Friday, August 30, 2013

New Camera Thingamajig

I made a new gadget for kite aerial photography that I want to show you.   This is something different from my usual DIY stuff as it's my first real project using the 3D printer to manufacture parts.  It's not such an interesting thing as to actually warrant a separate blog post on its own. But I can use it in lieu of actual interesting content in order to justify one so soon after subjecting you to my last blast of blather. This photo is just a sunrise of an already threatening morning.  Nothing to do with the doodad.   We're getting a lot of squalls and showers this time of year. Makes for some interesting cloud formations.

Having a DIY theme for a change doesn't preclude me from sticking in some other  recent photos.    This one was right after we launched our sailboat Twisted Sheets at the Caicos Marina and Shipyard last week. We moved the boat over to the main dock just in time for the live-aboard dive boat, Explorer II, to come in.  They dock every Friday to change passengers, refuel, and re provision.   They managed to get the boat between me and the fuel pump, with what felt like about six feet between their bow and our dinghy.  I'm sure it was much more clearance than it looked.  Still, it was good to be back on the water and concerned with the motions of other boats.   For the past year TS has been in the yard surrounded by boats that don't move.   Much.
Sometimes safe equals boring.

I did take a few photos as we put the boat back in.   Thankfully, it was not very exciting.   We're definitely not looking for excitement when we move the boat. Boring is good some times.  The travel lift took us from our eleven month snooze on blocks back to the ocean.                   

There was a fair bit of work to do on board Twisted Sheets before I was ready to put her back in the water.   Even if you're not a boater, I suspect you've heard of bilges.   That's the low point of the boat hull where all these bits and pieces of stuff accumulate.   After all the work done on our engine wiring I thought I'd better make sure ours were cleaned out before we added some sea water. I think bilges are easier to clean when they've dried out for the better part of a year.  It's a dirty job no  matter what.   This is what I scooped up from under one of our engines.   Can you tell an electrician has been at work here? Can you spot pieces of an old manifold gasket? 

One of the reasons to keep the debris out of the bilge is because this is also where the pumps are located that move water out of the boat and back into the ocean.   Managing sea water to be where you want it is a big part of sucessful boating. The morning after we relaunched Twisted Sheets, I did my daily engine room check and found that there was about six to eight inches of seawater in the starboard side.   I found out that the problem was the bilge pump was frozen up due to loose debris that got inside the housing and  stopped it from rotating.  I had cleaned the bilge, but there must have been some junk in the pump inlet already. It had gotten hot enough to melt and deform the plastic pump housing.  I bought a new pump and switch and mounted them on a piece of thin stainless steel.  This allowed me to mount the entire contraption securely by using only one screw through the plate into the inside of the boat's hull.   The stainless steel plate came from that tank we found at the site of a  shipwreck on West Caicos.  I guess you could say we do a bit of unplanned recycling here.  I know this isn't very exciting, but it's an example of one of the little time consuming projects we have to get involved in.  This project took all day. A trip to the boat supply store, the hardware store, and I finally took the parts home to work on them in my shop.   And there are four of these on the boat.

Several people have written asking about our plans for sailing the boat.  Well, we do have some destinations in mind.  But before we get to that point we've got a lot of work yet to accomplish.  I have to screw  up my courage enough to climb up that mast and start removing all the things that got zapped by the lightning strike.  The burnt, nubby little thing projecting out toward the camera in this photo is the remains of our VHF antenna, for example.  That's toast.   So are the wind instruments.   And the wi-fi.  And the radar.  And the lights. And all the cabling.  The single sideband radio antenna is suspect. And that's just the stuff on the mast.

I was looking around at some of our neighbors in the shipyard over the past year, and got some ideas for possible improvements to the boat.   I noticed several examples of catamarans with hull extensions.  These come in different shapes and sizes.   These, for example, look like they were part of the original boat plan. Simple,light, and strong.

And these look like they might have been added on later, and they are much more complicated than the simple designs.  These have storage compartments, and rudder linkages, and a boarding ladder.   

We have some thoughts on different ways to make access to the water easier from Twisted Sheets.  I'd been looking at beefier access ladders, since ours is on it's last legs.   Then this whole idea of hull extensions got me to thinking about it as a real possibility sometime in the future.   I roughly "photoshopped" the boat with a sketched in hull extension and different hardtop setup.  What do you think?   Imagine it sitting in the water with just the white part showing.  Not too bad.

Another imagined view, during one of those brief  periods when my imagination was working.  I was envisioning something along these lines:

Sure would make it a lot easier to get into and out of the water, board the dinghy, and  climb back on after falling overboard.   Hull extensions typically help with boat motion, and increasing the water line sometimes increases boat hull speed, too.     Thoughts and suggestions welcome.

Okay, enough about that.  I'll use a recent sunset here to illustrate a change of topic.

And the change of topic is to...... Kite Aerial Photography!  But you already knew that, so I'll skip the whole "ta-daaaaa!" bit.  This is my second prototype of this new camera rig I've been playing with.  I'm so proud of this one that I've practically worn a thin spot on my t-shirt from patting myself on the back.   Heck, I'd think this one was cool even if I didn't build it myself.   Lets face it, if I could have ordered one of these from Amazon, I would have done exactly that.

