Introduction: DIY Dash Camera for Under $20
In this instructable I'll be showing you how to turn an old video capable smartphone and some random, easily acquired odds and ends into a high quality, multi-function dash mounted car video recorder, or Dash Cam. This is an awesome project that allows you to capture some of the amazing things you may come across as you roll down the highway and the best part is that you can put this project together for under 20 dollars using a lot of things that you probably already have on hand. This is also a quick project that only took me a few hours to build and should be even faster for you since you now have a handy set of instructions to follow.
Why you should build this project
- Dash cams make a great addition to any driving vacation as they allow you to capture and revisit places and experiences you may have overlooked while cruisin down the highway.
- Dash cams can provide a visual account of crashes or automotive mishaps, information that can save you a lot of money and stress in the event of an accident.
- Dash cams are cool, especially when you tell people that you made it yourself.
- Why not, it only costs $20 dollars and you can give that old smart phone that's collecting dust some new life.
- In the event of an emergency the phone can still be used to call 911 even though it's not connected to a network, and since it's mounted on the dash, it's going to be in reach when you need it the most.
- Because the method I describe in this instructable makes a cellphone car mount that is more stable and more secure than most of the "universal" mounts that are currently available.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
One of the best things about this project is that it is pretty cheap to put together costing less than $20 dollars depending on what you already have on hand. Here's what you're going to need.
- Old Smart Phone with Video Capabilities: For this project I used an only Straight Talk Samsung Galaxy Centura. I picked it up last Black Friday for around $30 dollars. If you don't have any old smart phones laying around check with your friends or hit Ebay.com to pick one up for cheap.
- Compatible Smart Phone Car Charger: For the phone I decided to use for this project I was able to multipurpose my current cellphone charger for my Samsung Galaxy 5 so that when it is not needed to charge my main phone, it can be used to charge the DIY Dash Cam.
- Cheap Cell Phone Case: You'll want something that doesn't take a lot of effort to slip your phone in and out of. You can pick up a cheapy plastic case for most phones for around $5 dollars on Ebay with free shipping if you don't have one laying around.
- Large Suction Cup Hook: These can be had for a few dollars at Walmart or Kmart. We'll be disassembling this to create a custom suction cup base onto which the DIY Dash Cam will be mounted in a later step.
- 3M VHB (Very High Bond) Tape: This stuff is awesome! you can pick up a whole role or a few pieces are office supply stores like Staples. Although you only need a small bit for this project, I advise buying the whole role ($10 for the role vs. $3 for a package of three 1" pieces), as you will find countless uses for this stuff in your DIY and Maker endeavors.
- Rubbing Alcohol : Used for cleaning the surfaces where VHB tape will be applied. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol before applying tape provides a strong, more resilient bond.
- Paint: The hook suction cup I found had this cheap looking chrome paint on it so I decided to give the whole dash cam a custom look by painting it with hammered copper spray paint (I had some left over from the Bubbling Pipe Lamp project).
Cost Break Down
- Old Smart Phone - $10 - $15 on ebay (I already had one)
- Smart Phone Case - $4 on ebay
- Suction Cup Hook - $3 at big box stores like Kmart or Walmart
- VHB Tape - $3 for a small pack at office supply Stores
* again you probably have some of this stuff already laying around you house, so even though this is already a cheap project it could potentially be a free project depending on how much of a packrat you are.
- Scissors: To Cut the VHB tape
- Something Pointy: For removing the small pin that holds the suction cup hook together.
- 3D printer (optional): I list this as optional because there are numerous ways to make the part that the 3D printer will be used to create. I simply used it because it was the best tool I had for the job, but there is no reason that a metal or even wooden part wouldn't be equally workable.
Step 2: Building the DIY Dash Cam Holder: Dismantling the Hook
The Dash Cam hold is composed of 3 parts, the large suction cup hook which will be dismantled and modified, a 3D printed mounting bracket, and an old cellphone case that fits the phone you will be using.
Start building the holder by dismantling the large suction cup hook as shown in the pictures. Once the large suction cup is dismantled, continue on to the next step to learn about building the 3D printed mounting bracket.
