Serial Camera, Courtesy of the STM32F4

Look around for a small, embedded camera module, and you’ll find your options are rather limited. You have the serial JPEG cameras, but they’re rather expensive and only have VGA resolution. A Raspi, webcam, and power supply is a false economy. GoPros are great, but you’re still looking at some Benjamins used.

The guys at GHI Electronics are taking a different tack. They’re using image sensors you would normally find in cellphones and webcams, adding a powerful ARM processor, and are still able to sell it for about $50. It’s called the ALCAM, and they’ve stumbled upon a need that hasn’t been met by any manufacturer until now.

On board the ALCAM is an OV3640 3-Megapixel image sensor. On the back of the board is a STM32F4 and a microSD card slot. The board can be set up for time-lapse videos, stop motion animation, or all the usual serial board camera functions, including getting images over a serial connection.

The ALCAM operates either connected to a PC though a 3.3V serial adapter cable, through a standalone mode with pins connected to a button or sensor, to the SPI bus on a microcontroller, or a serial to Bluetooth or WiFi bridge. Images can be saved to the uSD card, or sent down the serial stream.

It’s a pretty cool board, and if you’re thinking it looks familiar, you’re right: there’s a similar DSI camera/STM32F4 board that was an entry to The Hackaday Prize. Either way, just what we need to get better cameras cheaper into projects.

ArTICam Interfaces Game Boy Camera with TI Calculators

[Christopher Mitchell] has given Texas Instruments calculators the ability to capture images through a Game Boy Camera with ArTICam. First introduced in 1998, The Game Boy Camera was one of the first low-cost digital cameras available to consumers. Since then it has found its way into quite a few projects, including this early Atmel AT90 based hack, and this Morse code transceiver.

TI calculators don’t include a Game Boy cartridge slot, so [Christopher] used an Arduino Uno to interface the two. He built upon the Arduino-TI Calculator Linking (ArTICL) Library  to create ArTICam. Getting the Arduino to talk with the Game Boy Camera’s M64282FP image sensor turned out to be easy, as there already are code examples available. The interface between the camera sensor and the Arduino is simple enough. 6 digital lines for an oddball serial interface, one analog sense line, power and ground. [Christopher] used a shield to solder everything up, but says you can easily get away with wiring directly the Arduino Uno’s I/O pins. The system is compatible with the TI-83 Plus and TI-84 Plus family of calculators. Grabbing an image is as simple as calling  GetCalc(Pic1) from your calculator program.

So, If you have an old calculator lying around, give it a try to enjoy some 128×123-pixel grayscale goodness!

Keep Tabs on Passing Jets with Pi and SDR

Obviously Software Defined Radio is pretty cool. For a lot of hackers you just need the right project to get you into it. Submitted for your approval is just that project. [Simon Aubury] has been using a Raspberry Pi and SDR to record video of planes passing overhead. The components are cheap and most places have planes passing by; this just might be the perfect project.

We’re not just talking static frames with planes passing through them, oh no. Simon used two hobby servos and some brackets to gimbal his Pi camera board. A DVB dongle allows the rig to listen in on the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) coming from the planes. This system is mandated for most commercial aircraft (deadlines for implementation vary). ADS-B consists of positioning data being broadcast from planes using known frequencies and protocols. Once [Simon] locks onto this data he can accomplish a lot, like keeping the plane in the center of the video, establishing which flight is being recorded, and automatically uploading the footage. With such a marvelously executed build we’re certain we will see more people giving it a try.

[Simon] did a great job with the writeup too. Not only did he include a tl;dr, but drilled down through a project summary and right to the gritty details. Well done documentation is itself worth celebrating!

Continue reading “Keep Tabs on Passing Jets with Pi and SDR”

An Extremely Tiny 5.8GHz FPV Transmitter

Flying RC aircraft with a first person view is the latest and greatest thing in the hobby. In a fact that I’m sure will be shocking to 90% of people, you don’t need to buy a Phantom quad fly FPV. The guys at Flite Test show how you can build a tiny 5.8GHz FPV transmitter for under $100.

The parts used for this build are pretty much jelly bean parts at this point, but [Peter] at Flite Test is going for extremely lightweight parts for this build. He found an NTSC board camera that only weighs 1g and added a wide-angle lens. The transmitter is a tiny 200mW module that only weighs about 2g.

Why are the Flite Test crew going for small and light FPV setups? They just launched a new line of planes that can be built from a single piece of foam board. If you have a small micro quad, you can easily add FPV to it with this rig.

