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[April Fools] How Do We Move the Car Between Ports While Cruising?

This was Chris’ April Fools Post.. enjoy the humor within 🙂

Here’s how we ACTUALLY move our vehicle between marinas:

How We Hopscotch Our Car Between Marinas (For Realz…)

 

When we first moved aboard our boat, Y-Not, we were not sure if it would be practical to keep our MINI Cooper that we’ve towed behind our vintage bus conversion Zephyr since 2011.

Would it be a hassle to need to constantly move our car between ports as we travel? How would we even do that?

And this has actually become one of our most frequently asked questions over the past two years – just how do we move our car (and eventually our van) between marinas?

There is the easy way, and there is the awesome way.

And today – we’ll explain it all.

Dealing With a Dinghy That Doesn’t Float

Before we bought Y-Not, we looked into options for enabling our bus to cruise on the water. Check our research here.

We sometimes jokingly tell people we tow our tiny little Mini behind the boat – but though we actually researched that option, that turns out to be not very practical.

Flotation-capable tires for the Mini are too expensive, and we worry that salt water would destroy her pretty quickly.

The Mini is actually almost small enough to hoist up onto our top deck, but the logistics are just too tricky… especially since (unlike other similar Bayliners) we don’t have a crane on our flybridge, and the solar panels going in now will block access.

So how do we do it? How do we manage life aboard a boat, without giving up the convenience of our local get-around vehicle?

We’ve been working behind the scenes on the PERFECT solution!

Why backtrack to go get our car, when we can have our car drive itself to us?

Seriously!

Florida Leads The Nation in Legalizing Self Driving Cars

Everyone knows about ‘Florida Man‘ and the wild and natural Florida. But – there is a tech side to Florida that a lot of people do not know about!

Though Florida is rarely thought of as a forward thinking state, when it comes to self-driving car technology Florida is actually turning into the next Silicon Valley.

It actually started in 2016 thanks to the efforts of Florida State Senator Jeff Brandes, who was profiled in Quartz for his efforts:

“On April 4, Brandes’ efforts culminated in the the passage of HB 7027, in a unanimous 118-0 vote, ushering in the nations’s first legislation to legalize fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel. Florida is currently the only state that explicitly allows for true self-driving vehicles…

In crafting the law, Brandes, said it was his intent to ensure the “operator” in this case does not have to be in the car (or even in the same state), monitoring the vehicle. He proposed a scenario where someone with a valid drivers license could open a smartphone app to summon a self-driving vehicle, and receive any alerts via the app. As long as the car could stop in the event of a problem, it would be legal.”

That sounds absolutely perfect for our needs!

In the years since this legislation, Florida has built up a reputation as “the autonomous vehicle capital of North America” and there are even self-driving taxi services popping up in some neighborhoods, and one town has even trialed a self-driving school bus!

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has a whole Autonomous Florida initiative tracking all these exciting developments.

But since only Florida has legalized fully autonomous cars with no drivers on board, no automobile manufacturers have been interested in bringing out any car models with true autonomous features that would let us summon our car from afar.

Even Tesla’s fabulous Autopilot technology still requires a driver behind the wheel – and until there is a nationwide regulatory standard that is unlikely to change.

But why wait for new car models that can be summoned from one port to another when you can retrofit old cars to be able to do it?

A Major Upgrade for a Mini Cooper

The Panda module uses the OBD-II port and “allows you full access to the many communication buses” of any car manufactured since 2008.

Every car manufactured since 1996 is required to have an OBD-II on-board diagnostics port that interfaces with the car’s computer, and the OBD-II port on most cars built since 2008 actually enables a whole lot more than just diagnostic data and Mobley unlimited plans.

Fortunately, our Mini Cooper is a 2009 model.

And even though car manufacturers have been slow to embrace bringing self-driving technology to market, the technology is actually already inside many cars just waiting to be unlocked.

Startup company comma.ai has been working for years to actually enable all the pieces necessary for full autonomy with affordable hardware upgrades and open source openpilot software to allow some pretty amazing upgrades for compatible cars.

