Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Plane Video

Hello all,

I don’t know how many of you know this, but I’m a cheap penny pinching Dutchman.  I’m always looking for the cheapest way to do something.  I’ll spend $25 dollars in gas driving around to find something $20 cheaper!  This doesn't exactly fit with my passion for technology or invention as both usually mean spending money.  Why am I letting you know this?  Well I’m back into this whole radio control flying thing and I got really excited about the prospect of taking video from the plane.  I’ve done the video thing of the plane in flight (I even took some video of my plane while I was flying when I couldn’t get someone to come along) and that’s good and all and I won’t stop doing this, but I would really like to add video from the plane.

I started looking into the options available.  I could go with a standard video camera but they are way too big for the size of planes I am currently flying.  Also most of these still use some sort of media to deal with (disk or tape).  Digital cameras can be used and most are very small now, but they are still to big and or to block shaped.  The next option I looked into were specialty DVR systems.  While very cool and packing a lot of features, these are way too expensive and some still require the addition of a camera.  The last option I found out about was the use of a cell phone that has a camera with a video option.  As I am cheap and because I have a few old cell phones laying around, this is the option that I am starting with.

Camera side of LG phone
Of all of the phones that I have available, the only one that is going to work for my needs is an LG Vu960.  This is a relatively flat card deck size touch screen phone.  This should allow for a fairly aerodynamic option if I can keep it flat to a surface on the plane.

Screen cover removed and connections exposed
Well of course things are not going to go well.  The reasons I selected this phone is because it was the only one that I had that has all of its parts and was still working.  Almost working.  Turns out the touch screen was having issues and touching some parts of the screen produced no results and were dead spots.  And as expected, these dead spots were over the selections for starting video recording and settings.  After some searching with Google, I found out that this is not an uncommon issue with this phone and can sometimes be resolved with pealing off the glued on screen cover.  This exposed the touch screen sensor connections and made the phone functional.  Now if I come across an area that does not respond I just hold down on the connectors and it responds again.

Cell phone taped into position
Well I figured I was all set and I could just tape the phone to the plane.  The location I selected was the bottom side of the left wing (port or starboard, I don't know).  This should work well while testing and if I like this set up I can look at changing over to Velcro.

This all looked like it was going to work just fine and so it was just a matter of finding time to try everything out.

The day came when my schedule allowed some time to fly and the weather complied.  I was excited to get into the air as the day was calm with some low overcast.  I was hoping to get some video from the clouds!  I got out to the field and hurriedly put everything together, turned on my radio and  receiver, tested the controls, and tossed the plane into the air (I did not have any landing gear on this plane at this time).  I had a wonderful flight and, and, got up into the clouds!  I was so excited to get the plane back and look at what i had videoed!

I hurriedly got the plane down and ripped of the tape to get to the phone.  I was very disappointed to find out the the video had stopped!  Not only had it stopped, but only recorded 43 seconds!  What's up with that.  I set the phone to record to test it out.  It only recorded 43 seconds again.  What?  Oh man, back to Google.

So what did I find out?  Something simple of course!  As with all phones that can record video and send them attached to text messages, they limit the video size.  All I had to do was to reset this option and now I can record for as long as I have memory.  While I was at this, I also made sure that the phone was set to record video directly to the SD card.  This makes transferring video much easier as I don't have a USB cable for this phone and don't want to deal with Bluetooth.  Oh, while I'm relating the cell phone settings, I also put the phone into, appropriately enough "airplane mode".  This turns off the cell phone connection.

OK, I waited for another opportunity to fly.  I got that opportunity and made a few good videos that covered the entire flight!  These were fine, but the camera is facing directly down and so while most of it has interesting views of the surroundings, these videos can be quite nauseating.  I need to find some way of getting a view that looks forward.

Mirror and foam pieces

So how am I going to change the view?  My daughter suggested just taping it on somewhere (the cockpit) facing up but that just makes it this big flat surface pushing through the air.  I figured there must be a better way of doing this.  I decided to try using a mirror to get a view forward.  I checkout out my local Micheal's store and found some small mirrors.  Then I cut out some foam pieces that will help me to mount the mirror at an angle to the camera lens.  After some testing I realized that the phone would have to sit sideways to get the wide angle view the camera was intended to have.  This presented another issue in that the way I was going to set it up, would give me a video that scrolled from bottom up instead of top down.  This meant resetting the mirror again.
Mirror attached
Back side of mirror and foam bracket
You can see from the included pictures that I just hot glued everything together.  This works very well and make it easy to change things if needed without damaging the phone.  Now all is setup and ready for testing again.

I finally had a chance to fly again and took some really fun videos of flying my plane for the first time with the landing gear installed (see my other blog My Wild Hawk Experience for more on this).  Well, one final issue with this.  I noticed that there was something wrong with these latest videos.  The right and left are swapped such that if the plane goes left, the video shows it going right!  Oh well, what can I expect for my free kludged solution.

The latest update on this story is that I gave in and ordered a video recorder from my favorite hobby site Hobby King.  They have a video recorder, that looks like a car remote key fob, for less that $10!  Even as cheap as I am, I can't pass this up.  As usual something always goes wrong for me and this is no on back order!  Oh well, Ill post again when it comes in and I get a chance to test it out.

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