below, more test-fitting:

Above: I notched the tablet vehicle dock with my dremel to accommodate the screws that mount it to the Magnadyne; drilled two holes in the Magnadyne and et vòila, it's mounted!

First test fit:

I found that the false floor was bumping into the metal mounts for the Console inside the car. Some slight trimming of the false floor solved that.

Below: looking at the bottom of the Compartment, here's where I had to trim with the dremel...

Next: The Air Dock/Cobra Flex Mount would rotate on its horizontal axis:

A clamp secures it:

More test-fitting: I discovered that the tablet vehicle dock was too far forward and would bind against the upper console, blocking the power port/USB port. To resolve, I mounted the tablet vehicle dock about 1.5 inches aft. Fits fine, now:

Below:  The Console has a rubber mat; I reused it, slightly modified, to add a finishing touch:

Below: What it will look like:

Fitting into the car:

I must have test-fitted it 5 times; each time I found an issue that meant I had to take it out, back to the shop...:
Clip, clip here
Clip, clip there
We give the roughest claws
That certain air of savoir faire
In the merry old land of Oz...

...then back into the car for another test fit. Fortunately, the sun was shining, beautiful blue January sky, temps in the 30s ºF. The sun warmed the cabin of the car, no complaints.

Above: Nearly final product. Not bad. This may last a while. Tablet and iPhone are rock-solid; iPhone doesn't intrude too much into passenger side. The Bluetooth ELM OBDII adapter is below left of the tablet. It will reside there for the time being. This installation is much more tidy than my previous temporary attempt; the cables are tucked away, out of sight and secured so that they don't interfere with the foot controls.

Finishing touches:

I reconfigured Torque Pro's screens on the alert recommendation of my friend ChrisC; separated the "driving" screens and the "charging" screens. That way, the modules could be enlarged, making them easier to see at a glance.

However, there was still one mod left to do: the Motorola Moto G XT 1032 smartphone that runs BringGo (satnav app) needed a semi-permanent home. It had been residing in the driver's side console cup holder, plugged-in to USB for power; however, I never liked that location because it was non-secure.

I found a Forrader® C3 Qi Car Charger Cup Holder Wireless + Wired 2 in 1 Charger on Amazon that looked like it would be appropriate for the task (below):

It was, however, too big to fit in the driver's side cup holder. Below is a cup holder insert I bought at a local auto parts store:

Put them together for a test fit into the Console's rear cup holder: (below)

And then in the car (below):

I bought a KingMas® Universal Qi Wireless Charging Receiver Card with Charger Pad for 5-Pin Micro USB Android Mobile Phone (Port 1):

It fits inside the case of the Moto G and gives it qi wireless charging capabilities. Slide the phone into the Qi Car Charger Cup Holder, plug the Qi Car Charger Cup Holder into the power port, and et vóila, we have satnav! 

Both tablet and Moto G run apps that help to save battery charge. Listed below:

  1. Autosleeper Auto power ON-OFF:  runs on both.  Senses when power is removed, starts a user-defined countdown timer that initiates deep sleep mode.  I have it set for 60 sec.
  2. Autostart and StaY!:  runs only on the tablet.  Keeps Torque Pro in the foreground and starts it at bootup.
  3. LeanDroid:  runs on both.  Turns off cell/data radio since they're unused and unnecessary.
  4. Screen Timeout:  runs only on the tablet.  Keeps the screen from going to sleep.
Both devices are rooted, unlocked and running the latest Android OS.  To date, the car can sit for a couple of days without use and the tablet will still have a charge; the phone will likely be dead, but it recharges rapidly and is quickly booted and back online.  Modern USB protocol allows up to 2.1 A current into the device, and all the equipment used in this protocol perform to that standard.  Recharging the batteries during use is not an issue.  Both devices are treated as if they are part of the car's equipment (i.e., they remain in the car all the time...though I will remove them for updates, occasionally).

