RVs technology growth

By: Malcolm Street


With technology changing how we travel, it’s important to keep up to date.

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About 25 years ago, there was an old ‘dad’ joke that went something like this: "how do you know when there are no teenagers living in the house?" The answer: "because the VCR clock is flashing!"

The joke is dated on two counts. One is that the humble video cassette recorder (VCR), although probably still present in some TV cabinets (including mine!), is no longer used. Secondly, because of the relentless rise of technology, in today’s high-tech world of smartphones, tablets, laptops and satellite navigation systems, difficulty setting the VCR clock would be met with "huh, what’s the problem?"

There is, of course, a modern variation to the joke that skips a generation. How many CW readers invite the grandchildren around because granddad is having a problem with his computer? The sad part is that, by the time grandma has put the kettle, sorry, the coffee machine on, and granddad has spent 10 minutes explaining the problem, granddaughter or grandson has sorted the issue. At the same time, they’re suggesting the museum piece computer (ie., anything over three years old) should be replaced with something newer.

But if you’re wondering what this has to do with RV travel, let me explain – just about everything. Let’s go back again to the time of the flashing VCR clock. When you were booking a caravan park/hotel/motel room, was the availability of wi-fi, preferably free, a matter for consideration? Certainly not. Yet, for many people these days, it’s very close the top of the list of essential requirements. If nothing else, staying in touch with the grandchildren (yep, them again) via Skype or Facetime is most important. And for those of us who need to stay connected for business reasons, it’s just as vital.

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Remember those fat caravan park guide books that the various state motoring organisations used to issue for RV travellers and that took up valuable space in vehicle gloveboxes? These days, having an up-to-date website is far more essential for any holiday park.

Within the RV industry itself, there has been much technological change. Take batteries and battery charging, for example. Back in the day, if there was even a battery in a caravan, it was usually charged by ‘hot’ wire through the trailer connecting plug or maybe an Anderson plug. Now there are deep-cycle/AGM/lithium batteries, solar panels and smart chargers, all of which require a battery management system to ensure that it is in peak running order.

LED light systems, great for low current use, have swept away incandescent and halogen light fittings and been embraced by the RV industry. Switching systems have become much more sophisticated and, in some cases, this presents a challenge for reviewers like Street Talk. Manufacturers often install a master switch which is sometimes handily located by the entry door but, alternatively, on the control pad hidden in a cupboard somewhere.

Rear-view cameras are becoming more common and are a great asset, and sat-nav devices are great for efficient navigation and avoiding marital disputes over who can’t read a map properly.

Mobile phones have replaced cameras as the weapon of choice for taking photos. Indeed, many people use their phones for not only making phone calls but also surfing the internet, checking emails, and navigation.

All this technology is great and does make our lives easier, but I reckon the real challenge is not to get overwhelmed by it all and become complacent about it. It’s important to maintain a basic understanding through use of a laptop computer, mobile phone or caravan touch pad control panel. Take, for instance, a sat nav. I always like to have an overall idea in my head of where I am going, either from a paper map or the digital equivalent. Recently, our sat-nav wanted to take us on a 15km detour when we knew perfectly well the place we were going to involved a U-turn and a 2km drive back to where we had come from.

Mobile phones are in the same category. I prefer to use a real camera, even a basic one. Additionally, I usually carry discreet devices for laptop/iPad work and navigation. The potential difficulty with using an all-in-one device is that if you happen to lose it or it gets stolen on an overseas trip, then there are big problems. No emails, no navigation device and precious photos are gone unless you have backed them up – something most of us are not very good at!

What do I think of the rise of technology? It’s a good thing for the most part, but each new development poses a new challenge!

The full feature appears in Caravan World #565. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!