Building Your Own Eye In The Sky

His goal of one post a week for a year has past, but [Dino] keeps bringing his skills to bear on new projects. This time around he’s adding a wireless camera to an RC helicopter.

These radio controlled fliers (there are cheap ones that use IR control which is much less reliable) can be found for around $30-60. [Dino] already had a wireless camera to use, but adding it and a 9V battery is just too much weight to lift. After some testing he established that 2oz of payload is the upper limit. He began removing parts from the helicopter to achieve enough savings to lift both the camera and its battery. Along the way he discovered that removing the weights from the fly bar added a lot of maneuverability at the cost of a small stability loss.

Check out his project video embedded after the break. It’s not anywhere near the results of professional multi-rotor camera mounts, but it is cheap and fun!

22 thoughts on “Building Your Own Eye In The Sky

  1. I got one of those small helicopters thinking about turning it into a UAV. I soon realised that it wasn’t going to happen though.
    Weight is an issue, but probably more of an issue is how easily they’re effected by wind. Outdoors and the slightest breeze carries it of and invariably into a neighbors back garden. Also, the 800mA battery only lasts about 5-8 mins.
    Indoor, it’s great fun. I highly recommend it.
    Just go for a much bigger model if you’re wanting to do any modding.

  2. Some brands of 9V batteries have 6 AAAA cells inside. Cut the top off the case and the whole works slides out.

    Other brands of 9V batteries have 6 stacked rectangular cells which aren’t very well sealed. They rely on the outer case of the battery.

    Both types may be used in the same brand. The only way to tell what’s in any given 9V battery is to cut it open.

    The stacked type should work without the metal case, though you’ll likely want to do something like apply a light coat of some sort of resin to hold it together and seal it.

    The six AAA type will only need a zip tie or small wire to hold the cells.

    1. Something else, does it really need the horizontal fin? That’s sitting there in the rotor downwash, counteracting lift.

      One more thing, does the camera actually need 9 volts? I’d investigate powering both the motors and the camera from a single power source.

      Can some of the camera housing be removed to save weight?

  3. I tried the CR2032 batteries and they lasted 2 minutes. That little CCD in that camera sucks up power. It has to be a 9 volt battery.

    I eventually just took the case off the rechargeable 9 volt I was using and saved grams of weight.

    The camera housing has to stay in tact because it holds the lens in place and shields ambient light.

    Cageybee is right. I need a bigger copter and I ordered one today! Better lift to weight ratio. This hack WILL have a part two!

    1. There’s a good chance there is a linear regulator on the camera’s board that sucks current even when nearly nothing is being drawn. And of course dumps the other ~4 volts as waste heat when it is active.

      Just going off that guess try supplying it with ~7.2v to 7.5v and see if it runs fine off that but dies somewhere below 7v. Fairly good chance it does!

      1. Read my mind, test away… I have been seeing a lot of efficient power setups in newer cams, nothing note worthy, but while tinkering with a DLink IP cam I had to remove a super wasteful linear regulator (not really surprising). I ended up using a USB power supply with it instead of the wasteful 12v, I’m guessing they only used 12v to power the version that came with IR LEDs… I would add them but meh…

  4. I’ll bet there is some way you could overvolt the motors somehow to get a lil extra lift, maybe there is a resistor or something you could bypass. Removing the battery connector on the battery and just soldering straight to the battery terminals could help as well, just twist the wires together so you can untwist them later to turn off the cam. Also try using a cheap alkaline battery or one of the ultimate lithium batteries from energizer, I’ll bet they are both lighter than that one you are using. You might also open up that cam and see if anything could be removed, like maybe the mic or the back half of the shell.

  5. Check out I picked up a trex 450 pro clone. The quality of the kits is surprising for the price. I wouldnt get the plastic ones. They are questionable safety wise. At 65-70$ you can’t go wrong. Compared to 350and up for the non clone. The reviews for the store are (really) bad but the product is actually pretty good. I was hesitant to try it but i did so i figured I would pass it on here.

  6. PS do NOT get the little motor esc servo package. Skimp on the kit get good electronics. Not only does it not have the right size servos, but also they are garbage and more suited to foam planes.

    1. When you get into collective pitch you should get a good sim first. Realflight is pretty good and costs about 190 onsale/coupon. It seems like allot until you break 40 or 50 heli’s crashing in the first 5 minutes. I took this route and have 5 flights on my CP heli and it is still in one piece.

      You should be fine with the dh26 as it is not Collective pitch.

      1. realflight worked really good for me at first, at least until i got used to pressing the reset button when i crashed!

        but i do agree– with a 450-class heli averaging $30-$50 in repair parts per crash, real life gets expensive quick. but the sound and feeling of it lifting off the ground after correct repair is very rewarding.

  7. Some good tips here, I was avoiding removing the weights in the balance bar in my bladerunner wifli helicopter by the same company, I’ll be removing them immediately for the extra carrying capacity.

    Also worth noting: very small, very lightweight UVC-compatible webcams can be found in laptops and only use 3.3V.

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