Cheap RC Surveillance

I like to take junk and make it better junk. I'm LDS, an Eagle Scout, aspiring mechanical enginee...

Intro: Cheap RC Surveillance

This was my first official "project" ever. With basic skills, this project can be done quickly (which is not what happened to me).
There were some things I wanted in the design:
     1. It had to be CHEAP (All the pieces had to be recycled except for the camera, receiver, and computer adapter).
     2. It had to have a camera that turned.
     3. It had to be seen on my laptop.
     4. It had to break from a car into a camera station (imagine security camera).
My first prototype took three months+ to finish ( look like it might work). The second took two days. The result is a (prototype) RC car with a camera strapped to the top and lots of wires flying everywhere, which still doesn't work after more than a year of development. :(

HOWEVER: (In answer to the Make-to-Learn Q's)
What did you make?
- I have made an RC car with a detachable camera that can be used on its own or with the car. Basically, the idea is that I took two RC cars and controllers and meshed them into one thing. As a result, I have an electrical mess with lots of wires flying everywhere. But it works (mostly) and demonstrates the immense hack-a-bility that RC car systems have. I took inspiration from travis7s RC Nerf Tank, but instead of a lot of expensive electronics, I have boiled it down to a simpler, smaller system. (So, basically, this is the cheap way to do it.)
How did you make it?
- I have made it by recycling a printer and 4 RC cars and controllers (this project could be done with less). Once I had all the parts, I started soldering each circuit board in parallel with the other (plus to plus, negative to negative). This way, the circuits share the same power source, whereas before they were two different systems. (More details below with pictures.)
Where did you make it?
- I made this in the STEM Lab at school and (second prototype) in my basement workshop. I worked the most time after school in the STEM Lab every day for my freshman year after the fall sports season. The second prototype was finished in two days during
summer break (2012). I also worked on this during spring break (2013), especially on the camera's problems.
What did you learn?
- I learned how to solder correctly. (This is where I spent three months: hunched over a soldering iron, a circuit board, pieces of wire, and solder.) Connections between wire and board broke constantly. I probably soldered each piece of wire at least 3 times.
- In my first design, I had a battery pack, a camera, and a circuit board strapped to the top of a decade-old RC car. The idea was that the camera could be detached from the car. It didn't work very well. My STEM teacher suggested something revolutionary that saved the project - wire it all in parallel. It saved space, weight, and a whole lotta time.
- One of the big problems I had was that wanted the camera to move back and forth. I could have easily just strapped the camera to the top (Man!! I could have done that with the first RC car!) but I wanted to do it the hard way. In this version, the camera's electronics are mounted to a piece of hobby board  with small scavenged screws and hot glue. The board is fastened to the car with Velcro, allowing me to take it off the car and use it separately. This was one of the most important design features, and I feel that it has been handled well. I used connectors from a printer  to connect the power source to the camera board. Both the car and the battery pack have these connectors, so that I can disconnect the camera board from the car.
- I also learned that a project is never finished. When I went to make this I'ble,  the camera did not work, despite recent modifications and testing to prove that it did. I guess this will be one of those projects I can always come back to. :)

- basementhacker

PS - Please vote!!!

Step 1: Stuff That Is Extremely Helpful

There is a lot of stuff that is really helpful, but there are things that you absolutely need. I'll try to boil it down:
     1. Soldering Iron and Solder - for EVERYTHING!!!
     2. Scavenged Screws, Electronics, Wires, Switches, Connectors, Plastic Gears, Motors, .......... etc.
     3. Screwdrivers - for taking stuff apart and putting it back together.
     4. Wire Strippers/Cutters - for prepping the wire for soldering.
     5. Camera, Analog TV Receiver - plugs into stuff so that you can see where the camera is. I wanted to see with my laptop, so I got a USB video capturer. Mine came with the software on a CD.
     6. RC CARS!!!!! The more the better. Just remember that matching controllers and cars work best. Controllers wired in parallel should have the same voltage. The same goes for the cars.
     7. Something to Insulate Splices - I used a combination hot glue/shrink wrap.
     1. Heat Gun/Shrink Wrap - Soldering iron works just as well for shrink wrapping, as does a hot glue gun. The important thing is that there aren't any shorts in the wires.
     2. Drill - for pilot holes to fasten circuit boards and other stuff to mounting boards.
     3. Multimeter - Everyone needs a multimeter. I was lucky and the boards I scavenged had + and - on them. I still learned how to use a multimeter just the same though, for other switches on the controller.
     4. Third/Helping Hands - Soooooooo helpful for holding .... everything. However, they can also be made.
     5. An awesome brother who lets you have his old stuff. :)  (In this case, an RC car.)

