WHALE IS WELL known for its water pumps but in the last few seasons, it has added water and space heaters to the product portfolio. And the innovation shows no signs of slowing down.
At the Motorhome, Caravan and Camping Show, the Belfast-based manufacturer announced more new products, but one in particular caught our eye. It is an integrated digital control panel that controls the newest version of its space heater and water heater.
On the surface, the panel seems similar in concept to the Alde digital control panel, and the Truma control panel used in the Coachman Pastiche and VIP models. In both those cases however, the control panel is controlling a single appliance - either an Alde boiler or Truma Combi unit. Whale's system actually controls two standalone units from one integrated panel. It is also wireless.
The Whale Intelligent Control (IC) control panel unit is small - about 20cm square. Large touchscreen buttons control everything, aside from an illuminated 'menu' button at the bottom of the screen which gets you back to the start if you get lost. If you have used an iPhone, it will feel pretty intuitive.
What I liked about it is that in two taps of the screen, you can have the heating on. Ditto the water heating. When the van is cold and you want it warm, that is very important.
Whale's IC control panel gives you heating in two taps of the screen
As with all digital display control units, if you want to master it, you need to put in the hard yards to learn how it all works. It has three progammable timers on it for the space heating for example. You can set timings, fuel supply and output for each, and there is a seperate overiding thermostat for the space heater. The room thermostat is built into the base of the control unit.
The system controls IC versions of Whale's new 4kw space heater and water heater, but the fact it is wireless means, according to Whale, installation in the factory is very simple - you don't need to hide cabling anywhere. With yards of copper cabling lobbed in the bin, weight reductions are on the cards too, and that is always welcome.
When Whale demonstrates the system on the stand, it does seem superbly simple to use, but when sat in a cold caravan rather than a warm exhibition hall, I'm sure it won't seem quite so straightforward. Certainly not as straightforward as an on/off switch. Or if you have really been caravanning for a long time, a match.
It is good to see technology being advanced in this way, but it is the potential of the system which is really exciting. It's not hard to imagine IC being used to control all manner of caravan systems. For example, being able to intelligently manage electricity use would be very useful on a 10amp hook-up to stop it tripping out for example, or if you are trying to eke out battery life on a winter rally.
As a caravanner however, my first thoughts were of the problems that such technology could cause. If the system plays up for instance, you could end up with a cold van, and no way of working around it. No joke if there is snow on the ground.
Whale says the system is based on a reliable, long-established wireless protocol used in home automation systems and is confident in the system. It has a point. If fly-by-wire is good enough to land an Airbus A380, then getting a warm shower in a field should be easily achievable.
Whale says the system is likely to appear in a 2013 model year product from someone although there was no confirmation who. As a result though, you'll definately be hearing more about it. If you are heading to London, do go to the Whale stand to have a play with the demo units.
To book tickets visit the show website or call 0844 858 6756