Introduction: COD (Camera on Deck) - Motion Time Lapse


Hi. I've built this little device for my HNC project back in the old days (2015). Because I like photography, and my task was to make something using microcontrollers. I've made this little device using Arduino UNO, as this was an ideal board for this job (and cheapest). There were quite a few similar projects where peoples used a stepper motor and rails supported on the frame, but such a solution wouldn't work for me. I wanted something more portable and without distance limitations.

Step 1: BORING BIT (Theory)


When I made COD, not many smartphones had time-lapse function, and if they did, it wasn't the best tool. Therefore, only someone who had some interest in photography knew what the time lapse is. So, for those who still don't know, here's a quick explanation:

Time Lapse is a photography technique that makes a video from a sequence of photographs. Using this method, we can motion of very slow-moving objects (e.g. stars), or simply make a "fast-forward" movie effect. Looking at the attached example diagram, a camera is set to take 6 pictures (frames) per second. All these images are later displayed on the projector (screen), which is showing 24 pictures per second. To make a one minute video we need 1440 still images (24 fps * 60 sec.). If the camera shoots 6 photos per second it'll take 4 minutes to collect enough pictures (1440/6 =240 sec.). Therefore, the result motion video will show everything 4 times faster.

To stop COD from moving "to infinity and beyond", I've added ultrasonic proximity sensor (more details to follow) at one of its sides.


This sensor can send a "ping" at a given moment, and receive the "ping" bouncing back from the object at another given moment (check picture). A "ping" is nothing but a soundwave that is inaudible for the human ear, and hence the name "ultrasonic".

THE END (of the boring part).


A little box diagram showing how COD's "limbs" communicate with each other. Two separate battery packs, one for Arduino and all devices connected to it, another one for DC motors. The camera used in this project was a Canon 450d, therefore, the trigger jack wiring diagram is for this model.

Here's a complete list of components and prices (from 5 years ago):

* Arduino Uno - £9.59

* Breadboard + cables - £5.99

* DC motors & wheels (x4) (15rpm at 5V) - £4

* Camera Mount - £4.17

* 2.5 mm Jack - £1.09

* Spirit level - £1.49

* Relay - £1.50

* Proximity Sensor (HC-SR04) - £1.57

* 9V Battery Holder (x2) - £1.46

* 9V Rechargable Batteries (x2) - £6.96

* Voltage Regulator (L7806) - £2.82

* Uno Perspex Case - £1.48

* Screws & Nuts - £7.23

* Aluminium Base Plate - £5.95

* "L" Aluminium Profile - £5.78

* Second Camera Mount - £6.25

TOTAL= £77.33


Here's the picture of my circuit with all connections marked accordingly to the terminals on each device. I've used a separate 9V battery packs for motors to increase the distance that COD can travel per charge.

The second picture represents the sequence that I wanted my robot to work:

1 - take a picture

2 - move

3 - wait.

Step 3 is necessary to stop any unwanted vibrations. I've tried to use the PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) for the soft stop and start of the motors, but I couldn't get time between each frame short enough, therefore I've decided to add little delay into the program, and change camera mount into a stiffer one (more about that in next step).


I've used the aluminum plate 300x200x1mm, 30x30mm aluminium "L" profile, and rivets to make the base. All components are attached with small M2 screws, very small M2 nuts, and super small M2 washers. My advice: "Don't drop these flat on the table". It's not funny when you try to pick it up dozens of times, and when you got it, you can't even feel you've got it, so you keep on trying :). I've mounted an ultrasonic sensor on a little piece of the "L" bracket so it's facing towards the COD's moving direction. To stop nuts from undoing itself due to the vibrations, I've put some hot glue over it. Spirit level is there to check how uneven my kitchen table and/or floor is.

Step 5: ISSUE #1

Originally, I wanted to use camera mount that I've had from my gorilla tripod (the one with blue base). Unfortunately, the screw wasn't strong enough to lock the flexible joint securely in position during COD'd movements, and gradually after every step, camera was going lower. It was very hard to notice, but after 50-60 cycles, difference was visible while checking images. To overcome this issue #1, I had to convince my finance department (wife) to increase the budget by £6.25. After long and very hard negotiations, extra money was spent on a new, stronger camera mount, as shown on picture 2.

Step 6: ISSUE #2

When running my program, I've noticed that sometimes, movement time was 2-3 times longer than the one I've set. It turns that one (or more) of the electronics components was sending some unwanted signals through the base plate. I've insulated every device with a 0.5mm plastic film, and that solved this mystery.