Neither device requires an Internet connection to function.  I have them set so that they will connect automatically to known WiFi networks, and I have on occasion sat in parking lots like Starbucks or McDonalds and used their WiFi.  I am testing using my iPhone's Personal Hotspot when on the road.

I do not do this kind of work professionally.  I am therefore quite slow at just about every step in the process.  I started Sat 01/16 sometime around 8PM; finished 01/18 around 430PM.  I worked steady but took frequent breaks, sustained by hot tea and homemade pizza.  All fasteners and materials were sourced from my shop.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

eL Blue Goes to Asheville or Maybe Gatlinburg...a fact-finding mission...

Of Course It Can Be Done...Can't It?

Day 3, Jan 2, 2016

I had no need to plug-in the car overnight at my hotel last night, since the presence of DC fast charging not far away gave me confidence that range anxiety would be a non-factor.   Well, that and the crazy exuberance of the GOM after the long downhills in the mountains.

The overnight temps dipped below freezing; I wasn't too concerned for the car, as the battery had plenty of charge.  However, notice the HV SOC in Torque Pro (bottom photo, upper left module) (50.0%).  Last night it was 50.4%.  And the GOM shows 53 miles; last night, it was 52.  Since the Spark EV uses an active thermal management system for its battery and charging hardware, some energy will be used for maintenance (or, as Chevy's engineers call it, "battery conditioning").  I haven't seen much of this happening in this car, so my experience with it is nil.  And there are screens in the in-dash display that allow one to view the percent of energy used for that function, as well as for climate and for motivation.

Well, now that it's Day 3, where next?  My hotel, Hampton Inn in Cherokee, N.C., is not far from the Cherokee Welcome Center, where two free Level 2 charging stations reside, along with a nearby solar "tree"and free WiFi:

I plugged-in and wandered inside.  There are some informative posters on the walls inside the building.  A very sad chapter in American history; The Trail of Tears.  I remember as a boy learning about this whilst living in Enid, Ok. in the 1970s.  I thought it was awful then, and I still do.  The posters talked about the different villages of Cherokee that were removed from their homes by the U.S. Govt and forced to march to "resettlement" camps.  Thousands died on the route.  The inhumanity.

The above pics show the car actively charging at the Cherokee Welcome Center.  Also, notice the change in modules displayed in Torque Pro.  I had some time to kill and I had discovered that an altimeter would be nice, so I added it to the middle right, along with a pitch indicator below it (that doesn't function...so it would be removed).

Torque Pro's display will change one more time before this trip ends.  I will add later ambient temp and GPS position.  I think I've finally settled on the display that I like that gives the most information at a glance.  Now, I'm down to learning the display so that I can glance at it and get what numbers I need.  The 7" tablet sits low in the console, covering the two cupholders and the sunglasses/loose change/stuff cavity forward of the gear selector.  Taking my eyes off the road to look that far away from the road is not something I want to have to do too often, so practice makes perfect.

The altimeter would add more data points collected going up and down the mountains.  My interest was to record the start, middle and end points of the mountains in terms of altitude, GOM, SOC and miles traveled.  The results will be rough estimates but will suffice to get a reading on the performance of the Spark EV in these conditions.

The Spark EV is the second most efficient EV, next to the i3, and it shows.  The little car is nimble, easy to maneuver in tight spaces with an excellent turning radius, and it has power to spare at 140 hp/400 ft lbs torque.  It's not the most aerodynamic vehicle (cd 0.326), but it is a city car, after all. 

Its efficiency lies in its drivetrain.  The Chevy engineers were allowed to represent, here, in my opinion (rumour has it that the Spark EV is the "testbed platform" for the upcoming Bolt).  It has legitimate 90 mile range in temperate climates and is fun to drive...and a bit dangerous.  The suspension does not take kindly to violent or erratic maneouvers and can easily throw off driver timing.  Further, torque steer is the beast in this little monster.  Nail the throttle from a standing start and the car's electronic traction control does it hairy best to f*ck with the driver, dragging the car literally from side to side.  Without a firm grip on the wheel, all bets are off which ditch will be the one into which you'll be ditching.

