Digital cameras have been around for a long time, as have small remote control robotics platforms. However, combining the two has really only come into its own in the last decade or so, as more bandwidth has become available to the home tinkerer. This ESP32-CAM surveillance bot is a great example of what was once hard becoming trivially easy.
It’s a case of standing on the shoulders of giants. The ESP32-CAM is a device that allows one to stream live video images over a network using existing example code. In this case, it’s combined with an L298N DC motor driver which allows the Adafruit robot platform to be steered like a tank via its two wheels. A pair of SG90 servos then serve as a pan/tilt mechanism to further improve the robot’s field of view.
If you aimed to attempt this back in 2010, you’d have spent six months figuring out how to get a microcontroller to talk to a small camera module. Only then could you consider solving the multitude of other problems presented by getting the video feed off the bot to somewhere useful. These days, you can order a bunch of parts online and have it up and running in a couple hours. This project from 2013 serves as an example of how much things have changed in the intervening years. Video after the break.
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Just a few years ago, had someone asked you how much a digital camera with WiFi would cost, you probably wouldn’t have said $6. But that’s about how much [Bitluni] paid for an ESP32-CAM. He wanted to try making the little camera do time lapse, and it turns out that’s pretty easy to do.
Of course, the devil is in the details. The camera starts out needing configuration on the USB interface and that enables the set up of Arduino integration and WiFi configuration. Because it stores each frame of the image on an SD card, the board can’t take rapid-fire pictures. [Bitluni] reports a 3-second delay was about the shortest he could manage, but for most purposes, he was using at least ten seconds.
The program has a live preview window to help you set up the shot, but before your recordings start that should be turned off so as not to overload the little processor and the I/O buses. The result is a bunch of JPG images that you can easily convert to a video on a PC if you wish.
This might be a good way to fit a camera on a 3D printer, especially if the time lapse effect was desired. Otherwise, you might sync to a layer change. Now all [bitluni] needs is an orbital rig.
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Don’t you just hate it when dev boards have some annoying little quirk that makes them harder to use than they should be? Take the ESP32-CAM, a board that started appearing on the market in early 2019. On paper, the thing is amazing: an ESP32 with support for a camera and an SD card, all for less than $10. The trouble is that programming it can be a bit of a pain, requiring extra equipment and a spare finger.
Not being one to take such challenges lying down, [Bitluni] has come up with a nice programming board for the ESP32-CAM that you might want to check out. The problem stems from the lack of a USB port on the ESP32-CAM. That design decision leaves users in need of a USB-to-serial adapter that has to be wired to the GPIO pins of the camera board so that programs can be uploaded from the Arduino IDE when the reset button is pressed. None of that is terribly complex, but it is inconvenient. His solution is called cam-prog, and it takes care of not only the USB conversion but also resetting the board. It does that by simply power cycling the camera, allowing sketches to be uploaded via USB. It looks to be a pretty handy board, which will be available on his Tindie store.
To demonstrate the add-on, he programmed his ESP32-CAM and connected it to his enormous ping pong ball video wall. The video quality is about what you’d expect from a 1,200 pixel display at 40 mm per pixel, but it’s still pretty smooth – smooth enough to make his interpretive dance moves in the last few minutes of the video pretty interesting.
Continue reading “Add-On Makes ESP32 Camera Board Easier To Program”