From comma.ai’s homepage:

Your car is yours. No longer do you have to wait for the slow development cycle of automakers. You can take control and make your car better today.

The comma.ai EON DevKit replaces a rear-view mirror with a screen, road scanning camera, and a bunch of sensors. Running the openpilot software and interfaced via the OBD-II port, it can take over driving!

So that’s what we’ve been doing in our spare time the past few months – hacking away at our Mini Cooper to try and teach it to drive itself.

And we’re thrilled to report that with just a few hundred dollars of hardware and some serious software hacking efforts – we actually were able to summon our Mini Cooper to drive to us from Sanford last week!

It almost made it too…

Two Steps Forward, But No Reverse

We have unfortunately discovered one major catch with using a 2009 Mini Cooper for autonomous vehicle hacking…

Though the software can override the manual transmission and clutch to shift gears driving forward – the only way to go into reverse is to manually shift gears.

To deal with this limitation, when we left Sanford we positioned the Mini in a parking spot so it was facing outward and would not need to backup to pull out.

This part of the plan worked out great.

When we got into our next stop, when I pulled up the app and hit “Summon” everything was fine for the bulk of the trip as our little Cooper happily cruised by itself north.

The software handled the highways like a champ!

But unfortunately – just a few blocks away from our new marina, the AI agent was closely following another car that parked on the side of the narrow two-lane road.

And our poor Mini was trapped, unable to back up to be able to get around the obstruction.

Fortunately it was within bike distance, and when I got the “Reverse Failure” alert on my phone I was able to dash off to go help finish the mission.

When we trade in our Mini for a Class-B van conversion – getting a vehicle that can go into reverse under software control will need to be a priority!

We’re shopping for a Class-B van conversion, but will we be able to modify it for self driving too?

Reality Check

Ah, if only it were so easy to upgrade an old car with self driving capability!

The hardware from comma.ai and the openpilot software project ARE actually real, but they only work layered on top of cars that already have advanced adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance capabilities, and all the built in sensors that make these features possible.

There is a pretty long list of supported cars (but no camper vans) that can get some limited Tesla-like self driving capability via these upgrades, but even in a state like Florida where it might be potentially somewhat legal to enable summoning from afar – there are still a LOT of technical and legal hurdles to get over first.

But this sort of technology is getting closer by the day – and soon we really will be able to summon a vehicle from afar, making port hopping easy!

But sadly, not just yet.

We will be following up real soon with a post on how we actually manage hopscotching our car between ports… but for now – it’s time to celebrate my Nomadiversary.

Nomadiversary Memory Lane:

I still dream of eventually moving aboard an airship, btw. And you better believe it will have an autopilot that supports remote summons!

Yep, as long-time readers have probably guessed already – it is once again time for my annual nomadiversary post.

And today (April 1st, 2019) is my thirteenth!

13 years (!!!!) on the road – wow!

Here are some links to my (mostly) annual past posts.

Step back in time and check out some of our past adventures:

  • Twelfth Nomadiversary (2018) – Some mathematical analysis of the future trends in boondocking, extraploting out a future with millions of boondockers fighting over every scrap of desert as the suburbs turn empty.
  • Eleventh Nomadiversary (2017) – We contemplate some innovative ways to bring Zephyr along now that we are living part of the year on the water.
  • Tenth Nomadiversary (2016) – I share my past history traveling with a powered paramotor, and our future plans to renovate a Zeppelin to be a flying RV. Meanwhile, we were actually already secretly starting our hunt for a boat.
  • Ninth Nomadiversary (2015) – Sharing test results of LTTE boosters. Not to be confused with cellular LTE boosting, LTTE boosting (Libation: Technology Tribulation Elimination) is an even more critical element of a technomad’s tech arsenal.
  • Eighth Nomadiversary (2014) – Way too swamped and stressed with launching RVillage and dealing with Millenicom madness to write anything wistful or witty.
  • Seventh Nomadiversary (2013) – At last revealing the real reason I first decided to hit the road…
  • Sixth Nomadiversary (2012) – Reminiscing about all the changes over the years.
  • Fifth Nomadiversary (2011) – Giving up nomadism and buying a condo (not!) in the Virgin Islands.
  • Fourth Nomadiversary (2010) – Discovering the secret prize that comes inside every box of wine.
  • Third Nomadiversary (2009) – Camped on a beach near Malibu, watching dolphins frolic.
  • Second Nomadiversary (2008) – Working with Cherie to custom design our Oliver, moving up from a trailer ideal for one to one made for two.
  • First Nomadiversary (2007) – Preparing to set out with Cherie, reminiscing about my first very eventful year on the road – setting off solo and finding an amazing partner along the way.  (This links to my pre-Technomadia solo blog!)

