Every Australian four wheel driver is undoubtedly familiar with the name Hema, the company that for more than 30 years has been producing the most comprehensive mapping coverage of this vast and extreme continent.
What 4WDers might not know about Hema, is that they literally drive every road and track in Australia to ensure that its maps provide the most accurate and up-to-date information possible. To achieve this, the Hema field teams require a vehicle that is not only jam-packed with state-of-the-art mapping equipment, but one that’s also very capable off road, extremely reliable and able to be self sufficient for long periods of time in very remote areas.
The latest in a long line of Map Patrols, as Hema calls these vehicles, is this Toyota 70 Series double cab, and despite its somewhat agricultural appearance, in many ways this Cruiser has got to be one of the most technologically impressive vehicles you’ll ever lay eyes on.
The role of this heavily modified Cruiser is pretty straightforward; to enable an unsupported field team to collect data in remote areas. So, as well as capable, it needs to be self-sufficient. Fortunately, the Hema team has plenty of experience when it comes to mapping some of Australia’s most remote and challenging off road locations… and properly equipping vehicles to do the job.
“We’ve been setting up Map Patrols since the first one in 1996 when we initially started getting out with a GPS and a laptop and doing what we do,” explains Rob Boegheim, Hema’s Managing director. “We sat down with this one and asked: what do we need this vehicle to do, where do we need it to go, what kind of equipment do we need to carry, what kind of fuel, people and mapping gear? The whole build has taken nine months to get to this point.”
It might have taken the best part of a year to get here, but from the very beginning, Hema knew which companies it needed to partner with to make sure the Cruiser would be up to the demands placed upon it. “It’s like when you’re planning a big adventure, and you’re choosing who you’re going to go with,” says Rob. “You choose some good mates, people who in a tricky situation you can rely on and depend on, and that’s how we’ve chosen the companies involved with this Map Patrol. They’ve got to have bulletproof products, bulletproof reputations, fantastic support and back up.” It’s little wonder, then, that Hema has been partnering with ARB ever since it started doing Map Patrols.
Most recently, Hema had been using Nissan Patrols to perform mapping duties, but the demise of the 4.2 litre diesel engine saw the company look elsewhere. The 70 Series LandCruiser ticked many boxes – powerful turbo diesel V8, strong live-axle driveline, good payload, dual cab body, bush proven design and Australia wide parts and service back up – but it also had a few shortcomings, such as the narrow rear wheel track and long rear overhang. Both of these shortcomings were remedied at the start of this Map Patrol project, with an ARB Old Man Emu GVM upgrade fitted prior to the vehicle being registered, widening of the rear track by 105mm (to match the front track) and extension of the chassis by 200mm to lengthen the wheelbase for better load carrying ability and weight distribution.
“Setting up this new Map Patrol took a huge amount of work,” says Rob. “We looked at the GVM right from the outset. It’s critical to manage the weight in a vehicle like this because that adds to the safety and reliability of the vehicle while out there. The less weight, the less stress on the vehicle, and the further down a track or a mud hole it can get, because it’s not overburdened with all the stuff that isn’t needed.”
Hema sends this vehicle further down tracks and mud holes than most other vehicles will ever travel. “Our goal has always been to explore every publicly accessible road or track and put that on a map,” says Rob. “We ask the mapping teams to push the boundaries on where they go. We want them to go down roads that we’ve never been down before, go and find out where tracks take us, and sometimes that means getting into difficult technical situations or getting stuck, and you need the ability to get out. And predominantly you travel solo, so it needs to be fully self-sufficient, with a lot of food and water, and carrying the gear needed.”
With the Map Patrol carrying a lot of sensitive gear over very rough terrain for 10-12 hours a day, the right suspension system is of critical importance, and the fitment of OME upgraded springs and BP-51 shock absorbers ensure this LandCruiser keeps its occupants both safe and comfortable. “The BP-51s from ARB are just fantastic,” enthuses Rob. “It’s the best suspension I’ve driven on in all my 25 years of mapping out there.” And it’s little wonder Rob would think this, as BP-51s employ bypass technology as used in racing shock absorbers, to ensure a smooth ride by eliminating harshness at each end of the shock stroke.
