Posts Tagged ‘Uncategorized’

Figure 0 - This external controller allows any device to control the shutter release
This external controller allows any device to control the shutter release

There are times when you need to acquire a very high resolution image, triggered by some external event such as movement, time, or computer control. Video security cameras are very limited in resolution, often to less than 640 x 480 pixels, which in digital camera terms is less than half of one megapixel.

Nowadays, a small digital camera that can take an image with a resolution of 4000 x 3000 pixels can be purchased for mere pocket change, so even if your subject is a long distance from the camera, the details will still be present in the image when zoomed on a computer screen. This simple project demonstrates how to hack into the camera’s shutter release button to add some kind of external control to allow automated picture taking.

Because this project is a hardware hack, you should not try this with a good camera, or one that you are worried about breaking. There is always a possibility of destruction when cracking the case open on such a small electronic device that is jammed full of tiny components. Of course, if you are good with small tools and a soldering iron, then this hack is fairly easy to do as long as you can find away to open the cover on your donor camera.

Once completed, the resulting relay controller will allow any external electronic device to focus and then take a photo, essentially duplicating the operation of the two position shutter release trigger on your camera. Also, note that your camera will not be usable for regular photography after this hack as the original shutter release switch will be removed.

Figure 1 - This camera will be converted for external shutter control
Figure 1 – This camera will be converted for external shutter control

The sacrificial camera shown in Figure 1 is an HP Photosmart M547 digital camera with an 8 megapixel imaging system. This camera has been around the world and dropped in an ocean, but despite some dents and scratches it still functions perfectly, so it will begin a new life as a covert spy gadget. To open one of these small digital cameras, you will need a set of tiny screwdrivers, a small knife and a whole lot of patience. Since the goal of manufacturing is to keep costs to a minimum, the cases on these cameras are often snapped together, which will require some careful prying to open them up.
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Figure 0 - A long range infrared illuminator can be made using many LEDs
A long range infrared illuminator can be made using many LEDs

There are times when the small infrared LED ring built into a security camera will not cover the range or field of view you require, so you will need to find another invisible light source. Some large infrared illuminators use powerful incandescent light sources that are passed through an infrared pass filter, causing only the infrared component of the light to come through the filter. These types of infrared illuminators create intense heat due to the fact that the white light source must be fully enclosed and burn the unwanted light energy off as radiated heat. Because of this intense heat, incandescent filtered illuminators cannot be used indoors and may not be suitable for many outdoor installations.

The good news is that LEDs can be used to create a very powerful infrared illumination system if you use enough of them. Ok, you need a lot of them, but these days they can be purchased for only pennies a piece if ordered in quantities of hundreds or more. The bad news is that you will need to do a lot of soldering, even on a small array of 16 by 16 LEDs, which will have more than 512 connection points.

Of course, many circuit board houses offer proto service and you could have a very large LED array circuit board made for under $100 if you shop around. If you are patient and like to solder, then any size array can be made on some perforated circuit board, resulting in a very high power illumination system that will only cost you 1/10th of what a manufactured unit would cost.

 

Figure 1 - LEDs purchased in large quantities can often be found at bargain prices
Figure 1 – LEDs purchased in large quantities can often be found at bargain prices

Before you decide on making a huge array that will light up an entire city block, do a little research on bulk LED prices and power requirements because an array will become hungry on both counts. I built two version of the LED array – one using a hand wired perforated board having 13×19 LEDs and a much larger PCB version having 32×48 LEDs. So the smaller LED array has 247 LEDs and the larger array has a whopping 1526 LEDs! Make no mistake – it takes a good chunk of power to crank up 1526 LEDs to their maximum potential, and even at 10 cents per LED, that adds up to $154 just for the LEDs.

Start by calculating how much infrared radiation you will need in order to light your scene. Limitations will likely be the focal range of your camera since details are lost on most security cameras after about 50 feet. This distance is also about as far as an LED can reach, no matter how many you add to the array, so the equation then becomes how wide and how bright do you need the scene? A 20 foot by 20 foot interior room will shine like mid-day with an array of 16×16 LEDs at each corner of the room, but the massive array I built is almost too bright to be used indoors.

