360 Virtual Reality Camera Trap



Introduction: 360 Virtual Reality Camera Trap

About: I want computers to be wilder. Running a Jungle makerspace in Panama. https://www.instagram.com/digital.naturalism.labs https://twitter.com/HikingHack https://www.youtube.com/user/blorgggggg https://github.com…

Full 360-degree camera traps can open up lots of new avenues of exploration for scientists and nature lovers! Capturing the full photosphere around the camera can help remove "placement bias," and let the camera venture to places other cameras couldn't go (like dangling up in the canopy!). I'll show you how to make your own, with lots of fun examples with monkeys and GIANT LIZARDS!

Camera traps are a super useful tool for field biologists and conservationists! They let us record animals without the presence of humans being in the way! You have probably seen their use on shows like Planet Earth to capture gorgeous footage of super rare leopards and such! They are also invaluable for monitoring less rare species in many different other climates though too! (And also as secret traps to catch poachers!). Cameras traps have lots of limitations though.

  • Narrow Field of views cause "placement bias" (e.g. https://www.wildlabs.net/community/thread/231 )
  • Commercially available cameras can be pretty pricey (We can make them cheaper!)
  • Commercialy available ones are generally kinda bulky (and apparently elephants hate them! and try to break them!) - we can make them smaller ourselves!
  • And commercially available 360 traps, use old tech for doing only horizontal scanning 360 and are still pricey! (e.g. https://www.amazon.com/Wildgame-Innovations-360Deg... )

This instructable will go over how to make your own hacked 360 camera that gets triggered when something passes by and capture a whole spherical image of the entire scene! This is the very first prototype of mine to get playing with 360 traps, so it's a bit rough, but future improvements with the USB API (for less invasive hacking), and switching to waterproof cameras will make really durable awesome cameras you can rely on!

This instructable also includes a secret hack to quadruple the memory size of your Ricoh Theta S!

Step 1: 360 Cameras

What's a 360 Camera?

You know those Facebook videos that let you pan around with your phone? Or cool pictures you can see in Virtual reality headsets? Well you can make those yourself now easily! 360 cameras are getting cheap and available in many different form factors! You can find them now on Amazon for like 60 USD and many are already waterproof! (e.g https://www.amazon.com/Excelvan-V1-Waterproof-Pano... ). The cameras automatically combine imagery from multiple lenses by using some geometry to create a "spherical image."

They are super easy to use, and some models like the Theta, have well documented API's (https://developers.theta360.com/en/ ) for developers to play with them in new ways! So let's start connecting them to robots and making new ways to capture 360 photos!

Step 2: 360 Strategies - Ground Trap

Trap Strategy

If you are used to setting up regular camera traps, 360 camera traps takes a bit of rethinking! Generally the strategy for traditional camera traps is to find an area animals might pass through, and tie the camera to a nearby tree which points towards that path.
With a 360 camera, you don't want to limit your camera by putting it up against something (like the tree). Ideally it would be hovering invisibly right in the middle of an area visited the target animal. For practical purposes there's three quick configurations I have tried out.

On the ground

Putting it on the ground kind of cuts off half of the Theta's field of view (the bottom half). But it can make the camera more clandestine, and you still get the full horizontal 360. If you do put it on the ground it helps to put it on something clean like a log instead of underbrush which will limit its field of view. Remember to try to connect it to the ground securely in case a MONITOR LIZARD ATTACKS! This video shows the awesomeness of a 360 camera trap, because even though the camera got knocked over, you can still pan around and keep watching the animal's actions!

Step 3: 360 Strategies - Stick Trap

On a Stick / Poking out from a Tree

Pop it up on a post around the level of the creatures you are trying to find! This gives probably a better field of view, and good stability. Your camera will be VERY obvious, however to the animals (and potentially thieves and poachers). Taped to the Side of a tree seems to work decently too! Check out this monkey i caught! https://theta360.com/s/czh30bPSLj4bCjgLB4goRi5SO

Caught a visiting monkey in the #360 #Camera #Trap <3 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Step 4: 360 Strategies - Canopy Trap


This is probably one of the coolest and most 360-specific strategies! Hang the camera from a string. This minimizes the field of view blocked by the ground or tripod. It also let's you take your camera to places where regular camera traps could never go! Since you don't care about the camera's orientation, you can just tie a string to it and pull it up hanging in the middle of the canopy of a forest!

Jungle Canopy 360 Camera Trap! #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Step 5: Materials


  1. Ricoh Theta S - one of the nicest, cost effective 360 cams on the market right now with a well documented API. Future iterations I want to try with
  2. Arduino - I used either an arduino Uno, and some breadboards, or a "Dilduino" from Comingle.io. The dilduino is basically a Fio v3 from Sparkfun with integrated Battery Charger and some other perks)
  3. PIR motion Detector x2 - These are the cheap sensors that just detect large motion in a frame
  4. Code - Make your own, or explore my lil repo: https://github.com/quitmeyer/CameraTrap360


Invasive Approach - the main one detailed here

  1. Small Screwdriver Set (for taking apart the camera)
  2. Soldering Iron and Solder
  3. Thin, insulated: "Wire Wrapping" wire
  4. 32 gb Micro SD card (optional but might as well upgrade!)
  5. Multimeter
  6. Tape (I used duct, and Silicone varieties!)

