The Crawler Box

For the past couple of years I have been working on a project that I have nicknamed the “Crawler Box”. The project started while I was wondering how I was going to control the winch on my crawler with my radio. As soon as I started to figure that out I realized that there were a whole lot more things I wanted to be able to remotely control on my crawler other than just being able to drive it.

The initial thing I wanted to be able to control other than a winch was to be able to independently control the lights. My Tamiya Toyota Tundra bodied Axial SCX10 crawler is done in the theme of an Alaska Mountain Rescue vehicle with all the regular Tundra lights, plus 2 extra bumper lights, 2 extra spotlights and a police/fire style light bar on the roof. In total it has 21 LEDs plus the lightbar. I wanted to be able to turn the lights on or off in groups, such as the “body lights”, “bumper lights”, “front spotlight”, “rear spotlight” and “roof light bar”.

To be able to do this would require many more channels than I have available on my radio, more than are available on most every pistol style radio and I didn’t want to change to a stick style radio either. So I began looking for other solutions. After a lot of searching I realized that I would have to just build something from scratch and the Crawler Box was born.

Realizing that it would have to be a wireless solution I began with a “starter kit” of electronics components and just started working with them to see what I could achieve. It was during this phase that I discovered a lot of features that will be incorporated into the Crawler Box.

I had some success with an IR (Infrared) remote (like your TV remote) and receiver however when talking with a few other people about the Crawler Box I quickly realized that IR wouldn’t work. I had been thinking to make just one for myself but when I told a few people about the idea, they all wanted one. It is very difficult to make IR have unique codes using the same hardware so if I made another Crawler Box for a friend we would end up affecting each others vehicles when we used our remotes to turn something on or off. In addition, with IR it was only one way communication so the remote never knew if the receiver got the command. So it was back to the drawing board.

Next I tried wireless communication utilizing a 433mHz transmitter and receiver. This didn’t give the remote any ability to know if the command was received either but it did solve the multiple users problem that the IR had. However with this approach I ran into another project stopping problem. In my testing the range was severely limited, around 2-3 meters at most for some reason and I couldn’t overcome it or find any reason for it. So I scrapped that version too and moved straight up to 2.4gHz transceivers which is where we are at today. The 2.4gHz transceivers can send and receive which means that the remote can send a command, the actual Crawler Box side can receive it and send a message back stating that it was received which the remote can then receive. This might seem like overkill but it will allow for some neat future features.

This process has taken a lot of time as I have had to research electronics and do a lot of learning, then find the components I needed and often go back to do more learning when I found those components wouldn’t work. I am hopeful that I am in the final stages now though.

I now have a working 2.4gHz platform now where the “remote” side will transmit whatever I want to the “receiver” side, which will then send a response back to the “remote” when the command has been successfully received. The next steps are to start re-integrating all of the other components that make the Crawler Box what it is and get a fully working prototype. Once the prototype is working I will start creating custom circuit boards to make the entire package more friendly to the available space on a typical crawler as well as more user friendly for installation.

The Crawler Box has been designed to be modular which means that it can be changed over time as you change your vehicles or add new equipment to your crawler. As of right now the features that I have planned are the following:

  1. Control a winch in/out
  2. Control main lights (headlights, taillights, etc)
  3. Control 5 extra individual light zones such as bumper lights, front spotlight, rear spotlight, interior lights and under lights.
  4. Sensors for various uses can be added but the most fun one is a light sensor so that when the vehicle travels into an area that is in shadow or darker the main lights will automatically come on and then go off when it goes back into anything brighter than a shadow.

However, as I said it is modular. So if at any time in the future some new electronic device is created and can be integrated into the Crawler Box it will be possible to either do it yourself or send it back to me for re-programming. This makes the Crawler Box one of the most versatile RC components that you could ever buy because it can be used on any vehicle and upgraded and expanded over time.

I am very excited about this project and hope to have lots more to show you over the coming months as the progress picks up and features get added. This is a product that I will begin selling once it is completed. It is designed to be customized so if there is something that someone wants that I haven’t thought of, it can likely be added in or if a custom configuration is desired that could be done as well.






By day Jay Leno works with information technology and in his spare time he is actively involved in the radio control hobby. Passionate about new technologies and pushing the limits of what is possible as well as a strong desire for things to look "scale" drive his interests in the hobby.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply