One tool that the modern world has given us which is very nice to have for couples in a long distance relationship is the webcam. This makes your online conversations much more interesting, and adds an element of closeness. A plain old webcam isn't very interesting to look at, however, and it certainly isn't much fun to hug. So, with that in mind, I decided to make a webcam encased in a teddy bear to give to someone special.
The ultimate goal of this project was to have something that looks and feels like a regular teddy bear, but can be plugged into the computer (via usb) and used as a video and audio input without any degradation in quality. I think I achieved these goals fairly well, although next time I would use a higher quality camera.
Step 1: Acquire a Stuffed Bear and Camera
Obviously there are two main components that you need in this build: A teddy bear (or other stuffed animal) and a webcam.
There are several considerations to keep in mind when choosing these parts. First of all, the bear has to be big enough to comfortably fit the camera inside without altering its shape. Since I chose to mount the camera with it looking out through one of its eyes, a large head was necessary. The webcam I chose is fairly small, so it fits nicely.
Another thing to note is the compatibility of the webcam with the end user's operating system. If windows is being used it is typically not a problem, but there are certain webcams which do not have supported drivers for Linux, making them more difficult to work with.
Cams also vary in picture quality. The one I ended up using could use improvement in this department, but I was trying to keep the component cost low. The components of this project were purchased at the local walmart for not more than $50 or so.
Step 2: De-brain the Bear
In order to mount the camera inside the bear's head, we have to open it up first. I chose to make a cut at the back of the neck where my stitching wouldn't be too visible. It is best to try to split it open at the seams to avoid having extra stitching, but they are hard to find and get at because of the fur. I ended up with a hole that was almost but not quite on the seam. Make the hole big enough to fit your hand through.
Once you have a hole in the back of the head/neck, pull out all the stuffing from the head, and any other parts which make working with the bear difficult. Do not throw this away, as it will be going back in once the camera is attached inside. You need to be able to easily access the eye (or whatever part the camera will be looking through).
Step 3: Find and Remove the Eye
The plastic eyes on this bear had stems that protrude through the fabric to the inside of the bear, and they were secured with a nylon ring. They can be found quite easily once you have the stuffing out of the head. I removed one eye by cutting a slit in the nylon ring, since we will not be reusing it.
I think some stuffed animals have the eyes glued directly to the fabric at the front of the head. If you have one of these you will have an additional step of making a hole in the fabric for the camera to look through.
Now that the eye is out, we can modify it so that the camera can look through it.
Step 4: Modify the Eye and Attach It to the Camera
Although the eyes are made of a translucent plastic, it is not clear enough for the camera to look through. This means we need a hole in the eye. This is unfortunate as I was hoping to preserve the look of the bear as much as possible, but it is small enough that it is not noticeable at a distance.
The stem of the eye was cut off using a hack saw, and then a hole was drilled using a hand drill. It is about 5 or 6mm (1/4") in diameter, but the size will be depended on how close you can mount the camera to the eye, and its viewing angle. The hole should be big enough so that the eye does not obscure a significant amount of the picture. In my finished bear there is some obscuration around the corners.
Since the hole is being drilled in a translucent cast plastic, the inside of the hole will be rough and light coloured. This creates a problem since the light reflecting off the inside of the eye creates a halo effect in the camera which spoils the image. The inside of the eye has to be smoothed and painted black. I used mat-black model paint for this step.
With the eye prepared, pop the front cover off the camera (usually it is just held on by tabs, but may be glued) and glue the eye as close to the lens as possible using model glue (plastic cement). You may have to scratch the paint off the camera where you are gluing to make it stick. Be careful not to get any glue on the lens, and position the eye so that the lens is centered in the hole!
Step 5: Glue the Camera Inside the Bear
Attaching the camera inside the bear is a bit tricky and requires some trial and error to line everything up properly. I used hot melt glue to attach it to the fabric of the bear. You could also sew it in I suppose, but it would be difficult to keep it lined up. At first I experimented with just leaving it to 'float' in the head with the stuffing pressing it against the front of the head, but found that it was too easy to knock out of place.
In order for the glue to stick to the camera I scraped some paint off the front of the camera. I then glued around the eye hole in the fabric. When you do this, make sure you glue the fabric down so that only the fur is visible around the eye, not the fabric itself. The camera should be positioned so that it is looking straight out, and the eyes are symmetrical (this is the trial and error part). It helps if you have the camera plugged into a computer so you can see how the video looks before you glue it down.
If the fur is rather long on your bear of choice, as it was on mine, then some trimming around the eye will be required so that it does not get into the picture. Also note that I removed as much of the camera casing as I could get away with to make it less bulky. This makes it easier to position without creating bulges in the bear.
Step 6: Make and Attach a Cord Pouch
The cable for the camera will run out through the hole that you made. If this bear is always staying on the desk, then leaving the cable free to dangle is fine. However, the person receiving the bear may want to treat it as a regular teddy bear as well and be able to take it with them or sleep with it, in which case the cord should be hidden when not in use.
You can make a rectangular pouch out of some spare cloth that you have lying about by cutting out a rectangular piece, folding it over, and sewing up two sides. I'm not going to go into detail about how to sew, as I'm not an expert at it.
Leave the cord hanging out of the bear while you sew the opening of the pouch to the edges of the hole you created earlier. Be sure to put the stuffing you took out earlier back into the bear before you completely close up the hole!
The loose cable can now be stuffed into the pouch when not in use. It is probably a good idea to sew part of the cable to the fabric of the bear so that pulling on it does not pull out the camera (strain relief).
Step 7: Mail the Bear
Your bear is now complete. Make sure you test it out before sending it, as receiving a non-functioning present isn't much fun. The microphone on the camera I used is right next to the lens, and does not seem to be affected by being covered by fabric and fur. An additional sound hole may be necessary for some cameras.
I recommend a fairly sturdy box for mailing it, as this construction is probably not durable enough to withstand the abuse of the postal system on its own.
Thanks for viewing my first instructable, and enjoy the video chats with your significant other!