Radio Controlled Camera Pod




About: Indy Mogul is the network dedicated to DIY filmmakers and film lovers alike. Our first show, Backyard FX, is a creative and funny 'how-to' guide for making film effects on the cheap. New episode every Monday...
Welcome to the build plans for Indy MogulEpisode 43: Radio controlled camera pod. I've always thought it would be cool to have a remote controlled camera mount that could tilt and pan. I got this idea to use remote control cars. I figured it would be EASY to convert the motion of the car's drive and steering assemblies to the precision movements of a camera controller. Boy was I wrong. First off the front steering motor did not have the gear box necessary to attach to anything useful. So now I needed 2 R/C cars instead of one. The biggest challenge then was slowing down the motors from their native rotation speed of 1,000-2,000 rpm's to just 3 or 4. The solution we FINALLY came to was 2 pronged. One was to attach a large disk to act as a flywheel, and the second was to wire in a rheostat.

Here's what you'll need for this project:

Shopping List

-2 thin wooden disks
(I literally was walking to work and a construction worker was throwing these perfect wooden disks out. They were very thin and light. Some type of balsa wood maybe. You could probably cut them out of thin plywood or heavy cardstock)
-2 cheap remote control cars
(If you have 1 or 2 of these laying around then you're set! Other wise pick up a few at K-mart or a garage sale. All you need it the forwards and reverse motor.)
-Some scrap wood
(We used what we had laying around: 15 inch. length of 1"x3", 7 inch. length 2"x4" and a plywood base roughly a 1 ft. square.)
-Insulated copper wire
(Just your standard wire we had laying around the shop.)
-Misc. mounting hardware
(Really a hodge-podge of screws, washers, nuts and bolts we had laying around. The one thing we bought was 8 "tapered faucet washers." They are big rubber washers that help secure the R/C car wheels to the wood disks.)
-2 Rheostats
(You can pick this babies up at Radio Shack and use them like dimmer switches for the R/C motors.)

For the complete video, watch below!

Step 1: Prepping the Cars

As I mentioned before all we are using is the back wheels that control forward and reverse. So we can remove everything but the rear motor and wheels, circuitry and battery pack. This means you can get rid of the car body, front wheels and motors and anything else that is getting in your way. I basically removed the top piece that makes it look like a car. Disconnected the wires going to the front motor. Then remove the front motor and wheels. Lastly I took my rotary tool and cut away any excess plastic from the remaining frame. Leaving a nice and neat, ready to mount, package consisting of the rear wheels, motor and gearbox, the circuitry and battery pack. All attached to the rear half of the frame. Repeat this on the second car (Car B) but detach the gearbox and wheel assembly if you can. The only thing that should connect this to the rest of the car is the 2 wires going to the circuitry from the motor. Our second car had the wheel assembly in a handy little box that popped right out of the frame.

Step 2: Wiring in Your Rheostats

This is a really easy job, but you will need to solder a bit. Make sure you are really careful and if you've never soldered before here is a cool tutorial. Start with "Car A". What you're looking for is the 2 wires that come from the circuitry to the motor. You'll want to wire in the rheostat inline according to this fancy diagram I drew below. Finish up with some electrical tape around your solder points then mount your rheostat somewhere on the car frame with more tape. Repeat this process on Car B, which should have the gearbox, motor and wheel assembly detached from the rest of the body. The only difference is you'll want to add a few feet of wire so that the motor and wheel assembly can be mounted away from the circuitry.

Step 3: Prepping the Wooden Disks

You'll want to figure out the center of these disks to help balance everything. The way I did this was to balance the disks on the tip of my knife starting from the "center". If the disk tipped to one side I would move the knife and try again. This helped me find where the center of the disk was in terms of weight. Which ended up being different then the center spatially. Once you figure it out mark it with a pen.

Step 4: Putting Everything Together

Take Car A and mount it to the end of a 2"x4". You should be able to use
some wood screws and go right through the plastic to the 2"x4". Make sure it's firmly attached and you still have access to the batteries and on/off switch. Next mount the 2"x4" to the plywood base with "L" brackets. Now we can attach the first wooden disk to the tire of Car A. You already know where the center is so just use some bolts, nuts and faucet washers to mount one of the disks to one of the cars rims.

Next mount the wheel and motor assembly of Car B to one end of the 1"x3". Then mount the other end of the 1"x3" to the wooden disk that is mounted to Car A. Take care to try and balance this.

Now you can mount the second wooden disk to Car B's wheels and motor. Use the extra length of wire and attach the circuitry and battery pack of Car B to the base. We used Velcro. Finish up with the paint job of your choice.

Step 5: Mounting the Camera

This is the easiest part. Use some gaffers tape and secure the camera to the wheel of Car B that isn't attached to the wooden disk. We tested the rig with my small point and shot digital camera, but ended up using a small miniDV cam for the test film. Both cameras would work fine, but keep in mind different cameras will effect the balance of this rig.