But hey, enough of my yakkin.  Let's boogie!

Above:  Stopped the L2 charging session after 84 minutes.  Way more than enough range to get me to the DC fast charger at Oconaluftee Visitor's Center, 3.2 miles away.  I will top up there prior to the assault on Clingman's Dome.

Above:  Arrival at Oconaluftee Visitor's center.    

Below are some pics snapped as the car charges.  Maxed out at ~ 32 kW (notice the difference in what the DIC shows (top pic, far right blue bubble) to what Torque Pro displays ("Inst P (kW)", left middle) and "AC Charger" (lower middle):

Below:  End of charging session.  This should be enough range to run my test route up to Clingman's Dome, then down to Gatlinburg.  Starting at an elevation of 1962 ft (far right middle, hard to see with the glare):

Below:  Reaching the entrance to Clingman's Dome.  Elevation 4957 ft.  Distance covered 16.1 miles:

I had not yet started recording ambient temps...it took me a while to slog through all the modules available in Torque Pro's pids to find that display.  I think temps were in the 40º F range.  Beautiful, sunshiny day.

Now we go down to Gatlinburg!

Above:  Dropped from 4957 ft to 1135 ft, traveling 32.6 miles...and the GOM has lost its little mind.  We gained 9.8% SOC (52.7% to 62.5%), but the GOM gets a little too excited with that and triumphantly displays added range of a whopping 44 miles!  W00-H00!!!

Below:  I drove through Gatlinburg another couple miles (at a snail's pace...the traffic is amazing) and holed up at Alamo Steakhouse.  This place has two Blink charging stations that actually work (imagine that!)...

Photo taken just before unplugging.  Chugging along at nearly 3 kW...the altimeter has lost 300 ft for some reason...must be in anti-reverse collusion with the GOM...

...so I plugged in and let my bartender Konstantin serve me his recommendation of a delicious starter of Horseradish-Parmesan Prime Rib Strips with a Caesar salad and a pint of English Pale Ale from local brew house Saw Works Brewing Co.  Tasty!

This actually made two meals. :)

Konstantin and I chatted about cars during lunch; he's from Russia (Moscow) and he was quite keen on my EV road trip.  He was well-informed about current EVs, so we had a delightful conversation.  He lamented that the availability of charging stations and repair shops and EVs in general was quite poor in Tennessee, which is somewhat true in the area of Gatlinburg.  However, my trip gave him lots to think about, and he had many questions.

Time to depart and head for Dillard.  I'm confident that I have enough range to make Cherokee, easy, but I wanted to check out the DC fast charging station at Sugarlands Visitor Center one more time, even though I wasn't going to charge.  Headed that way; dusk is setting in...

Farewell, Bink, but not Goodbye!

Below:  Arrival at Sugarlands.  Yes, it took 32 minutes to travel 5.7 miles:

So, we're starting at 78.9% SOC, elevation 1378 ft.  Now, we go up!

Below:  Clingman's Dome:

SOC drops to 33.6%; elevation 4774 ft., 25.6 miles traveled.  Ambient temps were hovering in the high 40º F range.

Below:  Down to Cherokee:

The GOM is just so enthusiastic; it adds great comedy to this routine.  Combined with magical scenery, good food and drink...I'll take it.  So, we added 23 miles of range indicated, added just under 5% SOC and traveled about 16 miles.  :)

I took the above photos at the Cherokee Welcome Center.  It was past closing time and after dark and their free WiFi signal reached the parking lot.  I uploaded a buttload of pics to my DropBox account in a short stop.  On to Oconaluftee:

Below:  charged-up, ready to head to Dillard, 46 miles away:

Above:  Here's the final Torque Pro display.  Now we have ambient temp (lower left), altimeter (right middle) and GPS position (prolly useless, but what the hell...).  Upper right, inboard of Pack Voltage is the Torque Pro tripmeter.  It's been in use all along, but I just moved it when rearranging the screen to accommodate the new modules.  Learning to read this thing...

