Trailer IO (Cybertrailer Standard)

When more than an intimate couple are in the Cybertruck camper (kids, dog, etc.), people will certainly tow trailers. While it’s a wonderful image for roughing it in style, it’s not universally practical.

Full Self Driving for trailers is probably quite a ways off, but there are certain trailer and camper services that could be driven by the Cybertruck (and other tow capable Tesla compatible vehicles) that would make towing safer and more convenient. Also plenty of hardware and services to sell through to OEMs and customers.

Making sure the navigation software understands ‘I AM TOWING’ would be a nice first feature. Prompt for the size and weight of a traditional trailer, and when pathfinding the map, avoid tight turns and steep grades and narrow roads, and make sure the vehicle arrives where it can actually stop and look around for a place to park.

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  • Generally speaking, someone who is living in a camper will stock up, stay somewhere for two weeks, and move a minimum of 50 miles while stocking up again. Especially when dry camping on BLM or otherwise ‘unregulated’ lands or parks, for free or cheap. There are various web sites that also specialize in finding those camp sites, so it’s fairly easy to find a legitimate place to camp, anywhere.

    On the Tesla compatible vehicle, there could be a trailer interface, as a water tight connector with AC in, AC out (or one AC line with more switching on both ends, since it’s mostly either giving or taking power) and a network interface. Naturally no power unless all connections are secure. That’s it. Since the Cybertruck has AC outlets, an inverter is already present (though you might need a beefier one). There are built-in features on Tesla vehicles to limit input charge current already. There is already networking in the vehicle. Probably you’d want a sense system to detect cable damage or liquid intrusion, as well. Everything else is mostly software.

    There might be ‘levels’ of interface for basic hauling trailers, trailers that charge, and trailers that are purely parasitic, but the vehicle provides AC for trailer accessories.

    While maintaining a traditional seven pin interface for ‘traditional’ trailers, this interface provides low level charge from ‘shore power’ available from most trailer oriented campgrounds, and allows the Tesla battery to help run and manage a fully electric trailer when there is no shore power.

    The minimal network interface will allow a quick handshake with the trailer, so you can find out the weight, capacity, dimensions and other necessary metrics and capabilities, such as provide camera and trailer status access from the vehicle and eventually to enable self driving features. It also removes the need for separate analog lines to control lights, brakes, and receive rich weight/balance, animate the lights in an emergency, and tire pressure information (according to trailer hardware). It sure would be nice to know if the vehicle is going straight, but the trailer isn’t. It also allows the coordination of battery charge, power draw, and access to battery status and range estimates from the trailer, as well as the ‘entertainment’ and networking features on the vehicle.
  • Most utility trailers would only support the networking for dimensions, cameras, load details and braking/lights, and be purely parasitic. Maybe providing external or internal AC outlets for tools. A camera on the trailer pointing directly at the hitch would be very helpful. Especially for judging whether the ball is close enough to centered, to lower and hitch the trailer. Some kind of sure-fire interlock switch should let the system know the trailer is securely hitched.

    A camper with ‘shore power’ (and/or capable of other power generation) is a slightly different beast. You don’t eliminate the trailer battery. It still needs to work even if the vehicle goes on an outing. A few kilowatt hours is fine with about 500 watts of solar power and sunny weather, unless you’re doing lots of electric cooking or running an actual air conditioner. But you shouldn’t need to fully hitch up just to plug it in. You could leave someone behind to ‘house sit’, drive just the vehicle away, supercharge it, and come back, too.

    First of all, the power in otherwise perfectly nice campgrounds tends to be extremely ‘dirty’. Sometimes it can fall well below 90 volts, and has every kind of surge and brown-out and ‘hiccup’ imaginable from 100 campers on one transformer. So a trailer needs a power conditioner of some sort to restore a clean sine wave and amplitude, and calculate however many amps are actually ‘available’, to let the vehicle’s charge controller know. There are various inverters on the market already that do this, combining battery power to fill in deficits, where needed, or just letting clean enough power directly through. A lot of campers get expensive parts ruined by this, Better to ruin or trip an inverter on a trailer than parts in the vehicle that you need to tow it with.

