Our loyal reader, Rich, posted this awesome tutorial about making a surveillance spy van. If you’ve seen any mystery or action movie, you’ve seen a van stuffed full of fancy electronics and spy equipment. Now learn to make your own. Our project involved taking a brand spanking (okay, two years old) Citroen Relay and turning it into a mobile office with a standalone runtime of 8-10 hours. The applications are endless! This particular model has been given the surveillance treatment with a roof mounted pan-tilt-zoom camera hooked up to internal computers and recording equipment.
Inside you’ll find furnished walls and floor which hide the guts of the system (power, insulation, wiring, batteries etc) and a two person desk setup. The design essentially revolves around a ‘shell’ built inside the van. Carpeted wooden hardboard makes for a sturdy floor and paneling system, each of which can be removed individually for easy access to electrical components and batteries. The shell is insulated with glass matting (the same stuff that keeps your house warm!) meaning the vehicle is kept at a nice temperature in winter and summer. We’ve used two fluorescent on independent switches at either end of the vehicle, and emergency LEDs overhead.
We’ve got a battery monitor on the wall, next to the monitors, which displays voltage and amp draw at all times. The capacity is also obviously shown. This means you can see the effect plugging in a component has right away, e.g charging a mobile phone or laptop. We used damned expensive crystal matt batteries for longevity and sturdiness which should power the computers, monitors, lights and occasional use of the a/c for around 8 hours or more if you’re careful with the power use.
When you plug the van into mains power, the system detects this and starts charging the battery. The entire battery can be charged in 3.5-4 hours. If mains power is removed, the system flicks over the battery power “in 0.02s”, so none of the onboard components will lose power. There’s lots of clever stuff too, such as float and trickle charging if the vehicle is left stood for a longer period of time.
The computers are the focus of the vehicle and where work is done. For this particular vehicle we used one ‘normal’ spec computer (dual core 3.2ghz, 2BG ram etc) and one ‘super spec’ (quad core, 4GB ram) computer to handle the intensive data the roof mounted camera would need. We used a separate 4 way capture card to improve performance. Internet comes in the form of a decent wireless router and a 3G dongle if your out of range. Computers are located under the desk and of course can be removed and upgraded in the future. There’s also dual plug sockets x6 for anything you might need to plug in (phones, laptops etc).
Climate control – no mobile office would be complete without it! The temperature is adjustable from 22 to 28 degrees (trust me, that’s way too hot ). Plus the a/c will dehumidify, which is useful when two or more people are camped inside the van for a long period of time (say, overnight).
Add in a few basic home comforts such as executive seats, blacked curtains for either end of the rear cab, coat hooks and a whiteboard opposite desk, we think this is the perfect budget office (or surveillance!) vehicle, which lends itself well to upgrades in the future. If you’d like any more info about the build, more photos, or even a demo if you’re in the UK, please email me: r[at]suspicionindustries.com.
This vehicle is for sale right now.