Video Update:

Here is the version of today’s post for our YouTube audience:

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32 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. I think that there are some Class B’s motorhomes out there that have lane assist. Maybe it was Roadtrek, but I am sure that I have recently heard about this.

    • A few recent Sprinter-based models have blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning capability, but I don’t think any vans yet have actual steering under the control of the computer.

      Maybe in a few more years.

  2. I love that you are not forgetting about your Youtube audience and posting regular updates there as well as the blog. Keep it up, I love reading and watching new material from you guys!

  3. Chris, you really had me going for a little bit. I almost thought it was real…grin. Great April Fool’s posting. Congratulations on your 13th Nomadiversary

  4. Ah this was great as usual! Just finished up our own work for the day (too swamped to do our own April Fool’s trickery, sadly) but was looking forward to reading your next installment. Stellar, as always. Happy Nomadiversary! 13 years – WOW! Here’s to the next 13! 🙂

  5. So very cool! But I was rather hoping for you to say that you’d hire me at a very cheap rate to drive your car for you. It’s way way smaller than tbe 73′ tractor trailer I’m driving now, and it’d be a blast to drive. Ok, just dreaming. Tech is pretty awesome, tho.

  6. You two are so fun (and creative)! Wish we had not been so timid about approaching you at RVillage Rally 2.0. I think it would have been fun to do some LTTE testing with you : ) But we didn’t want to intrude in your lives. You already have shared so much with all of us. Hope our paths cross again some day. Happy April 1st!

    • On the one hand, the Rally was a great place to meet SO MANY people who have been following us for years. We were being approached constantly.

      On the other, it was such a busy and chaotic environment that we really had very little chance for quality time with very many people – and we will be lucky to even remember any names.

      Maybe we can do some proper LTTE testing at a future more casual and chill encounter. 🙂

  7. You don’t suppose you could program T3K To go to the drive-in package store and pick up some good wine do you. ‍♀️
    4/1/2019

  8. Interesting post! I had no idea and enjoyed reading the state of self driving cars. Hope it all comes together soon to make your trips more fun.

  9. I’m a Tesla owner and keep up with tons of autonomous driving news, so I was amazed I hadn’t heard about this new technology. I was amazed … for a minute. 😀 Good one!

  10. I didn’t read very far before I told myself that this is April first and this is a spoof. The April fool I really liked (I don’t remember what year you did this one) was the one where you were going to put Zephyr on a barge that would use Zephyr to power and steer the barge. You didn’t say if you were going to use it to tow Y-NOT. It would be interesting some day to see a list of ideas you had but did not use for your April Fool’s Day spoof. I bet that would be a very interesting and funny list. The best to you!!

  11. Hi Now there is the potential for a self driving RV. Imagine rolling while asleep–or the driver being able to watch 100% of the scenery. BTW Telsa’s self drive was recently rated at #19 out of 20–with only the Apple version being worse.

  12. Chris,

    Thanks again for bringing a smile to my face on April 1st. My first read was the zeppelin story that I was believing! Till the end of course. You have a great wit, and are a great writer!

    Laura

  13. Interesting idea, appropriating already existing software capabilities for a novel application. Are you at all concerned about the possibility that if you all could do it, then someone else could do an operation to override your commands and make your Mini a Rogue? How do you address that (for that matter, I wonder how the “big boys” address that?)

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