Step 6: Mounting the Rig

The cool thing about this rig is that it works standing on a table or upside down mounted to the ceiling. If you are going to mount it somewhere high I would recommend doing so on a wooden structure you do not care about. You don't want this mounted in plaster or stucco because it could fall out and break the rig and camera. The rafters in your garage should work great. It doesn't really matter that you put a few holes in rafters and you'll get a nice secure mount. Take everything off the base so you can be free to mount just that. Then re-attach everything else once that is in place. There are probably better and less invasive means of mounting this rig and if you think of any I encourage you to let me know!

Step 7: The Conclusion

This rig was probably the most challenging thing I've built for the show. As much as I'm proud of it, the rig could use a lot of improvement and has some weaknesses. It's not very sturdy and can be a bit wobbly at times. Also it is really confusing and touchy to operate. You should really take the time to practice on it or have 2 people operate it for the shoot. Don't forget it has 2 separate remotes. If you have any questions or comments please leave them below!



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    19 Discussions


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Pre-drill that hole and you wont stab yourself in the finger next time! Awesome flick though. I'm trying to think of ways to use this cool trick!


    11 years ago on Step 7

    Great idea but sounds like a bit rushed. So the steering rack of an RC car wouldn't work... Did you try connecting the drive motor from car b to the steering output of car A's control circuit? You would only need one controller then. Other sources of motor I've thought of are a stepper motor from an old printer or something with a belt drive on it. This may require a stepper controller which may be another $20 or so. Perhaps a motor from an old cordless drill or power screwdriver, perhaps an old tape player? The advantage of those is that they stop when you take the power off, unlike RC car wheels that tend to take a while to slow down. You also won't need the huge flywheels. I know it is easiest to use what is handy to you though. Nice one!

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    The steering depends on the car. Cheapest cars don't even have steering-- the dreaded "turns in reverse". Cheaper cars use little more than a solenoid with the components not lending well to modification. A lot of low-cost cars do have a nice steering-motor though, and some even have hobby-grade looking servos. I suppose an actual motor could be added to the leads of a "solenoid" car.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    Possibly the gearbox from the second car could just be connected to the steering output from the first. That gets you back to one controller and you don't have to worry about splitting frequencies, which is probably a major issue with sourcing cheap components for this build.

    I'm thinking the wooden discs are a visual aid for aiming the camera? I would think the size of them would lend well to just driving them directly with the car tires. Component failures and design changes would be easier without having to disassemble the whole thing or redesign for "sourced" components. If both tires are driving the wooden discs, you don't have to jimmy the rearend on a car with actual differential, either.

    Also, I wouldn't overlook simple remote-control cars if you can still find them. The lack of radio control makes the system impervious to interferance and glitches. For that matter, you can try to run a wire direct from transmitter to receiver if the system is squirrelly. Wire-guided missles are really radio control-- with the antenna so long it reaches back to the controller.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    I would have simply had the front steering rack actuate a pair of micro-switches. one switch for Right and the other for Left (or up and down). Discarded VCR's are big electro-mechanical grab-bags just waiting to be harvested. Motors, gears, belts, switches, all kinds of goodies in there, perfect for projects like this. Here's a linear actuator I made from VCR parts.

    linear actuator 1.jpglinear actuator 2.jpg

    Nice film, u guys shoot like a pro. but d guy punched u on ur left face. ur blood runs on ur ryt lip.... is it possible?? LOL

    1 reply

    11 years ago on Step 7

    Also, the cheap RC ready made cars are in a different league from the true Hobby cars. The controllers are pretty much "digital" meaning on or off. You really want the expensive hobby type of controllers and receivers which are progressive so you can control the speed much easier. Ebay could yield cheap older ones though.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Interesting idea... Those motors are cheap to purchase from hobby stores (or online) and are available in a wide variety of RPM/torque combinations. The flywheels are ugly... sorry... they are. Are you saying that the potentiometer alone wasn't adequate to drop the voltage to a usable point? Perhaps a different potentiometer would work better... or a simple gear reduction (which would increase the torque available, but limit top speed). And, if a flywheel is still what makes you giddy, try cutting vanes into the edge, in alternating directions, to increase air drag/resistance, and allowing to to significantly reduce the size/weight. Another alternative to the large lightweight flywheel would be a smaller, heavier one (particularly one with weight on the outer rim)... they'd all work equally well, or better. Thanks for sharing your creativity!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    He he , I should use those steriods on my next hippo tournament!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    You could borrow a technique from the wall-of-death fairground ride to slow down the rotation of the disk- add some sort of high-friction edging to the wooden disk and arrange the wheel so that it rubs against it- this way you are effectively gearing it down by the ratio of the wheel diameter (yours looks about 5cm) to the diameter of the wooden disk (about 30cm). This should give you: - better torque - slower rotation - better controllability - a "clutch"- if the disk sticks, the wheel will slip rather than burn out the motor - the ability to mount the disk on a sturdier bearing to reduce wobble (I mention the wall-of-death because I was a little disturbed to find the one I saw was driven by a diesel generator engine running a car wheel pressed against the outside rim of the ride- it's ok for a DIY camera mount but not something I'd entrust 40-odd lives to)

    You might be able to find some continuous servo motors (that arn't limited to spinning 180 Degrease) for 5-10$ at radio shack. I already have some from my Vex kit.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Nice job. The pictures look like they were taken from a video, but nice job anyways, it looks fun to try out for many people!