If your camera will stay in a fixed position, then a single array is best, but for general room illumination, it is better to divide up your LEDs into two or more arrays for even lighting. Think of a 16×16 LED array to be about the same as a typical hand held flashlight for both output power and field of view. My 32×48 array acts more like a 500 watt halogen light source when placed in a small room.

There are several varieties of infrared LEDs, ranging in size, field of view, output power, and effective light color. The most commonly used infrared LEDs output 940 nanometer infrared light which is far beyond the human visual range, and fairly detectable by any non filtered video camera. There are also infrared LEDs available for the 800 to 900 nanometer range. These are even better for use in night vision applications, but there will be slightly detectable red glow as the human eye can faintly detect this band of light.

If you have seen an outdoor night vision security camera after dark, then you are probably familiar with this dull red glow. The LEDs shown in Figure 1 are commonly available 940 nanometer types purchased in bulk from an Internet based supplier.

Experiments using high power infrared laser diodes and modules for night vision illumination.
Figure 0 - Build a long range laser night vision illuminator
Build a long range laser night vision illuminator
Infrared LEDs are the most widely used source of infrared radiation for night vision illuminators because they are inexpensive, easy to connect, and possess no safety hazards because they are human eye safe and do not radiate much heat.

The drawback to LED based night vision illumination systems is that they are not really useable at distances of more than 100 feet no matter how many LEDs you use in the array. Filter based night vision illuminators that change visible light into infrared light are capable for much greater distances, but they suffer from huge energy losses due to massive heating of the filter material and because of this, require massive amounts of current and are only suitable for outdoor use. A laser on the other hand, is capable of extremely long distance illumination and is probably the most energy efficient source of bright light possible.

The main problem with using infrared lasers to create night vision illuminations systems is that there are safety issues that must be addressed, especially when using lasers with a rating higher than Class IIIa, or lasers that have an output power of more than 5mW (milliwatts). Class IIIb and Class IV lasers can output as much as 500 mW, and they are certainly not eye safe, especially when highly focused. A laser that outputs only 50 mW may seem like nothing, but be aware that instant eye damage could occur if you hit your retina with a focused beam. Using infrared lasers makes this situation so much more dangerous because you cannot see the beam, and your blink reflex will not help save your vision in the event of an accidental exposure to the laser beam.

Do not continue with any of these experiments unless you are well aware of the dangers involved and have proper laser safety equipment and experience in using higher powered lasers. You can still create a useable short range laser illuminator using a lower power 5mW infrared laser diode or module, so consider starting with a Class IIIa laser if you want to experiment with laser night vision illumination.

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Convert any camcorder for use as a stealthy portable night vision system
Figure 0 - This camcorder uses a spy camera to see invisible infrared light
This camcorder uses a spy camera to see invisible infrared light

Camcorders a generally designed for well lit scenes, using the light to create a quality color image for recording. To ensure that the image is seen by the camera in a similar way to our eyes, only the portion of the light spectrum that is visible to our eyes is processed. Infrared light falls just below red on the light spectrum, making up the wavelengths from about 750 nanometers to about 1500 nanometers. This light cannot be seen by human eyes, but it can easily be seen by the CCD imaging system in the camera, allowing it to be used as a night vision viewer.

Unfortunately, you cannot simply add an infrared illuminator to your camcorder and use it to capture night vision video because the CCD imager contains a glass filter that blocks out most of the infrared light. The good news is that most camcorders allow a secondary video input to be recorded, and by feeding the output from a small black and white spy camera into this input, you can give your camcorder the ability to record night vision scenes that have been lit by some type of infrared illuminator.

This project uses an inexpensive camcorder and a $20 black and white spy cam along with one of the LED illuminators shown earlier to create a portable stealthy night vision camcorder.