There are two very similar ways to set COD to stop X distance from the obstacle. As I mentioned earlier, ultrasonic sensor sends a signal out (t1) which bounces of the object and comes back to the sensor (t2).


delta(t) - this is the value that Arduino will read from the sensor

1) Calculation using "Speed of Sound"

The approximate speed of sound in dry air at 20 deg.C is equal to:

c = 343.5 m/s

To set stopping distance in cm or mm this needs to be converted into cm:

c = 343.5 *(1/1000)=0.03435 cm/us

Therefore the distance D= [delta(t)/2] * c

If, for example, sensor received a signal back after 500 us, then:

delta(t) = 500us

D = [500/2] * 0.03435 = 8.6 cm - if the sensor detects something at this range it'll stop the program

2) Other way is by using the "Pace of sound", and this is the one I've used in my program.

Pace of Sound = 1/Speed of Sound = 1/0.03435 = 29.1 cm/us

Again, let's change that into distance:

D = [delta(t)/2] / Pace of Sound

Using the same example:

D=(500/2) / 29.1 = 8.6 cm

As you can see from the program screenshot and the picture taken, COD was set to stop if the sensor detects something that's closer than 5 cm, and it stopped exactly 5 cm from the log. The accuracy of this particular sensor is +/- 3 mm.


On the picture attached to this step, if a distance is less than 5, I've set the program to wait for one day (24 hrs). For the unknown reason every time when I was trying to terminate the program when COD came to close to the obstacle, it never worked, it always carries on. With time running out before my college presentation, I've set the delay for a day, which did the trick. Remember: Never leave your COD unattended!!!

Step 8: TIME LAPSE 1

This was my first official test. As you can tell from the picture, COD isn't riding on the surface directly. This is due to the number of loose rocks that caused wheels to slip occasionally. I never thought that this can happened, but luckily for me, I always carry two MDF boards in my car :)

This sequence was taken above the M6 motorway close to Cannock, England. Exact location: Hilton Lane, Wolverhampton, WV11 2AU, 52.646985, -2.058429.

The program was set to take pictures in 0.9 second intervals, and DC motors were on for 50ms (about 2mm). During this run, COD traveled almost 3.6m and took 1076 images in 24 minutes and 24 seconds.

Because I had to move the boards from the back to the end, there was one moment that I've left a small gap between and one wheel was stuck for two cycles. This obviously ruined the whole sequence, so for the movie attached, I've only used 582 images. Displayed at 25 fps.

Step 9: TIME LAPSE 2

Not far away from the shooting of the episode 1, on the edge of the Hednesford Hills, I've recorded episode "the second". Camera was pointing at the junction of A460 Rugeley Rd. and Victoria St. The coordinates of this beatufill scenery are: 52.709757, -1.995166. Camera shutter settings remain the same (0.9s) but DC motors time was increased to 100 ms (6mm). This time COD's journey was ended by a stick that blocked one of his wheels after about 2.3m. Video shows everything that happened on that junction before mother nature ruined my vision for this movie. It took just over 7 minutes for COD to snap 330 images.

Step 10: TIME LAPSE 3

Just before the end of the day, I've rotated camera 90deg. so it was pointing towards the "forward" direction. Movie location and camera settings did not change from the previous episode (0.9s and 100ms). COD traveled just over 2 m, and one of his wheels fell off the edge of the board, shortly after he managed to go over the speed bump or board joint. I'm 150% sure it wasn't human error, I'm sure that this was the result of "the mother nature strikes back". Anyway, I found this video different than most time-lapse sequences that I could come across the youtube, so it's here. And no, I didn't get any financial contributions from the manufacturer of the beverage showed in the movie.


My device does what it was designed for, and it gave me distinction mark for this unit. Even though my job, family commitments, and English weather didn't give me much time to test different program settings, which I believe could lead to improved quality of the final videos.

I did expect that COD will drain the DC motors battery quite fast. It turns out, this wasn't true, unless you're planning to play with COD all day. I've fully charged both 9V batteries before test day, and I've had 9.38V on battery A (UNO), and 9.41V on battery B (DC motors). During that day, UNO was switched on for almost 1 hr. and the battery voltage dropped to 9.29V (0.09V difference), so almost nothing. Then, I've added all the short durations when wheels were moving on that day, and it gave me that COD's wheels were running for whole 3 min. (and a couple of seconds) overall. The measured voltage at the end of the day was 9.18V, a "big" 0.23V drop. As a reminder, COD is powered from 5V relay, so he had enough power left to ride home on its home, but I'm a good owner and I gave him a ride.

If I ever do something similar, I would try to make the overall size of the device smaller by placing components on both sides of the board and keeping them closer. And as you've probably spotted, there are some visible camera movements caused by vibration after movement. This could be eliminated by wheels with stiff suspension (3D printed ?), or playing with soft start and stop (PWM).

Thank you.

Arduino Contest 2020

Participated in the
Arduino Contest 2020