Saturday, April 13, 2013

Javalin Camera

Ok, last posting on cameras for a while.  With the faster video cameras we wanted to test it 'in action' but just not on a chicken.

One of the boys was practicing his javalin throw for track... so, we did a test run.

The camera worked great.  Having 60 fps made a BIG difference on the video - it was good to slow it down and very little was lost as the javalin flew.  Good news for when it is on a bird...  Here is a frame capture of the stick in-flight.  The camera is small enough to have no effect on the stick or the thrower.

Our setup was simple.  1000 mile tape, camera, and javalin.  Easy Peasy.

Adding Touchy-Feelly to a Glock

Seems like alot of our projects lately are gun-oriented.  I guess we do alot more shooting in the winter... but fishing and gardening are picking up, so we'll have more variety soon.  In the meantime, with all the camera/laser/smartphone projects we thought it would be cool to add a combined power supply, and get rid of so many buttons.  Why not add "touch sense" to the gun and have all the fun stuff turn on automatically?

So, here we go!

The foil strip acts as a capacitive sensor, and the microcontroller measures the change in voltage when a big, hairy human approaches.

 With the foil along side of the magazine in the handle, the microcontroller can easily detect when the handgun is picked up.  Right now it just lights an LED, but soon, it will turn on a laser and start the video camera.  A very small wire is all that is needed for the sensor - not a big piece of foil.  Plus, the Glock has a nice 'compartment' in the handle big enough for a microcontroller, battery, etc.

This project came out of another project... We have been experimenting with different objects to detect when a person (or a cow) is near.  One way is using an electric fence - its already strung around the pasture, so we measured the sensor changes as a person or the cow approached.

It was fun to see just how sensitive we could make the device.  It would be cool to detect if a dog or coyote came into the pasture and play a recording to shoo it off.  Or, to keep the fence off unless the cow approached, then turn it on.

Always something to try or experiment with.

IDPA Shooting Camera

Some friends are doing more and more IDPA shooting - competitive handgun shooting in 'dynamic' environments.  Very fun to do and fun to watch.

So... of course, lets put on a camera!

Several options we are using - our favorite is the high-speed (60 fps) camera integrated with the laser.  The laser showes up VERY bright on the video (CCD sensors are very sensitive to the laser), and with the faster framerates, we can get some good analysis and followup after the shooting to take notes on what to do differently.

Glocks are our platform of choice - because of shooting preferences and with the integrated picatinny rail.  Here is a 3D print we did of a custom camera mount.  Very light and very strong.  The next prototypes are even better!

The faster camera is larger, but not much heavier.  We are building a new 3D print to remove the bulkiness of the camera and house the camera electronics.  Make it smaller and lighter.

This is a nice profile - with a larger holster it fits and draws very well.  Our next housing will be smaller and smoother for drawing.

Another project to stay tuned for.  We are looking into building an aluminum mount as well for more 'rigorous' shooting environments.  Here is a side-mount we have for carbines.

These cameras are much less expensive, lighter, and easier to use 'in action' than the GoPro cameras.  The GoPro are very nice, but alittle too nice for when we are shooting!  If you are interested drop us an email for more info at  

Or stay tuned - we should have some video to upload soon...

Before the Chicken...

Ok, birds are alot of fun - to watch, to feed, and to learn about.  Even chickens.  Even before they are chickens.  Before the chicken, we find the egg.  And within the egg, we find... its nucleus.

Its funny if you watch Nacho Libre alot...

Anyway - a friend asked about measuring the heartbeat / pulse of a chick embryo while still in the egg.  There are several ways to do it and the simplest would be using infrared light to detect the bird's pulse - just like the little finger sensors we use for people.

I just happened to have an IR LED array, and with a handful of feed we distracted the hens long enough to get an egg.  Easy!

Using a digital camera, here is the IR image we see.  Not sure if the camera isn't sensitive enough to the IR light, or if the shell is too thick.  Maybe more power to the LEDs?

 Next we tried the battery from the backhoe to boost the IR power...

Dazzling!  Very cool to see the IR playing with the camera...

 But alas, not any better resolution into the egg with the camera.  Next we tried a 300 lumen flashlight - now we can see inside... but on this egg there isn't much to see.  Unfertilized but not 'uninteresting'.

We'll keep experimenting with this.  I have some other IR sensors to try that we use to measure light values underwater, so we'll see if the IR detector can see a pulse easier than the CCD camera.

The hens are still busy, so we can get more eggs, too...

Helmet Camera Update

After playing around with cameras on our chickens, its time for something more action-packed.  We've been working with a friend to put a video camera on a falcon.  So far we have a simple prototype, but more to come!