Figure 1 - Any camcorder with an external video input will work for this project
Figure 1 – Any camcorder with an external video input will work for this project

Most video camcorders allow an external video source to be plugged in, essentially replacing the built in CCD imager with some other compatible video source. This video input will often have some custom manufactured input jack with a label of “external”, “line input”, or “AV input”. You will need the cable that came with the camcorder in order to make this project as each manufacturer will have its own special cable for that model of camera. On the older tape based camcorders like the one shown in Figure 1, there was a 1/8 jack “standard”, that used a 4 ring 1/8 inch male plug like the one shown in Figure 1, allowing any composite video source to be fed into the camera.

You will have to identify both the external video input and acquire the proper input cable in order to build this project, but if you kept all of the accessories from your camcorder, then that odd cable will probably be still sitting in the box, as it usually not used. Some manufacturers like to chisel the customer out of more money by making their own special connectors and then charging a ridiculous amount for the cable, so check your camcorder manual to make sure your camera supports video input and that you can acquire the necessary cables for a fair price.

LED Array Illuminator

A long range infrared illuminator can be made using many LEDs
There are times when the small infrared LED ring built into a security camera will not cover the range or field of view you require, so you will need to find another invisible light source. Some large infrared illuminators use powerful incandescent light sources that are passed through an infrared pass filter, causing only the infrared component of the light to come through the filter. These types of infrared illuminators create intense heat due to the fact that the white light source must be fully enclosed and burn the unwanted light energy off as radiated heat. Because of this intense heat, incandescent filtered illuminators cannot be used indoors and may not be suitable for many outdoor installations.

The good news is that LEDs can be used to create a very powerful infrared illumination system if you use enough of them. Ok, you need a lot of them, but these days they can be purchased for only pennies a piece if ordered in quantities of hundreds or more. The bad news is that you will need to do a lot of soldering, even on a small array of 16 by 16 LEDs, which will have more than 512 connection points. Of course, many circuit board houses offer proto service and you could have a very large LED array circuit board made for under $100 if you shop around. If you are patient and like to solder, then any size array can be made on some perforated circuit board, resulting in a very high power illumination system that will only cost you 1/10th of what a manufactured unit would cost.

Figure 1 - LEDs purchased in large quantities can often be found at bargain prices
Figure 1 – LEDs purchased in large quantities can often be found at bargain prices

Before you decide on making a huge array that will light up an entire city block, do a little research on bulk LED prices and power requirements because an array will become hungry on both counts. I built two version of the LED array – one using a hand wired perforated board having 13×19 LEDs and a much larger PCB version having 32×48 LEDs. So the smaller LED array has 247 LEDs and the larger array has a whopping 1526 LEDs! Make no mistake – it takes a good chunk of power to crank up 1526 LEDs to their maximum potential, and even at 10 cents per LED, that adds up to $154 just for the LEDs.

Start by calculating how much infrared radiation you will need in order to light your scene. Limitations will likely be the focal range of your camera since details are lost on most security cameras after about 50 feet. This distance is also about as far as an LED can reach, no matter how many you add to the array, so the equation then becomes how wide and how bright do you need the scene? A 20 foot by 20 foot interior room will shine like mid-day with an array of 16×16 LEDs at each corner of the room, but the massive array I built is almost too bright to be used indoors. If your camera will stay in a fixed position, then a single array is best, but for general room illumination, it is better to divide up your LEDs into two or more arrays for even lighting. Think of a 16×16 LED array to be about the same as a typical hand held flashlight for both output power and field of view. My 32×48 array acts more like a 500 watt halogen light source when placed in a small room.

There are several varieties of infrared LEDs, ranging in size, field of view, output power, and effective light color. The most commonly used infrared LEDs output 940 nanometer infrared light which is far beyond the human visual range, and fairly detectable by any non filtered video camera. There are also infrared LEDs available for the 800 to 900 nanometer range. These are even better for use in night vision applications, but there will be slightly detectable red glow as the human eye can faintly detect this band of light. If you have seen an outdoor night vision security camera after dark, then you are probably familiar with this dull red glow. The LEDs shown in Figure 1 are commonly available 940 nanometer types purchased in bulk from an Internet based supplier.

