Building The First Digital Camera

While the official history of the digital camera begins with a Kodak engineer tinkering around with digital electronics in 1975, the first digital camera was actually built a few months prior. At the Vintage Computer Festival East, [William Sudbrink] rebuilt the first digital camera. It’s wasn’t particularly hard, either: it was a project on the cover of Popular Electronics in February, 1975.

Cromemco catalog page for the Cyclops, the first digital camera
Cromemco catalog page for the Cyclops, the first digital camera

[William]’s exhibit, Cromemco Accessories: Cyclops & Dazzler is a demonstration of the greatest graphics cards you could buy for S-100 systems and a very rare, very weird solid-state TV camera. Introduced in the February, 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, the Cyclops was the first digital camera. This wasn’t a device that used a CCD or a normal image sensor. The image sensor in the Cyclops was a 1 kilobit DRAM from MOS, producing a digital image thirty-two pixels square.

The full description, schematic, circuit layout, and theory of operation are laid out in the Popular Electronics article; all [William] had to do was etch a PCB and source the components. The key part – a one kilobit MOS DRAM in a metal can package, carefully decapsulated – had a date code of 1976, but that is the newest component in the rebuild of this classic circuit.

To turn this DRAM into digital camera, the circuit sweeps across the rows and columns of the DRAM array, turning the charge of each cell into an analog output. This isn’t a black or white camera; there’s gray in there, or green if you connect it to an oscilloscope.

This project in Popular Electronics would be manufactured by Cromemco in late 1975 and was released as their first product in January, 1976. The Cromemco was marketed as a digital camera, designed to interface with the MITS Altair 8800 computer, allowing anyone to save digital images to disk. This was the first digital camera invented, and the first digital camera sold to consumers. It’s an amazing piece of history, and very happy [William] was able to piece this together and bring it out to the Vintage Computer Festival this weekend.

Hand Gestures Drive Car

There are a number of ways to control an automobile without using the pedals, and sometimes even without using the steering wheel. Most commonly these alternative control mechanisms are installed in vehicles whose owners are disabled in some way, but [Anurag] has taken this idea of alternative control one step further. He has built a car that can be driven by hand gestures alone.

On a remote controlled car, a Raspberry Pi 2 was installed that handles processing and communication. A wireless network is created on the Pi, and a laptop connects to the Pi over the network. The web camera on the laptop regularly captures frames at 15 fps to check for the driver’s hand gestures. The image is converted to gray scale, thresholded, contours are obtained, and the centroid and farthest points are obtained.

After some calculations are done, a movement decision is taken. The decision is passed to the Pi, which in turn, passed that to the internal chip of the car. All of the code is available on the project’s github page. [Anurag] hopes that this can be scaled up to full sized cars in the future. We’ve seen gesture-based remote controls before that rely on Sonar sensors, so it’s interesting to see one that relies strictly on image processing.

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Vintage 8mm Camera Now Powered By Raspberry Pi

If you are a lover of the aesthetic of vintage photography and Instagram’s filters don’t quite cut it for you, then there are plenty of opportunities even in this post-film age to sample the real thing. Plastic lens cameras from the former Soviet Bloc countries or the Pacific rim are still in production, and you can still buy 35mm and 120 roll film to put in them.

You can even still buy 8mm film for your vintage movie camera, but it’s rather pricey. [Claire Wright] is a young film maker who had an old 8mm camera and really wanted that analog film feel to her work, and she and her father solved this problem by using the 8mm camera’s lens in front of a Raspberry Pi camera sensor. Since an 8mm film frame is 4.5mm x 3.3mm and the Pi camera sensor size is 3.76mm x 2.74mm, it’s quite a good fit.

Their first prototype had a custom case which concealed the Pi camera behind the lens on rails taken from an old CD-ROM drive, and had an HDMI screen on top and a pistol grip to make it portable. An external thumb screw allowed the camera to be positioned in the focal plane.

A further refinement has stepper motor driven focus driven from an Adafruit motor drive HAT. The software is simply the standard Pi camera utilities. To demonstrate the system, she made a short video about how it came to be, and took the camera on a road trip to Austin, Texas. She tells us a local 3D print shop is working on a 3D model to replicate the camera, but sadly as yet there are no resources for the Hackaday crowd to examine.

Her video is below. She has certainly captured the feel of an 8mm film very well. If the SUVs were replaced by cars with more chrome in her Mainstreet America, you might almost be there in the 1950s.

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Hacklet 97 – Camera Projects

We last covered camera projects way back in Hacklet #11. A ton of camera projects have been added to since then. While the rest of the world is taking selfies, hackers, makers, and engineers have been coming up with new ways to hack their image capture devices. This week on the Hacklet, we’re taking a look at some of the best camera projects on!

pixelzFirst up is [aleksey.grishchenko] with PiXel camera. PiXel is a camera and a live video display all in one, We wouldn’t exactly call it high-definition though! A Raspberry Pi uses its camera module to capture images of the world. [Aleksey] then processes those images and displays them on a 32 x 32 RGB LED matrix. This matrix is the same kind of tile used in large outdoor LED signs. The result is a surreal low resolution view of the world. Since the Pi, batteries, and camera all hide behind the LED matrix, there is an unobstructed view of the world around you. [Aleksey] used  [Henner Zeller’s] matrix library to make this hack happen.