There are several different camera options we are working on, too - lots of mods to make it lighter and smaller... here is some of the hardware we are 'tweeking'.  One of the camera's we have will do 60 frames per second, and so far in our testing, it is working great!  Very nice quality, and the faster FPS will keep up with the birds as they hunt - and they hunt fast! 

We put the hood on to see how she liked it... and so far, so good.  Best part of the helmet camera is that it tracks to the animal's visual focus - where they look is where the camera records.  Plus, on the head the stability of the video is excellent.  So long as the bird tolerates it...

 Here's a nice pose - she is a beautiful bird!

 Stay tuned - this is one of our most fun projects so far.  Can't wait to share some action video!

This is the perfect engineering project, too - alot of variables, high speeds, high stress (on the equipment), weight constraints, etc.  Lots of fun.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fun with the Birds

Ok, so blogger sucks at uploading images - it always puts them in reverse order and is a pain to rearrange them.  So... to keep up and posting, the images will be in backwards order.

Kind of like a Seinfeld episode, right?

Here is a chicken with our Hawk-cam attached for testing.  She wasn't too happy about it, but was a good 'sport'.

This young rooster liked the camera even less - he pounced and wouldn't rest until he had taken it off the princess.

Fortunately, no one hurt.  The rooster became the testbed for the other Hawk-cam design.  One observation - feathers can get in the way of the video port...

 We've been using these small, light, cheap cameras on balloons, (see, and lately helicopters.  It is down there on the skid.
 Folks have been using cameras on birds for a while... and in a few weeks we'll be attending a Hawk & Falcon Hunting Association meeting and thought "wouldn't it be cool to put one on a Hawk as it hunts!"

 So, we've come up with a few different designs for 'spy cameras' to mount onto a bird.  Hence, the world's first "Hawk-cam" is born.  Now the pictures of the chickens are making more sense, right?

Lots of dimensional changes, design changes, etc.  The learning process is fun, and the testing (with the chickens) is even MORE fun!  Hopefully, in the end, we get some good hunting videos from the belly of the beast - off a hunting hawk!

Stay tuned...

Smartphones on Guns

There are more and more products coming out to mount a phone to a telescope, bicycle, and riflescope.  We've been working with different designs, too.  Here are some of the things we've been doing.

The simplest design (KISS) is simply modifying a hands-free mount for our older Droid.  Not only are older smartphones available for cheap, so are their accessories.  We got this car mount for < $4 on ebay.

We simply drilled a hole to expose the camera lense, then took off the adjustable arm from the suction mount and connected it to an aluminum picatinny rail adapter for a flashlight.  Easy peasy.

 Here is the adapter, without the arm attached.
 Here is the final assembly.  This works great for pistol mounting, and is easy on, easy off.

For use on a carbine or rifle, the simple design wasn't enough to put the phone out of the way of the action.  So, we cut off the base of the suction cup, and mounted it to the picatinny rail.  Now, with the adjustable arm, it puts it out of the way and right where we need it on an AR or AK platform.

 Here is the mount on a Glock's rail.  The whole assembly, including the phone is quite light and fun to shoot with on the Glock.  We added some pistol sights to the Smartphone (found here) and it is a blast.

A mount for a rifle has been more difficult.  The biggest problem isn't mechanical, it is dealing with an existing scopes parallax.  Parallax is the focus of the scope - when you are eyeballing through the scope there appears to be a small, dark "window" for viewing that changes in size as you move your eye around.  Positioning the smartphone just right to view through the existing scope is alittle tricky, but not too bad.

Our first design was basically a PVC pipe cap with the phone's mount connected to it.  This worked, but didn't give enough range along the scope's axis to adjust for parallax.

 Here is the final design we like best for a long gun.  We put a picatinny rail on top of the existing scope that can hold a 1" flashlight, and then using a 1" dowel with the car mount's adjustable arm, we can adjust the phone's position as needed to sight through the scope.

There is a demo on the Smartphone's page at Google Play (here)

I'm sure we'll see lots of different designs and products out soon...

Remote Shooting Camera

We have an inexpensive IP Webcam that we've started using as a spotting scope when shooting > 100 yards.  Basically, the remote camera shows us where we are hitting on the target, without having to walk back-n-forth to the target.

Pretty simple - with a jumpstarter to power the camera we put it out at the target.  We also have a wireless router we needed when doing some >500 yard shooting - the router gave us more range on the camera, and we didn't have to switch to an ad-hoc network.  The older droid phone we were using is only running Android 2.2 and doesn't have the ad-hoc capability.

We've been using the wireless cam to watch rats in the chicken coop.  It is actually quite useful, especially with a smartphone.

