When we picture the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster and its aftermath, we tend to recall just the commonly shared video recorded by television crews, but the unsung heroes were definitely the robotic cameras that served to keep an eye on not only the stricken reactor itself but also the sites holding contaminated equipment and debris. These camera systems are the subject of a recent video by the [Chernobyl Family] channel on YouTube, as they tear down, as well as plug in these pinnacles of 1980s vidicon-based Soviet engineering.
When the accident occurred at the #4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) in 1986, engineers not only scrambled to find ways to deal with the immediate aftermath but also to monitor and enter radioactive areas without exposing squishy human tissues. This is where the KTP-63 and KTP-64 cameras come into play. One is reminiscent of your typical security camera, while the other is a special model that uses a mirror instead of directly exposing the lens and tube to radiation. As a result, the latter type was quite hardy. Using a central control panel, multiple cameras could be controlled.
When mounted to remotely controlled robots, these cameras were connected to an umbilical cord that gave operators eyes on the site without risking any lives, making these cameras both literally life-savers and providing a solid template for remote-controlled vehicles in future disaster zones.
Editor’s note: Historically, the site was called Чернобыль, which is romanized to Chernobyl, but as a part of Ukraine, it is now Чорнобиль or Chornobyl. Because the disaster and the power plant occurred in 1986, we’ve used the original name Chernobyl here, as does the YouTube channel.
We have all watched videos of concerts and events dating back to the 1950s, but probably never really wondered how this was done. After all, recording moving images on film had been done since the late 19th century. Surely this is how it continued to be done until the invention of CCD image sensors in the 1980s? Nope.
Although film was still commonly used into the 1980s, with movies and even entire television series such as Star Trek: The Next Generation being recorded on film, the main weakness of film is the need to move the physical film around. Imagine the live video feed from the Moon in 1969 if only film-based video recorders had been a thing.
Night creatures and insomniacs of a bygone era may fondly recall a TV test pattern appearing once [Jack Parr] or [Steve Allen] had had their say and the local TV station’s regular broadcast day had concluded. It was affectionately known as the Indian Head test pattern, for the stylized Native American, resplendent in a feathered headdress, that featured prominently in the graphic.
Unknown to most viewers was exactly how that test pattern and others like it were generated. But thanks to [Rich “The Lab Guy” Diehl] and his monoscope restoration project, we can all share in the retro details. It turns out that while some test patterns were merely a studio camera trained on a printed card, most were generated by a special tube called a monoscope. It functioned in basically the same manner as a studio camera, but rather than scanning the incident light of a scene with an electron beam, the image was permanently etched into a thin aluminum plate. [Rich] laid hands on two vintage monoscope tubes, one containing the Indian Head test pattern, and set about building a device to use them. “The Chief” can hold either tube in a Faraday cage of thin, flexible PCB material and 3D-printed parts, with supporting electronics like the power supply and video amplifiers in an aluminum chassis below.
It’s a nice piece of work and a great lesson in how it used to be done, and the lithophane of the Indian head is a nice touch. Hats off to [The Lab Guy] for build quality and great documentation, including a detailed video series that starts with the video below. If you need a little more background on how video came to be, [Philo Farnsworth]’s story is a good place to start.
[Segelfam] built his own scanning electron microscope. He based the machine around an old Vidicon tube, a video recording technology that was used in NASA’s unmanned space probes prior the Galileo probe in the late 1970’s. We struggle a bit with the machine translation of [Segelfam’s] original build log, but it seems that he filled the tube with helium in order to convert it for use as a microscope. But don’t worry, if you’re interested in this hack the information is all there – between the forum thread and build log – it’s just a matter of putting it all together to fill in the details.
In case you were wondering, the image to the upper right has been colored using Photoshop; the rest are straight from the SEM.