Step 2: How to Make a Cool Looking Mess

The most difficult part of the project was the car itself. Controllers can be wired in parallel and screwed to a board. A bunch of RC car parts can't. In my first model, the camera electronics had some "armor" made out of hot-glued Plexiglas and a battery pack that ran only the camera mount. That was dumb. The car already had one battery pack in it, and I was strapping another to the top. This led to my decision to put it all in parallel. (GOOOOOD decision.) This saved a lot of time, space, and weight. All these wires have been spliced and cut and soldered several times, in an effort to create the best arrangement and design within my budget (a.k.a money for camera and receiver). I have removed the top plastic molding  from the car and Velcroed the turntable on. By removing the turntable, i can access the car's electronics and motor. I can also use the car as a normal RC car by taking off the turntable - but that is counterproductive to the fun of a camera!

Step 3: How to Make It Controllable

The controller follows the same ideas as the car - solder circuit boards in parallel and call it an integrated system. The first controller had switches that I hacked with more switches and wires to make little two-way switch things that looked cool. It also took forever. In the second model, the switches were so small that I didn't want to mess with them, so I just left them there and soldered the circuits together. This is mainly why the second model was so easy - I simply soldered different boards together. The first car was a kind of trial-and-error. The second built off of the first and was much easier.

Step 4: How to Make a Thing to See Where It Is

This was the easiest step. I simply plugged all the stuff in and let the program that I had to download from the CD  do its work. When the program opens, click whatever the camera is called (usually USB something something) and just watch the screen. You don't have to actually capture something, you can just watch it. However, my camera is really annoying and won't let me see anything. It worked for about a day and then crapped out on me again. That part of the project is still in progress.



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    11 Discussions

    Dream Dragon

    5 years ago on Introduction

    That does look moderately cool, I guess you could tidy it up a bit now that you know it works. I'm guessing that you are viewing the camera on the laptop and then controlling the car by the Radio Controller. I'm sure you could figure a way to let the computer control the car.

    5 replies

    You certainly COULD do it with an "Arduino" but you already have the processing power of the Laptop, and all you NEED is to replace the switches on the remote control with a connection to the laptop.

    Look at the Christmas Lights system I posted a few months ago, it should give you a STARTING point, but you will need to look up about isolating the computer from the 9v on the controller and a few other refinements, which you'd also have to take account of if you were using Arduino or RaspberyPi.

    Good luck.

    I'm not entirely sure what you mean there. It would be as wireless as it is now, you'd just have to make a couple more connections to the that the laptop closes the switches on the controller rather than you having to operate the buttons. You could then write code to make the car perform all kinds of autonomous routines. Patrol your room, take pictures of anything that moves, have the car follow a particular target colour... (you wear Red Socks?) You could even write routines that could be accessible from the internet, so you could control it from anywhere in the world. Which would only cost you the time and personal effort to work it out (plus a bit of spare change for the components).

    The control circuitry will be essentially the same whether you use the laptop, an Arduino, (remember Arduino is a whole system, not just a micro-controller.) AVR, Propeller, Raspberry Pi, or any other processor, and it doesn't matter whether you put the processing power at the stationary end or the mobile end of your system. You will still need to provide protection to the switching circuitry so that it doesn't blow up your processor.

    If you are meaning that you want it to function as a node on a wireless network, then yes you would have to make the mobile unit much smarter and that WOULD take a micro-controller of some sort. It's a much more advanced hack, but certainly not new ground, and I'm sure you are well able to cope with it, but that will cost you more. I would SUGGEST that you go the simple route FIRST, and learn the lessons associated with the control circuitry, and then move to the arduino to provide more functions.

    You might find "Let's make Robots" interesting

    I was looking up some tracked robot chassis last night and I think I might get one with a controller and use it for a new model of this. Any suggestions for easily hack-able platforms?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    The finished article of any project has a certain satisfaction to it, but the true rewards are what you learn on the journey. By your tenacity in sticking with this project you have taught yourself a lot of things in the building of it, and also discovered some of your own capabilities.
    You should be highly commended by your STEM teacher for this project. One of the best I instructables I have seen. Really enjoyed it, keep it up and good luck with your project.

    3 replies

    Thank you! I'm very proud of my work, its just that there is always room for improvement! Last year I didn't know anything about circuit boards, multimeters, soldering irons, or pretty much anything else I used for this project. Before this, my brother and I would collect circuit boards and hide them like they were gold! Now, I actually understand what to do with them!
    My STEM teacher is awesome. I'll be taking several classes with him next year for IB (International Baccalaureate). I'm soooo grateful for all the stuff that he has taught me!