imagerNext up is [Esben Rossel] with Linear CCD module. [Esben] is building a Raman spectrometer, much like 2014 Hackaday Prize finalist [fl@C@] with his own ramanPi. The heart of a spectrometer is the linear image capture device. Both of these projects use the same TCD1304 linear CCD. Linear Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs) are the same type of device used in flatbed document scanners. The output of the CCD is analog, so an ADC must be used to capture the data. [Esben] is using an STM32F401RE on a Nucleo board as the control logic. The ST’s internal ADC converts the analog signal to digital. From there, it’s time to process all the spectra.

wiimote-cam[Chiprobot] brings the classic Wii remote camera to the internet of things with
ESP8266 meets Wii Mote Camera. The Wii remote uses a camera which doesn’t output images, instead it plots the location of up to four IR LEDs. Normally these LEDs are located in the poorly named sensor bar that is sold with the Wii. Hackers have been using these cameras in projects for years now. [Chiprobot] paired his camera with the modern classic ESP8266 WiFi module. The ‘8266 is programmed to read data from the camera’s I2C bus. It then sends the data as an SVG request to the W3C website. W3C returns a formatted image based on those coordinates. The resulting image is a picture of the IR LEDs seen by the camera. Kind of like sending your negatives out to be developed.

photoboothFinally, we have [GuyisIT] with Raspberry Pi Photobooth. Photo booths are all the rage these days. First it was weddings, but now it seems like every kids party has one. [GuyisIT] didn’t rent a booth for his daughter’s birthday, he built one using his Raspberry Pi and Pi camera. The project is written in python, based upon [John Croucher’s] code. When the kids press a button, the Pi Snaps a series of pictures. The tiny Linux computer then joins and rotates the images while adding in some superhero themed graphics. Finally the Pi prints the image on to a photo printer. The biggest problem with this hack is re-triggering. The kids loved it so much, they kept pressing the big red button!

If you want to see more camera projects, check out our updated camera projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Reverse Engineering a WiFi Security Camera

The Internet of Things is slowly turning into the world’s largest crappy robot, with devices seemingly designed to be insecure, all waiting to be rooted and exploited by anyone with the right know-how. The latest Internet-enabled device to fall is a Motorola Focus 73 outdoor security camera. It’s quite a good camera, save for the software. [Alex Farrant] and [Neil Biggs] found the software was exceptionally terrible and would allow anyone to take control of this camera and install new firmware.

The camera in question is the Motorola Focus 73 outdoor security camera. This camera connects to WiFi, features full pan, tilt, zoom controls, and feeds a live image and movement alerts to a server. Basically, it’s everything you need in a WiFi security camera. Setting up this camera is simple – just press the ‘pair’ button and the camera switches to host mode and sets up an open wireless network. The accompanying Hubble mobile app scans the network for the camera and prompts the user to connect to it. Once the app connects to the camera, the user is asked to select a WiFi connection to the Internet from a list. The app then sends the security key over the open network unencrypted. By this point, just about anyone can see the potential for an exploit here, and since this camera is usually installed outdoors – where anyone can reach it – evidence of idiocy abounds.

Once the camera is on the network, there are a few provisions for firmware upgrades. Usually, firmware upgrades are available by downloading from ‘private’ URLs and sent to the camera with a simple script that passes a URL directly into the shell as root. A few facepalms later, and [Alex]  and [Neil] had root access to the camera. The root password was ‘123456’.

While there’s the beginnings of a good Internet of Camera in this product, the design choices for the software are downright stupid. In any event, if you’re looking for a network camera that you own – not a company with a few servers and a custom smartphone app – this would be near the top of the list. It’s a great beginning for some open source camera firmware.

Thanks [Mathieu] for the tip.

Five Bucks, Three Parts: WiFi Camera Remote

It’s just ridiculous how cheap and easy it is to do some things today that were both costly and difficult just two or three years ago. Case in point: user [gamaral] built a WiFi remote control for his Canon E3 camera out of just three parts: an ESP8266 module, a voltage regulator, and a stereo plug that the camera uses as its remote trigger.

And the codebase is just about as minimal, although it’s not without its nice touches. Control is easy — just pull down a pin for focus or shutter. The ESP listens to a custom port, and when it gets the message, “presses” or “releases” the pins. It’s a good, simple example of how to work with the ESP IOT SDK.

The timing is all on the client side. [gamaral] knew that he was going to want to play around with how long to hold down the focus button, for instance, so he left that flexible. Using Netcat makes the client-side code completely trivial: echo -n "SHUTTER HOLD" | nc -w 1 -q 1 roosevelt 9021. Bam. And it worked first time. Check the well-done video just below for more details.

And keep your eye on [gamaral]’s page, because he’s going to make another video when the PCBs arrive in the mail.

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Flat Camera Uses No Lens

Early cameras and modern cameras work pretty much the same way. A lens (or a pinhole acting as a lens) focuses an image onto a sensor. Of course, sensor, in this case, is a broad term and could include a piece of film that–after all–does sense light via a chemical reaction. Sure, lenses and sensors get better or, at least, different, but the basic design has remained the same since the Chinese built the camera obscura around 400BC (and the Greeks not long after that).

Of course, the lens/sensor arrangement works well, but it does limit how thin you can make a camera. Cell phone cameras are pretty skinny, but there are applications where even they are too thick. That’s why researchers at Rice University are working on a new concept design for a flat camera that uses no lens. You can see a video about the new type of camera below.

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