The amount of complex gear in this vehicle is amazing. Sitting behind a fibreglass shroud on the ARB roof rack is the all-important GPS antenna. Signals from the antenna are processed by a GPS, which is mounted in a roof console. The GPS provides half-metre accuracy, ensuring that Hema’s products are as precise as possible. “You don’t need that accuracy for a printed product where the width of a millimetre on a map could be hundreds of metres or half a kilometre on the ground,” says Rob, “but as soon as you’re getting into a full-blown navigation system where you’re doing voice guidance, then everything’s got to be in exactly the right spot.”
Location information from the GPS is then fed into a laptop computer, mounted in front of the passenger, who then tags information to each plot or point. If that point is an accommodation location, for example, information could include the address, type of accommodation, permits required and facilities available, as well as photos of the area.
Below the laptop sits an iPad that’s preloaded with information prior to heading into the field that can be used for referencing, while a second rear-mounted iPad is used for purposes such as uploading information on conditions for other travellers to see. The centre console houses a satphone handset and a detachable satphone dock, as well as a 3G mobile phone cradle and iPhone, while the glove box houses an RDX storage device and a multi-format SD card reader on the driver’s side of the roof console is a UHF transceiver.
There are so many switches, gauges and fuse panels in the cabin of the Map Patrol that it almost resembles the flight deck of a plane. There are switches for various lights, fuel tanks, batteries, trailer brakes, audio streaming, inverters and more, while gauges cover the usual things as well as boost, EGT, voltage of main and auxiliary systems and amps, warning lights and alarms alert occupants to any potential issues with low coolant or canopy doors ajar.
The cabin power system, installed by Global Sat, is an electrical work of art. It’s located behind the rear seat and incorporates a Redarc 300W pure sine wave inverter, RDX power supply, four 240V outlets, and super-neat fuse blocks and circuit breakers. There are a number of USB and other 12V outlets scattered throughout the cabin.
On the safety front, there’s a PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) in case there’s an issue with the satphones, a SPOT tracker for daily check-ins with the office, a fire extinguisher by the passenger seat and another in the canopy at the rear of the vehicle.
Down the back, the Metalink canopy is essentially split into two main areas: the driver’s side houses all the business stuff, while the passenger side provides access to water and kitchen facilities. Of more importance, however, is all of the electrical gear, again expertly installed by Global Sat. While there’s a dual-battery set up under the bonnet of the Cruiser, the canopy is home to its own Redarc battery management system with two 150Ah Lithium batteries. Power management components include a 1,000W pure sine wave inverter, 240V outlets, master switch and circuit breakers, various lighting systems, numerous 12V power outlets, solar input, Canon battery chargers, handheld UHF chargers, RDX data storage and more.
Two drawers are situated in the cargo area of the driver’s side of the canopy, one containing camera gear and the other housing tools, a tyre repair kit and spare parts. There’s also a toolbox behind the rear wheel that holds ARB recovery gear such as straps and shackles. On the kitchen side of the canopy there’s a 75L water tank, an 85L upright fridge, dual-fuel stove, washing tub and extendable table and drawers. The toolbox on this side houses the ARB air compressor and associated equipment, as well as some additional recovery gear.
The rear of the canopy is home to two spare tyres, between which there’s a ladder to access the rack up top. The Cruiser runs Cooper ST Maxx tyres. “We’ve been running Cooper tyres ever since I started mapping in 1996,” says Rob, “and these new ST Maxx tyres are just phenomenal; I’m starting to forget the last time I changed a tyre, just because these things are so reliable.”
“When the Map Patrol team is out there, it’s their safety and productivity that’s paramount in difficult terrain, and that’s where ARB comes in,” says Rob. “So that’s why, for the last 20 years, we’ve chosen ARB to properly equip our vehicles, protect our people and bring them home safely.
“We’re a pretty close-knit team at Hema and whenever any of our guys go out on map patrol we want to make sure that they’ve got the right equipment, they’re supported, they’ve got the right comms gear, we’ve got 24/7 satellite tracking on the vehicle and we’re ready to swing into action at any point.”
Despite the extreme terrain and the remote locations that this Map Patrol faces day in and day out, we reckon it’s unlikely to ever need to call for help. This is one of the best planned, best set up and most fantastically executed off-roaders you’re ever likely to lay your eyes on.
Watch the video to find out more: