I've had this idea rolling around in the back of my brain for a few years now that it would be pretty cool to mount a webcam on a remote control car and build a little wifi enabled Mars rover for my house. Figured it would be fun to see what the cats are doing when I'm not around, and possibly give someone a heart attack. I was never really sure how I would go about it though, as the part where I actually control the thing over the internet kind of had me stumped.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago when I was contacted by the folks at online gadget retailer gearbest and asked if I'd like some cool toys in exchange for a review. I told 'em sure, but my review had to be part of a sweet mad science project for instructables! They offered me this webcam, and I realized with its pan and tilt motors, I'd be able to bridge that final gap and build my rover!
Step 1: ESCAM
So the webcam they sent me is called an ESCAM (http://goo.gl/I4hpFZ) and goes for about $40. The build quality is quite solid and it looks good, and also comes equipped with dark activated IR LEDs for night vision. I was totally surprised with how easy getting the thing set up for wifi and internet access was. Just download their app on your phone, register on the website, then put your phone and the camera near your router and tell it to search. Bing bang boom, you've got a wifi enabled, internet accessible webcam!
You can control the thing from right in your phone or download their desktop software. I haven't tried the desktop app, but the phone app is pretty intuitive. In spite of some tricky "engrish" in the instruction manual and in the app it's very simple to use and understand.
One down side (for this project, anyway) is a slight lag between hitting a pan or tilt control and activation. When using this for its intended purpose I imagine it wouldn't really matter, but when you're using it to control a vehicle it's kind of a problem.
Taking pictures with the ESCAM was fine, but I was unable to record video for some reason. I'm not sure if it was a problem with the way the app interfaced with my Amazon Fire phone (had to side load the google play store just to download their app) or what, but I took several videos and none of them were saved.
All in all, sweet camera that by and large is perfect for my silliness. Great image resolution too!
Step 2: Materials
Besides the webcam, you're also going to need a remote control car (I found a pretty beefy one at Wal-Mart for $20), a bunch of batteries (I prefer rechargeables), and an external USB battery pack. You may also need some extra wire and such.
As far as tools, I'm sure no one familiar with my other instructables will be surprised to learn you'll need wire clippers, a screw driver, a dremel, and a hot glue gun.
Now, let's get to work!
Step 3: Dismantle the Webcam
Here's the best part, where you void any warranties!
Start unscrewing screws and see what you find. Internally, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of construction. Instead of clips, glue, and tape, it was almost entirely held together with screws, enabling me to easily disassemble it without breaking anything. The bearing salesman in me was frankly amazed to find a 6903ZZ ball bearing as the central panning pivot point. A lot of manufacturers would just use plastic on plastic with some grease, but this is an actual ball bearing that I generally see in the pedal assembly of a bicycle. Probably overkill but it would guarantee smooth, quiet operation with a long life.
The goal here is to get at the pan and tilt motors, the camera, the main circuit board, and the wifi antenna free without destroying them. I actually broke the antenna because I am a fat fingered ogre, but I was able to solder it back together.
Once everything is out and ready to rumble, lets move on to the next step.
Step 4: Disassemble the RC Car
There's a lot of superfluous stuff on this radio controlled car. Let's take it apart!
Just like the camera, start unscrewing things. No surprise, the $20 RC car from Wal-Mart is kind of a piece of crap! I ended up have to cut and rip bits of useless plastic we don't need weighing things down and getting in the way.
Once you're down to the bare bones of the car, you're ready to move to the next step.
Step 5: Set Up the Controller
If I was a more clever man, I'm sure I could have found a way to take the remote control out of the picture and interface the webcam circuit board directly with the RC car's circuit board. However, as previously mentioned, I am a clumsy ogre with hams in place of hands, so my solution is a bit of a kludge.
The tilt motor had a 3/4 disc mounted to it, and the pan motor had a gear. With my dremel, I carved the gear to look more like the pacman shaped disc on the other motor. Then, using a liberal application of hot glue and slices from a plastic pen as standoffs, I attached the motors to the remote. As they turn, the edges of the cutout on the disc and gear push the joysticks to either turn right or left, or go forward or backwards! Not perfect, but it definitely works.
Step 6: Hot Glue
All the individual parts are ready to go: you've got the chassis of the RC car, the modified controller, the USB battery, and the guts of the ESCAM. Now, your goal is to stick it all together in a way that makes some sort of sense.
Since I was unable to find a way to use the same battery pack for everything in the time I had, it was important to make sure that the battery compartments were all accessible. It's not pretty, but it's an effective rover!
Step 7: Annoy Your Cats!
Next time you're headed off to work, make sure everything's all charged up and ready to go. Fire up your phone and connect to the ESCAM. What the heck are you doing, Radio Cat!?
Step 8: Final Thoughts
As always, thanks for stopping by! I had a lot of fun with this project, and the result is pretty awesome.
I struggled a bit with it due to some time constraints and family issues, but the end result was good. If I were to redo this (or approach it again in the future), I would definitely change some things. For starters, I would like to make all the components run from the same battery pack and have some method of charging. I have visions of some sort of dock or wireless charging bay.
Also, I have an RC dinosaur I would rather mount this on that would look like a crazy reptilian GLaDOS.
Please take a moment to rate, follow me, and comment! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the results or any ideas you have to make this already awesome project more awesome! If you happen to make your own version of this, post some pictures in the comments. I'll send you a one year pro membership and a digital patch!