    Since there’s a battery and an inverter, providing a good charge controller to accept solar, wind, micro-hydro or whatever hobby you have also makes a lot of sense. A solar awning would make sure the space at the campsite is not wasted, potentially doubling power when combined with available rooftop solar.
  • As mentioned previously, the various appliances should be all electric, but they should also be SILENT. Most campers sound like a jet engine taking off when a heater or water heater kicks on. Turning on that Onan generator will often sound like a riding lawnmower. The air conditioner will sound like a construction zone at an airport. The water pumps usually make loud rumbling noises whenever you use the water, or bathe... or use the toilet. Every little ‘convenience’ is awful and half-assed on most campers, running on 12VDC, mostly with brushed motors. Even the ‘quiet’ ventilation fans can be obnoxious.

    However, there are silent AC water pumps and inline high-flow water filters that last for years. Silent AC heaters. Efficient electric inductive stoves, convection microwaves, water heaters, etc. I’m sure Tesla can come up with a nice, quiet, efficient heat pump design that doesn’t sound like runway of an airport, and doesn’t make the trailer taller, and perhaps dumps ‘waste heat’ into the water heater.

    There are several examples of ‘all electric’ campers out there for reference. Why all electric? No need to go on a literal death march quests to look for propane. Where it can be pumped directly into built-in tanks, or lugging around ‘portable’ 20lb tanks. Add as much as a hundred miles to a trip, if you run out of propane somewhere remote, regardless of whether there’s a charger or gasoline nearby. Even with internet searches, if nobody filled in ‘HAS PROPANE’ in web forms, you won’t find them, unless you’re lucky. And with built-in tanks, you’ll often discover just the 20lb exchange tanks at many locations that say they ‘have propane’. It’s a coin flip whether anyone qualified is available to pump propane, and you might even wait for hours, even if they are.
  • Naturally, a camper with Starlink could share the internet with the vehicle in any of the many places where cellular is just not available, and the vehicle could provide internet to the trailer in built-up areas where Starlink doesn’t work. You know, for a fee, for the combined service. Many campers have a built in TV, but the ‘TV’ could be more or less a mirror the vehicle’s dash board touch screen. Including external cameras, for security. Talking about security, unless a registered vehicle hitches, connects and goes ‘into gear’, or a code is typed in, the wheels on the trailer should stay locked up.

    On board the trailer there should be simple power management options. Only enable the cooking gear when you’ll be cooking (especially with kids). A high efficiency electric fridge that should never go without power, and saves space over a traditional propane fridge and ‘chimney’. Turn on the water heater only when you’ll need it. All of the spare power when nobody is particularly consuming it can go into the vehicle batteries. A few kilowatt hours a day for a couple of weeks adds up.

    There are lots of existing trailer manufacturers to partner with. A shiny Cybertruck towing a shiny Airstream might be a shiny example. The interface could be sold to OEMs, and as a kit+parts for retrofit by certified RV mechanics or other small trailer manufacturers.

    Once we’re talking about software, there should be a nice, automatic checklist on the touch screen for towing and unhitching. The trailer should be able to supplement it with its own pages. It would be best if the trailer could sense if it’s overloaded or poorly balanced. Make sure people check the tire pressure (or have a pressure monitoring/management system on the trailer). Prompt the user to walk around and inspect everything, and ‘drive around the block’ at low speed, to check for any issues, and possibly wake up TPMS systems that have to be rotated in the tire. This would prevent many avoidable accidents, injuries and deaths.

    I sure hope those ‘Cybertruck’ charging points are trailer friendly (within reason). Or at the very least provide places to unhitch. Best to keep it hitched, though.

    Stinky, indirectly related...

    Something that lets you dump fresh water while dumping the other tanks (through a an antisiphon valve) when you’re about to leave a campground would save a lot of kilowatt hours, dragging around useless mass. Most campers don’t have a particularly convenient way to do it. Any feature that would make tank dumping and filling cleaner and more convenient is nice.
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