Voice Controlled Camera For Journalist In Need

Before going into the journalism program at Centennial College in Toronto, [Carolyn Pioro] was a trapeze performer. Unfortunately a mishap in 2005 ended her career as an aerialist when she severed her spinal cord,  leaving her paralyzed from the shoulders down. There’s plenty of options in the realm of speech-to-text technology which enables her to write on the computer, but when she tried to find a commercial offering which would let her point and shoot a DSLR camera with her voice, she came up empty.

[Taras Slawnych] heard about [Carolyn’s] need for special camera equipment and figured he had the experience to do something about it. With an Arduino and a couple of servos to drive the pan-tilt mechanism, he came up with a small device which Carolyn can now use to control a Canon camera mounted to an arm on her wheelchair. There’s still some room for improvement (notably, the focus can’t be controlled via voice currently), but even in this early form the gadget has caught the attention of Canon’s Canadian division.

With a lavalier microphone on the operator’s shirt, simple voice commands like “right” and “left” are picked up and interpreted by the Arduino inside the device’s 3D printed case. The Arduino then moves the appropriate servo motor a set number of degrees. This doesn’t allow for particularly fine-tuned positioning, but when combined with movements of the wheelchair itself, gives the user an acceptable level of control. [Taras] says the whole setup is powered off of the electric wheelchair’s 24 VDC batteries, with a step-down converter to get it to a safe voltage for the Arduino and servos.

As we’ve seen over the years, assistive technology is one of those areas where hackers seem to have a knack for making serious contribution’s to the lives of others (and occasionally even themselves). The highly personalized nature of many physical disabilities, with specific issues and needs often unique to the individual, can make it difficult to develop devices like this commercially. But as long as hackers are willing to donate their time and knowledge to creating bespoke assistive hardware, there’s still hope.

[Thanks to Philippe for the tip.]

13 thoughts on “Voice Controlled Camera For Journalist In Need

  1. “But as long as hackers are willing to donate their time and knowledge to creating bespoke assistive hardware, there’s still hope.”

    This story was probably designed to make the reader feel good and have “hope”. And kudos the that guy for doing and enabling some really good and clever stuff. Reality check. On very few occasions, have lent my professional (and crackpot) skills for the ‘greater good’; whatever that is. But have more oft than not have sold my soul to the highest malevolent bidder. There is very little rationale for “hope”.

  2. It’s good to see this being done, not only for the sake of the young lady with the disability, but also for any other photographers with limited/no use of their hands. As someone who is slowly losing proper hand control due to progressive nerve damage, this is something that I will keep in mind for the future, should I need it.

  3. Nice to see something like this, maybe he could, in the next iteration, add degrees to the movement command, i.e. “right 20 degrees”, etc. Now all we need is for somebody to hack that girls spine back into working shape.

  4. There are commercially available HD video cameras that can be tripod mounted and track multiple ‘targets’ via WiFi transmitters. A remote can change which emitter is tracked. Not voice activated, but set and forget. Don’t recall brand name. There’s a few out there but this one seemed to win on price and performance.

  5. Sadly… I can here AvE voice right now, “Focus you Fack!” hopeful they can do something about that aspect of the camera for this young woman, with out so much user difficulty

  6. It is a good start, but pretty basic. An IMU mounted on glasses/hair clip/etc. on her head for positioning, a throat/bone conduction mic, and CHDK/Magic Lantern on the camera would let her do pretty much anything she wanted with her camera. She could even have a dolly track + lift on the front of her chair for a lot more options when it comes to angles.

    1. I’m wondering like was noted above using a throat mic will meet the user requirement for higher noise environments commands without errors and why I came to this post… I wanted to share these types of speech recognition capabilities for potential enhancements (then I saw your comment, so this thought will go here):
      https://hackaday.com/2018/09/14/speech-recognition-without-a-voice/
      https://hackaday.com/2019/01/11/you-wont-hear-this-word-on-the-street/

      I’d have to read into the camera hardware, firmware and software capabilities before commenting on the controlling of the zoom in exact detail.

      My guess is worst case scenario if there is auto-focus… then leads can be micro-soldered to the zoom switch to control with a micro-controller. A mechanical option would be integrating a mechanism to the zoom switch.

      A more cumbersome way without autofocus would be a lever or pulleys on the lens and then a shaft going back to a servo. I’m thinking there is a better way via software… though I am not sure.

      The more mechanical approaches might require some sort of specialize frame around the camera or maybe just using the threads on the lenses themselves to create the mount points. I was thinking about doing that with the Minolta non-autofocus lenses I have for the C920 SLR project I am working on. Basically, just create a male and female threaded section on the plate with a hole for the shaft of the servo that rotates with a pulley and belt on the lens focus. There might even be enough threads on lens filters or adapters to fit a plate if thin and rigid enough at that mount section. The zoom slide will be more challenging and I didn’t get that far in brainstorming.

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