How to Backup and Restore Your IP Camera Firmware

[Filipe] has been playing around with custom firmware for inexpensive IP cameras. Specifically, he has been using cameras based on a common HI3815 chip. When you are playing around with firmware like this, a major concern is that you may end up bricking the device and rendering it useless. [Filipe] has documented a relatively simple way to backup and restore the firmware on these cameras so you can hack to your heart’s content.

The first part of this hack is hardware oriented. [Filipe] cracked open the camera to reveal the PCB. The board has labeled serial TX and RX pads. After soldering a couple of wires to these pads, [Filipe] used a USB to serial dongle to hook his computer up to the camera’s serial port.

Any terminal program should now be able to connect to the camera at 115200 baud while the camera is booting up. The trick is to press “enter” during the boot phase. This allows you to log in as root with no password. Next you can reset the root password and reboot the camera. From now on you can simply connect to the phone via telnet and log in as root.

From here, [Filipe] copies all of the camera’s partitions over to an NFS share using the dd command. He mentions that you can also use FTP for this if you prefer. At this point, the firmware backup is completed.

Knowing how to restore the backup is just as important as knowing how to create it. [Filipe] built a simple TFTP server and copied the firmware image to it in two chunks, each less than 5MB. The final step is to tell the camera how to find the image. First you need to use the serial port to get the camera back to the U-Boot prompt. Then you configure the camera’s IP address and the TFTP server’s IP address. Finally, you copy each partition into RAM via TFTP and then copy that into flash memory. Once all five partitions are copied, your backup is safely restored and your camera can live to be hacked another day.

A Full IP Webcam With a Raspberry Pi

A Dropcam will run you about $150. Price out a Raspberry Pi, camera sensor, and a CCTV camera housing found on eBay, and it starts to look like there may be a cheaper replacement for a Dropcam sitting around on workbenches, if only someone can figure out the software. [Antoine] did just that, giving any Raspberry Pi the ability to stream H.264 video over a network.

[Antoine]’s software is based on the raspivid tool distributed from the foundation, but that only takes care of capturing and encoding H.264 video from the camera sensor. To add IP camera support, the Live555 RTSP library was mixed in and combined to stream video over the Raspi’s network connection.

With a camera dome enclosure from the usual outlets, [Antoine]’s project really starts to look professional. The specs are respectable, too: it can output a 1080 stream, and with a small modification to an Ethernet cord, this webcam has PoE. Future updates include the ability to record videos based on a trigger and possibly a webserver on the Pi for configuration. [Antoine] says he really isn’t up to speed with Javascript, so any help would be appreciated.

A Single Pixel, Color Digital Camera

[Ben] has written all sorts of code and algorithms to filter, sort, and convolute images, and also a few gadgets that were meant to be photographed. One project that hasn’t added a notch to his soldering iron was a camera. The easiest way to go about resolving this problem would be to find some cardboard and duct tape and built a pinhole camera. [Ben] wanted a digital camera. Not any digital camera, but a color digital camera, and didn’t want to deal with pixel arrays or lenses. Impossible, you say? Not when you have a bunch of integral transforms in your tool belt.

[Ben] is only using a single light sensor that outputs RGB values for his camera – no lenses are found anywhere. If, however, you scan a scene multiple times with this sensor, each time blocking a portion of the sensor’s field of view, you could reconstruct a rudimentary, low-resolution image from just a single light sensor. If you scan and rotate this ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor’s field of view, reconstructing the image is called a Radon transform, something [Ben] has used a few times in his studies.

camera [Ben]’s camera consists of the Adafruit RGB light sensor, an Arduino, a microSD card, a few servos, and a bunch of printed parts. The servos are used to scan and rotate the ‘blocking arm’ across the sensor for each image. The output of the sensor is saved to the SD card and moved over to the computer for post-processing.

After getting all the pixel data to his laptop, [Ben] plotted the raw data. The first few pictures were of a point source of light – a lamp in his workspace. This resulted in exactly what he expected, a wave-like line on an otherwise blank field. The resulting transformation kinda looked like the reference picture, but for better results, [Ben] turned his camera to more natural scenes. Pointing his single pixel camera out the window resulted in an image that looked like it was taken underwater, through a piece of glass smeared with Vaseline. Still, it worked remarkably well for a single pixel camera. Taking his camera to the great outdoors provided an even better reconstructed scene, due in no small part to the great landscapes [Ben] has access to.