Step 3: Designing and Creating the 3D Printed Mounting Bracket
The only tricky part of this build is creating the custom 3D printed mounting bracket that acts as the lever for the suction cup mechanism and also as the mount for the cell phone. As mentioned in the materials section of this Instructable, there are multiple ways to create this part and 3D printing is only one option, As this is a one off component, you could make it just as easily from a hard wood like oak, or even from metal.
I designed this part using Google's free and intuitive 3D modeling program Google Sketchup. Special care was taken while designing to ensure the part would properly depress and engage the suction cup mechanism so to secure the dash cam to either the windshield or the front dash.
Once I was happy with the overall design I used a Sketchup plugin called "Sketchup STL" to export the file as a STL file which is a commonly accepted 3D printing file format. I then opened the file in slicer program that came with my printer, (UP Mini) and proceeded to print the part in ABS white plastic using a thick shell and a 25% infill. This created a part that was strong, light, and cost effective.
Here is the link to the part on Thingiverse.com. Note that you may have to alter the part if you are using a suction cup mount that is different than the one I purchased for this project.
Before continuing with the assembly I decided to give the parts a quick sanding with 220 grip sand paper and then a quick coat of Rustolium hammered copper paint. Looking back, I'm really pleased with the paint job as the factory silver chrome coating on the suction cup base looked really cheesy and the white ABS of the mounting bracket lef a bit to be desired in terms of looks. As an added bonus the copper color matched nicely with the coppery tones of the cellphone case that I had with give the whole Dash Cam a very sleek appearance.
With everything painted, you are now ready to start putting the Dash Cam holder together. Attach the 3D printed mounting bracket to the suction cup assembly as shown in the picture. Once they're attached check to make sure that you can still compress the suction cup as necessary to make it stick to a surface.
Next apply 3M VHB tape to the surface of the mounting bracket as shown above. *Note, make sure that you thoroughly clean surfaces where VHB tape will be applied with rubbing alcohol to ensure a strong bond. With one side of the VHB tape stuck to the mounting bracket, peel off the protective backing from the other side and adhere it to the cellphone case, making sure that the placement of the mounting bracket does not obstruct the area of the case where the smart phone camera lens will be.
Allow time for the VHB tape to establish a strong bond (about 30 minutes). Lastly, mount the cellphone into the case as sown above. This method of mounting will provide a strong firm mount that is sure to securely hold your phone at the right angle so that it can capture the best possible video.
Step 6: Installing AutoGuard (Dash Cam App)
There are several Dash Cam apps out there, but after testing many of them I found that Autoguard seems to be the best of the bunch. One of the big selling points is that it is free for download from the Google Play Store (I don't know about Itunes). Additionally the user interface is very intuitive which is a big plus as some of the others I tested were a bit quirky to use. Lastly Autoguard has some cool and useful features that some of the other apps don't have or require payment to access, features like automatic video saving in the event of a sudden stop or impact, and the ability to record video simply by tapping any location on the screen, one touch access to emergency services (911), and the ability to also take pictures, which could be handy for documenting damage after an accident. Autoguard also creates it's own gallery so all pictures and videos associated with it are stored in one place for easy access.
Step 7: Installing and Using the Dash Cam
With the holder built and the program loaded onto the phone, the only thing left to do is install and use your new dash cam. Thanks to the suction-cup base the cam can be mounted to any flat smooth surface i.e. right onto the windshield or onto your dash. (*Note, if you have a dash like mine where it's very organic and curvy, you may need to create a custom mounting point. this can be easily accomplished by taking a small square of smooth rigid plastic such as plexiglass and adhering it to your dash using more of the 3M VHB tape.)
Once you've mounted the dash cam you can plug it in using a cell phone car charger and then run the program.
Congratulations you now have an awesome DIY dash cam for less than $20. Now get out there and capture your adventures in style.
Step 8: Done
Thank you for taking the time to check out my Instructable on the DIY Dash Cam. Again, this is a fun and simple project that should only cost you a few dollars and should only take you an hour or two to put together.
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