Auto Desk Replacement

I assembled the components for my mobile digital amateur radio station in 2021. I started with a RigBlaster PnP by West Mountain Radio and a budget laptop, traveling with it sitting in the passenger seat when not in use. Later, I picked up an AutoExec Reach front seat car desk for a tidier look and more secure travel. The desk features a swivel platform for the laptop, a section for files or paperwork, and a large area for what eventually held my antenna rotator controller and a pair of RigBlasters (one for each data-capable radio). I made good use of the desk for two years, but ultimately concluded that it’s too bulky and impractical for routine use, especially for my antenna rotator.

My main gripes about the AutoExec desk center around both its bulk and housing the antenna rotator controller. The rotator controller fits perfectly in the area beneath the desktop. However, reading the dial and adjusting the antenna’s position is very distracting since the dial faces the gear shift instead of my face. Later, I tried a setup with the controller on the desktop and then lifting the computer to clear that. This experiment placed both the controller and the computer in positions that were not ideal. Also, I think about the consequence of an airbag deployment with the computer and controller right in its path. Even the edge of the desk itself might be subject to the wrath of an exploding airbag.

I decided to design something that’s more compact, rides lower on the seat, and easy to install/remove, not to mention inexpensive. Lowering the desktop was easy. That required a simple plank of wood that lays flat on the seat with another board beneath that holds up the rear to make the surface level with the floor. I had a piece of 16x¾” lumber laying around and cut it to 28 inches in length. I cut angles into the rear so that the plank would fit between the seat bolsters, then cut angles at the front for less of a “squared” look (not shown). Next, I countersunk the rotator controller in a good position. It’s angled inward toward the driver’s seat and upward toward my face. The reach is perfect for me to press the “Left” and “Right” switches without leaning forward.

I stained the wood black and then topped it with anti-slip shelf matting. Most objects resting on this surface stay in place during anything less than aggressive driving maneuvers. I use eye hooks and bungee cords beneath the platform to hold it to the the seat. The omission of the AutoExec desk also removed storage options for my office supplies, computer, tablet, and Bluetooth keyboards. I found a small car seat organizer (shown below) that appears to be marketed for kids’ travel supplies. I use it to store the computer when it’s not in use as well as some paperwork and other supplies. The organizer has retaining straps to secure it to the seat and can easily collapse for storage in the trunk if I have a passenger.

The board that levels the platform from beneath is ~5 inches wide (tall). The underside of the platform is hidden by the seat bolsters, but there’s plenty of room to mount and conceal my new Digirig Mobile and its cabling (the cables are exposed in the photo above). The Digirig requires less space, simplifies my interface, and reduces my cabling needs. I’ll write a separate entry about it later. I drove with the setup shown here for a month or so. I like it, but found a shortcoming the first time I did an extended FT8 session. I had been away from digital modes and used the laptop only for logging. I don’t log while driving; so, it was logical for me to assume that the laptop would be stowed unless I was parked.

Installing the Digirig has me operating on FT8 more than before since it’s very easy to connect and get running. I decided to move the laptop’s swivel mount from my AutoExec desk so that I can have it in a convenient operating position, shown here. I can also lower it into a stowed position with the closed laptop or even the car seat organizer on top. See the photo album below for an example. I’ve also added a fantastic USB fan to the setup.

Less is More,


About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard ordnance and electronics communities for over 35 years. I became involved with ham radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology made my jobs and hobbies quite interesting. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography/videography, electronics, ham radio, and web management.
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3 Responses to Auto Desk Replacement

  1. Randy says:

    Very nice

  2. Pingback: June 2023 ARRL VHF Contest | KE4WMF

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