I'm sure most of you reading this have a drawer or closet somewhere full of once loved tech that has just gotten too old and outdated. I definitely have my share of old tech, and it's sad to see such potential go to waste. Well, in this guide, I'm going to give at least once piece of old tech a new lease on life. Who's the lucky gadget? None other than the purveyor of childhood video memories: the camcorder! How are we going to revive it? By turning it into a vehicle backup camera! Bet you didn't see that one coming.
Step 1: DISCLAIMER
This project is not intended to be used in real world situations with real world consequences. It's a proof-of-concept to show that it can be done, but it doesn't have any safety failbacks. Using this as a commercial backup camera may end up harming your car or yourself.
Step 2: Video Summary
Not into reading? Then watch the video summary instead! It has the added benefit of showing you how to use an old webcam as a backup camera as well!
Step 3: Stuff Needed
The idea here is that "most" of the stuff needed should be easy to find, and most of it's cheap.
- An old camcorder
- An Android smartphone (doesn't work with iPhone)
- A USB OTG cable
- A USB video capture device
- A long (6ft plus) video composite cable
- Composite cable couplers
- Strong magnets (to hold the camera to the back of the car)
It's definitely an unconventional shopping list.
Step 4: Connecting the Camcorder to the Phone
Now that we got the stuff, lets figure out how to put it all together. For the initial test, lets see how we can get the camcorder connected to the phone. Let me preface this step by making the assumption that your camcorder has an A/V out option and you have the correct cables to allow for A/V out.
The USB capture card is the key to connecting the camcorder to the phone. Since you can't plug it directly into the phone, we need an adapter. This is where the USB OTG cable comes into play. OTG simply stands for "On The Go", and it allows you to plug almost any USB device into your Android phone (thumb drives, mice, keyboards, etc) and use it as you would on a computer. So connect the USB OTG cable to your Android phone and then plug the capture card into the OTG cable. Then simply connect the A/V video cables coming from your camcorder into the capture card.
Step 5: Installing the Software
With the camera connected to the phone, we now need a way to view what's on it from the phone. Don't worry, there's an app for that! The app is called "USB Camera". There's a free version and a pro version, but the free version should work fine for this project. Once installed, open it up and it should auto-detect your capture card. if not, simply unplug the OTG cable and plug it back in. When it prompts to allow the app to connect to the camcorder, just click "OK". After that, the video feed from the camcorder should now show up on the Android screen! You'll see that the app also has options for recording and motion detection. You can play with all the different options, but we'll just be using it to view the camera for this project.
Step 6: Attaching the Camera to the Car
We'll need to mount the camcorder on the back of the car somehow. My solution was to use super-strong rare earth magnets and hot-glue them to the bottom of the camcorder. Then the camcorder will just stick to the back of the car and be held in place with the magnets. The video cable (and power cable if necessary) should be able to run under the trunk lid. Since most trunks have weather stripping, that gives it just enough cushion to allow for the cables without crushing them or cutting them in half when the lid is closed.
The length of the video cable you obtain will differ depending on the length of your car. A 6ft cable was enough for me to run from the trunk, around the side of the backseat, under the front seat, and to the dashboard. I had the phone mounted on the dashboard with the OTG cable and capture card connected to it.
If you need to run power to your camcorder, you will probably also need a power inverter. Depending on where 12v adapters are located in your car, you may need a long power cable to run from the camera to the power inverter. It all depends on the car you have, the camcorder you have, and how long the battery life is.
Step 7: Testing Out the Backup Camera
With the phone on, the camcorder on, and with both of them connected, launch the app and test it out! Slowly try to back up on an object and see how close you can get to it (without hitting it!!!) using the camera's aid. Check out Step 1 to see mine in action! Again, please don't try to use this in real world situations. At best, you could probably use it to help attach a trailer or boat to a truck hitch. It's fun to play around with, but be safe, be responsible, and definitely don't rely on it ;-)