Below:  Arrival at Mountain Valley Inn, Dillard, Ga.:

Above:  I forgot to snap the photo before I turned off the car; Torque Pro resets the tripmeter when power is removed from the tablet.  Grrr.  The car's ODO says we went 50 miles.  Ambient temp is 35.6º F., and elevation is only -19 ft. different.

Below:  Plugging-in to the hotel's 120V/15A service.  I snapped some photos of the energy screens in the dash to show the selector for amperage.  Bottom photo shows what Torque Pro says the car is receiving; Also, the difference in elevation from the above photos is because I took the above photos at the hotel office, which is 40 ft higher than where I parked overnight...

Below:  Charged up in the early AM, ready to go.  Skipping the "continental breakfast", and the young hotel clerk is the daughter of the owner and she thinks the Spark EV is "adorable" :) so she declined my $5 tithe for charging when I checked out!  Headed to Clayton, about 11 miles away. Want to check out the defunct Blinks...

I first did a drive-by of the CHAdeMO Blinks behind the Universal Joint in Clayton.  They have been decommissioned until further notice, whatever that means.  These were the only DC fast charge unit in n. Ga., and were notorious for being broken too often.  The Level 2 charging stations at this site mostly functioned, but again they were notorious for being down.

Fromage, an eatery/cheese shop a few blocks away, also had a Blink Level 2 charging station.  I've used it back in 2012 during a road trip to Clayton.  Worked just fine.  However, it had been vandalized and was out-of-action.  I decided on a whim to drive-by, anyway, because the owner, Franklin Wilson, an EV-advocate who is most responsible for getting EV charging stations installed in the Clayton area, had promised that a new Clipper Creek charging station would soon replace the broken Blink.

And it did!  Yay!:

So, I plugged-in to test it, even though I didn't need to charge.  Yay!  It's working!!!

Hibernating affineurs.  That's when they're the most dangerous!

The EV world of Clayton is picking up a bit of steam; the nearby B&B Beechwood Inn, another victim of non-functioning Blink charging stations, is due to install a Tesla destination station and the accompanying Level 2 charging station that Tesla so thoughtfully includes.  Good Stuff.  Now, if we can just get DC fast charging in the area...

Below:  Stopping in Cornelia, Ga., again to charge at the Train Depot and have breakfast at Natalie Jane's.  I'm told the sweet cream pancakes are to die for...

Below:  heading for Carriage Kia in Gainesville for my last charging stop before home.  This should be enough range to get me there easily:

Arriving at the Kia dealership and plugging-in...except it's ICED!  First ICEING I've seen this trip; usually, the Kia folks are instantly responsive in moving cars for EV charging, and they didn't disappoint.  In less than two minutes, an employee came out and moved the SUV:

Below:  Charged up and let's head for the barn:

 Above:  Notice that the air temp (lower left) is misreading actual temp.  This is prolly more a function of the proximity of the sensor to hot things in the motor bay.  As the car moves from parked, the temp display quickly recovers and shows a more realistic value.

Below:  Arriving home:

And so The End is Near.  Lack of DC fast charging on the way to the mountains is the only hurdle; once in the mountains, charging was not an issue.  A fun road trip and I will definitely go to the Smokeys again.  I think I've got some work to do on the car like better tires, perhaps a suspension upgrade or two and more comfortable seats.  The instruments (read, 7" tablet + Torque Pro + BringGo + Motorola Moto G) are welcome additions to the native displays; the infotainment system is ok; I'll definitely be doing a sound system upgrade.

When I was around 12 years old, my Dad and I took a trip to San Antonio, Tx. from our home at Vance AFB, Enid, Ok. in a 1960 VW Beetle.  That car had no fuel gauge.  AM radio.  No seat belts.  1200cc 34 hp gas engine.  Simple, reliable, easy to work on.  My memories of that trip include listening to baseball games through the static of lightning strikes, the car's generator and the distance between us and the radio towers.

Why bring that up?  Because on the final legs of this trip, I was listening to basketeball games through the static of lightning strikes, the car's electric motor and the distance between us and the radio towers. :)