“I’ve been looking with interest at your VGA guide, so firstly thanks for creating it :”  Read more and join the discussion:  VGA guide

Infrared LEDs are invisible to humans but visible to security cameras

Infrared light falls just below red on the light spectrum, making up the wavelengths from about 750 nanometers to about 1500 nanometers. This light cannot be seen by human eyes, but it can easily be seen by many video cameras, making it useful as a covert lighting method in night vision systems. A common example of infrared light is the medium for communication between your remote control and television set. The LED on the end of your remote sends out pulses of infrared light which is received by the infrared detector on the TV and demodulated back into data. Of course, you cannot see the pulses because they are out of our visual range, but any video camera that is not equipped with an infrared filter can see this light easily.

There are many good quality security cameras available on the market that include a low lux video camera in a weather proof housing along with an array of infrared LEDs for night vision applications. Of course, you may want to just make your own simple infrared illuminator for projects that you need to add night vision to. This can be done in a few hours with a few dollars worth of infrared LEDs. Black and white security cameras and small board cameras are particularly sensitive to infrared light. These ultra low lux cameras can usually be purchased for about $100 or less, especially from online sellers. Add 10 or more infrared LEDs, and you now have a night vision system that is better than those that were selling for thousands of dollars in the 1980s.

This project represents the most basic LED illuminator possible, and is nothing more than a series string of LEDs running from a DC power source or battery pack. You can build this infrared illuminator from a single LED and coin battery, or add as many LEDs as your power pack can handle. With 10 LEDs, you can easily light up a room for a video camera, and with 100 LEDs, you could light up your entire yard to make is seem like midday to a security camera. Our Night Vision Viewer projects also use infrared LEDs as an invisible light source. 

Read more: http://www.lucidscience.com/pro-simple%20infrared%20illuminator-1.aspx

Youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/lucidscience#p/u/5/7rWtMXebXEA

This tiny spy robot can send audio and video and includes night vision

 

After building my two large video controlled robots (Oberon and Goober) as well as the small sized all terrain spy robot, I wanted to take the militarization process as far as I could using inexpensive components. A spy robot needs to have a rock solid video link that is good for at least 500 feet, crystal clear amplified sound pickup, silent motor operation and night vision, so that is a lot of stuff to pack into a small area. Also note that this project was built in 2004, when affordable miniature cameras and video transmitters were kind of a rare thing to find.

I decided to build this project when I finally found a source for an ultra tiny composite video camera with a low lux CCD element that would be good for night vision. I also had a tiny 250mw audio and video transmitter that was hacked from a security system into its absolute minimum size, so the project could finally come together. This version is just a simple proof of concept prototype and will eventually be made less than half the size and have the ability to survive a throw through a window into the target location for stealthy surveillance missions in a hostile environment. The final version will also have some onboard autonomous intelligence so once it is dropped or thrown into the target location it can quickly sneak into a dark hiding spot much like the way a fleeing insect.

Since I now had the small video camera and the tiny gearbox drive motors on order, I could experiment with some possible layouts and battery pack sizes using a computer CAD program. I originally planned to use very small lithium batteries, but it was found that the current draw from all of the subsystems made the video drop out when the motors were activated, so I decided to go with sub-AA sized rechargeable nickel batteries as these were commonly available for small RC aircraft use. The next version will use a custom made lithium ion battery pack similar to the ones used in cell phones for much smaller and extended run times, but for now the goal was cheap and simple.

I also intended to have a four wheel transmission system with possible a track drive, but in later experimentation it was found that only two wheels were needed as the little motors had more than enough power to just drag the back of the robot along. The final version will probably have a custom track drive though, as the two wheels would sometimes fail to pull the tiny robot over large carpet runners due to slipping easily on the smooth surfaces.