 Here's the basic setup.  We are now working on batteries to use with the camera and router, so we don't need the jumpstarter.  The router uses 12V and the camera 5V inputs.
 The ad-hoc works great with an Android 4.0 tablet.  No router needed, except when you get about 300 yards out, then the signal seems too week for reliable images.
 Of course, we have created an Android App for the camera.  There are lots of them out there for use with Webcams, however we've added some image processing to ours to automatically show us where the new strike is located.  And, we have the phone listening for a gunshot, and when we shoot, it automatically takes a new picture, saves the image to the SDcard, and processes it.  Easy peasy!
 Here is the image showing where the new bullet strike is (below in red).  Each file is saved, so we don't have  to do anything but keep shooting.
 We will upload it to Google Play after we finish with our demo video.
More to come.  This was a fun one.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mini Blacksmith Forge

Ok, so besides all the gun stuff lately, we've fired up the small blacksmith forge we built last summer.

Yeah, I know... knife stuff.

Thought I'd post some details on the forge we built, because it was fun, simple, and works great!

Got the idea from Church & Son ( ).  We had an old crab cooking pot that rusted through, some 1 1/2" fence pipe, and a bag of sack-rete.

Punched a hole through the pot, fitted the pipe...

There is good, high-temp concrete available, but we had a bag of the plain, cheap stuff and wanted to see how it would do.  We dished out the concrete to form a basin around the pipe, and covered the pipe with plastic.

For a bellows we tried a 5V fan on a reducer.  Worked good, but not quite enough volume when the coal got hot.  The fencing wire attachment was important for asthetics...

After the coal was hot and self-sustaining, the fan needed some help from the leaf-blower.  Unfortunately, the  leaf-blower was more than the little fan could take (we didn't remove it first) and after generating some power, it got too hot!

We bought some dryer ducting and will use it to route the blower-air into the pipe next time.  Here is our basic setup.  With a borrowed anvil, our total cost was ~$50.  The tongs were $44 so only about $6 into the forge itself.

The test run went well.  We got 2 65# sacks of coal, and used about 2 lbs of it this first run.  Good and hot - and easily heated up some spikes for pounding.  We also flattened some heavier nails quickly.  Too quickly.

 The forge worked great!  Best of all, no evidence of the concrete cracking or any sign of damage.  The one improvement we want is for our bellows.  We are watching Goodwill for an electric blower, and the ducting will help keep the noise down and airflow up.

Best part of the project is our 15 year old son did most of the work.  Pounding hot steel gets us tired quickly, and is a GREAT activity for teenage boys!

Now we need to find some useful projects to build BESIDES fat knives...

Gun Mount

As mentioned, here are a few of the "works in progress" for mounting a smartphone to various rifles and a pistol.  All currently use picatinny adapters of some form.

The phone we do most coding on is an older Motorola Droid, running Android 2.3.  It works great, has alot of the sensors and features we code to, and is inexpensive.

Here its mounted on a Glock 17. 

We took a car holder, and mounted it to a picatinny flashlight mount.  Works great, except for on a carbine like the Bushmaster or Bullpup.  Here is the mount, with the upper removed to attach the phone holder.

We drilled out a bit of the phone holder (pictured below in the lower right corner) to give the camera visibility.

Here is the final assembly.  Sorry its sideways, we'll figure that out sooner or later...

Here is the phone mounted on a long rifle.  This is a bit trickier to work around the existing scope's parallax and reticle, but it works and is quite effective.

To make this mount, we took another picatinny mount - for mounting on a scope with a 1" tube, and added a plastic (or wood) dowel.  The phone's mount is then bolted to the dowel and holds the phone in various adjustable positions.  It also lets us change the 'view' of the phone to compensate for the scope's parallax.  The dowel is covered in the cool "flaming" duct tape, below.

On carbines we need to adjust the height of the mount... stay tuned for that one.  In most cases though, we can do a side or "pistol" mounting like below.  Works great.

Same situation with this Bullpup - we put it on the side (left-hand shooting) to allow us to use both the SmartScope and existing HUD.

Definitely adds a 'tacticool' look, right?

It surprised us how easy it is to 'zero' the scope.  Select 'menu' -> "Display Setup" and then starting at the 'zero' mark with your finger, trace out on the screen how big to make the reticle.  So easy to zoom in and out, when you've located where the rifle is hitting, very simple to touch that point on the screen and 'draw' out the size of the reticle.

More ideas or suggestions?  We are also working on an attachment that mounts directly to the eyepiece of a scope, like the iphone's "iscope" attachment (  Don't know anyone who has actually used one of these, but the parallax problem would be tough to deal with.  That is why we went with the dowel.  

More later...