USB Approach - Documentation coming later

1. USB micro breakout - https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10031 (or you could just slice up a USB cable)

2. Theta USB API documentation - https://developers.theta360.com/en/docs/v2/usb_ref...

Step 6: Approaches

There's two main ways you can convert this camera into a camera trap, the invasive way, and the USB way! Both have their own pros and cons. In general I would recommend the USB method as the safest way to control your camera (safest for the camera).


This involves hacking in the most direct, but perhaps least elegant, manner. I am literally opening up the whole camera, soldering extra wires out that control its buttons, and hooking those wires to the Arduino for control. This is gonna be a deeper hack, but nothing too sophisticated!

Advantages - Full control over the power! Max Battery life! Coding is easier! Don't even really need an arduino to trigger it!! Also opening up the camera lets you go 4x beyond the normal storage capacity of the camera to put in a 32 GB SD card while you have it open! really nice how-to here: https://www.360images.fr/theta/

Disadvantages - Risks breaking the camera while you are opening it up. Voids your camera warranty (yeah but you will learn SO much!)


The USB approach will take advantage of Ricoh Theta S API for sending control signals to its USB port!


Advantages - easy to set up physically! Can leave your camera intact! just plug in a usb cable to it and open of the wires of the much cheaper cable!

Disadvantages - no full control over the power of the camera. Since it's a camera trap, you want max control over its ability to turn on and off to conserve its battery. You do have pretty fine control over the "sleep" and autoturn off states though! https://developers.theta360.com/en/docs/v2/usb_ref... This means the shortest amount of time you camera would have to be on when not actually taking photos or videos is about 1 minute, but you can tell it to "sleep" after just 1 second. So it can be "sleeping" for 59 of those seconds.

The next steps will go into detail about the invasive approach and getting you FULL CONTROL over your camera!

Step 7: Let's Crack It Open!

Take the sticker off the very bottom near the tripod mount, and unscrew the 4 screws. Keep track of all your screws (i use a little magnetic tray).

Continue following these steps listed in this tutorial about replacing the SD card (you might as well while you are in there!)


Keep going until you get to the part where you need to replace the SD card.

Replace the SD card, and then...


Step 8: Deeper Dive Into the Theta

Replace that SD card with a beefier one!

Then we gotta get to those buttons. Keep dissassembling until you get to the other side. Keep track of all your bits!

Here's a view from the camera's perspective as it gets its guts ripped out!

Step 9: Solder Wires to Buttons

Buttons typically have 4 solder points. You need to use your multimeter and solder to two of the four that AREN"T already connected to each other. You can hold the multimeter on these points and test the button. It should connect the points (0 resistance) when pressed down, and infinite resistance when open.

You need to solder wires to both sides of the momentary "Power" button.

We also want control over the camera trigger button, so solder 2 more wires to the photo trigger button.

It's not too hard!

After this most of the difficult work is over!

Step 10: Package Back Up

Reverse the steps, and package your new Franken Camera back together!

It's always a good idea to test all your connections are solid before putting EVERYTHING back together. Like in this video:

Also remember this is a mass-manufactured, precision engineered device you are messing with. And now you gave it extra parts inside. Find nice areas where you can run your wires where they won't get in the way of other parts, or prevent it from going back together! Use some snips to cut extra tiny holes in the sides to run your wires through!

Step 11: Control With the Arduino

You should be eager at this point to exert your new mind control over your previously very independent device!

So first you can just connect your wires via breadboards and test that everything is working!

Upload the code to do some basic camera control of your camera. Try turning it on, take photos spaced out at specific durations and then turning the camera back off again.

This is just very simple code, the buttons are kind of special, so it took some tweaking to figure out settings that would activate them properly. You could be smarter/safer and use some transistors just to connect the buttons, but this method let me just use the digital logic straight from the arduino, no extra parts!

You end up with just 3 wires to connect!

The positive wire from the power button. The positive wire from the shutter button. and the Ground wire from the shutter button. Attach them to your arduino and you are set!

Code here: https://github.com/quitmeyer/CameraTrap360/blob/ma...

Step 12: Add PIR Motion Detectors

Mod your PIR detector for 3.3 v

Chances are you want this running live in the field. This makes it very likely you will be powering your arduino off a 3.3 v lipo, but most of the PIR motion detectors run off 5 V! What to do!? Quick easy hack!

Connect your signal and ground pins on the PIR motion detector. But for the Vin pin, connect it instead to the pin at the lower bottom corner of your PIR motion detector

Connect to the Arduino

These are some of the easiest sensors to work with and very straightforward!

Connect PIR GND to the GND on the arduino.

Connect your PIR VIN to the 3.3v (or 5V) of your arduino

Connect the PIR OUT to an Analog input on your arduino (like A0)

Code it! https://github.com/quitmeyer/CameraTrap360/tree/ma...

Step 13: Compact Packaging and Final Code

Upload your code that now includes PIR motion sensing capabilities!


Here is advanced code for using hardware Interrupts to put your arduino in SLEEP mode and really really conserve power!

(Coming soon)

Step 14: USB Approach

If you opted for the non-invasive USB approach, stay tuned, and once we get that running, I'll post that alternative here too!



Step 15: Try It Out!

Go out where some fun animals might be and set up your trap! Try putting it on the ground, on a stick or tripod, or dangling from a tree up high!

One thing to think about is theft from both humans, and ANIMALS! (Monkeys are VERY curious!). They tried stealing my camera, but i got it back, BUT they did steal the camera case!

Step 16: Future Improvements

My next iterations will include using the USB approach, and also checking out hacking some of the waterproof cameras!

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