I originally made my own small video transmitter but it lacked audio and was very unstable as the robot moved around or when the batteries began to drain. This video transmitter is the output block of a small security camera reduced to its absolute minimal components, allowing it to send 900MHz audio and video back to a down converter. The small transmitter was very stable for several hundred feet, had very clear audio, and ran just fine from any DC power source from 6 volts to 12 volts. Having the video transmitter on a high frequency band will also help stop interference between it and the drive remote controller, which operates on the low 49MHz band.

Figure 2 – This is a tiny half inch square audio and video transmitter

It was very difficult to find a suitable micro video camera in 2004 for this project. The camera had to be black and white for use with the invisible infrared night vision LEDs, have a CCD imager rather than CMOS for clarity, and also output a standard NTSC composite signal rather than a serial bit stream. I eventually found this extremely small high resolution black and white composite camera and did a little hacking in order to remove the onboard power supply, which was 4x the size of the actual camera. This camera was perfect for this spybot now that it was reduces to only 1/4 inch square and able to run from 8 to 12 volts DC power.

Figure 3 – A micro sized NTSC composite video camera with low lux CCD

<< More on this and other DIY electronics projects: 
http://www.lucidscience.com/gal-showall.aspx
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Oberon is a remote controlled robot for long range exploration

Oberon The Robot takes the ROV concept to an entirely new level, able to traverse just about any terrain and operate almost a mile away from the base station. Oberon also sends back color video, allows me to speak through the robot, and has an articulated head that can pan or tilt to survey the surrounding area. Being as tall as a person and having a helmet for a head, Oberon is not just an ROV, but also a humanoid actor, or robotic avatar that can be controlled from the comfort of my office chair.

A long range all terrain robot controlled via video link and remote control.

One of my very first robotics projects was a crude ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle). This was really just a toy RC truck with a video camera and transmitter mounted to the top so that I could sit in front of a monitor and explore the backyard as if on some kind of deep space mission. Although this idea seemed pointless at first, the resulting ROV was a huge amount of fun to operate, and gave the sense that some vast alien landscape was being explored. The received video looked so different on the monitor than just walking around, and the little RC robot was good for the distance of the backyard and some of the laneway. I was now hooked on remotely operated vehicles.

 

A long range all terrain robot controlled via video link and remote control

Oberon takes the ROV concept to an entirely new level, able to traverse just about any terrain and operate almost a mile away from the base station. Oberon also sends back color video, allows me to speak through the robot, and has an articulated head that can pan or tilt to survey the surrounding area. Being as tall as a person and having a helmet for a head, Oberon is not just an ROV, but also a humanoid actor, or robotic avatar that can be controlled from the comfort of my office chair. The mechanics used to create Oberon are taken from a discarded electric wheelchair and mixed together with a welded frame, some standard RC parts and other components purchased from various sources. Building a robot like this is actually fairly inexpensive if you are good at salvaging junk and hacking things together.

 

<< More on this project: http://www.lucidscience.com/gal-showall.aspx >>

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Figure 0 - This hidden device can intercept remote control signals and play them back!
This hidden device can intercept remote control signals and play them back!

This fun project lets you take control away from the person holding the remote control by intercepting the invisible signals as they travel through the air so you can play them back to the TV or video machine. You can also “train” your Remote Hijacker by recording certain button presses directly from the remote so that you can play them back later on, taking total control over the target appliance. Because this project records the remote control pulse stream directly, it will work on any infrared based remote control, able to learn a few button presses.

This project uses a very simple microcontroller program that just times the pulses coming into the infrared decoder and then stores them in the internal SRAM for later playback. The source code is made as simple as possible, allowing for plenty of room for modifications and alterations to suit your evil genius agenda. Because no interrupts are used, the C program could be ported to just about any microcontroller, and will work on all of the Atmel microcontrollers as is. Larger internal memory allows more button presses to be stored, with the Amtega88 (1K SRAM) allowing about three button presses to be recorded and played back.

Read more and see the videos: Build the REMOTE HIJACKER