One of the aggravations of taking photos from kites has been dealing with camera orientation.  I made a couple of rigs where I could pre-set the camera pan and tilt and then we'd run the kite up for a few minutes, and then bring it back down to change the camera angles.  Over and over again.  I used a wind vane to steady it.  I knew I could come up with some fancy radio controlled pan and tilt stuff, but the whole idea here is to keep this as simple, light, and waterproof as I can make it.

I found a KAP design on the internet for a simple ratcheting clock gear type mechanism. It uses the pendulum motion of the swinging camera to turn it though all 360 degrees.    I  3-D printed the gears.  I also used the 3-D printer for the attachments, fittings and other parts.  In fact,  of the 14 parts in total that make this thing, 10 of them were 3-D printed.  The parts that weren't printed are the bike spoke, the destroyed satellite dish aluminum bracket, and the fishing pole and hardware.

The surfaces of the extruded plastic parts are a bit rough so I did have to do some fine tuning of the gears with a riffle file.   The faces of the gears have to be smooth where they slide together, and one set of cuts has to be vertical and aligned with the center of that screw.   Simple stuff to smooth and shape the ABS thermoplastic.  Took a few minutes. 

 I could put a wordy explanation of how this works right about here.   But  I think it will be a whole lot more expeditious to just show you.   Watch the camera in the first part of this little video.  You can see that it steps around in 24 degree increments as it swings back and forth.   Then we show you the gears and how they work to do that.  Easy beans.  I've already made the gear parts for another one.

Having the ability to visualize something, build it on the computer as a sketch in a CAD program, and then print it out and try it has really been a game changer for my experimental DIY stuff. I like the funky colors, too.  Looks like it all came from a Toys R Us or hobby shop, doesn't it?

Until I got the printer going, I was thinking that I would be carving these gears from wood or PVC pipe.  Boy, this was a whole lot better.

The first version of this design had a much shorter pendulum on it.  The camera swung back and forth at a rate that moved it three "clicks" in the five seconds between photos.  I lengthened the pendulum for this version, to slow the rotation down a little.  Still, even at five photos per revolution it came out much, much better for KAP than we had hoped.    We took it over to the hill upwind of South Side Marina to try it out last weekend.

Because of all the problems we've had trying to launch a kite in the lee of steep terrain, we took the kite up to the top of the hill to get it flying.   There's a new road built up there, and it's a good place to  get the kite up above the turbulence.  The wind fairly whistles through this notch.  Good view of the marina, too.

Once the kite was up and flying in clean air, I just walked along the entire road and let the motion of the wind and the string rotate the camera around and around and around.  Taking several hundred photos.   I'll post a series of six photos taken in sequence to show you how it works.

This one shows the notch at the top of the hill where we launched the kite, and also the Caicos Bank in the distance.  Notice you can see the road up to the notch, and the corner of the marina.    I'm the dot at the end of the string.

Five seconds later, the little rotation mechanism had moved  the camera several clicks around to the next shot in a clockwise rotation.

I really don't have to keep typing in words to explain this any more at this point, do I?  But we both know that's not going to stop me.

I really liked this next one.  It shows the entire length of the marina and the water on both sides.   You can get a feel for how close to sea level we are living here. I just realized that  this whole spit of land is technically an island in itself.  It's completely surrounded  by ocean, salinas, and canals.

The six roofs you see here, along with the swimming pool, are the Harbour Club Villas & Marina resort.   We put some of our recent guests up here, and they really enjoyed their stay.  They took kayaks out of the marina and explored the coastline, becoming betrothed in the process!  That's a pretty good recommendation, right there.   Oh, and that body of water in the middle of this next photo is part of Juba Salina, with Flamingo Lake off to the left.  Some excellent bone fishing, right across the road from Harbour Club Villas.  You don't even need a boat to get there. 

You do need an airplane to get here, though.  Minor detail.

This is the sixth photo in the series, and you can see that the camera is almost all the way back to its starting azimuth position.  The camera does swing around a bit in the wind, and not all the photos are equally aligned with the horizon. With several hundred images to choose from it doesn't look like much of a problem to pick and choose the views we want.

I notice that I didn't let the lack of any need for words affect my need to produce them. I'm working on that.

Here's the last photo in one fifteen step  revolution of the camera, back to showing you the road and the notch and the ocean and the corner of the marina.   And I'm still the dot at the end of the string.   Sort of an upside down exclamation point.  With a dribble.

Okay, that was basically my big news DIY for this post.  I guess it wasn't as impressive as I'd hoped.  But it still suffices as an excuse for another post just three days after the last one.  We plan to take the kites out over this coming weekend and see if making the pendulum longer will result in a slower rotation and more photos during the rotation.  That's purely an academic experiment on my part.  I'm very happy with our little auto-rotating camera rig.  No batteries required, and if it all falls in the ocean, no harm done.

And in case any of his Facebook fans are wondering, yes, it's already been Dooley Authorized.  

I know I've already put a set of sunrise and sunset photos in this post.  But while fanning through our collection over the past week I found these and thought I may as well throw them in here, too.  La Gringa and I had gone over to the Mango Reef restaurant at the Alexandra resort on Grace Bay for dinner last week.   As we were sitting there enjoying the view we noticed that the sunset was shaping up to be a potentially "blog-worthy" scene.  I took this photo right before the sun settled into the distant horizon.  We thought it looked pretty cool, suitably tropical, and were willing to settle in right along with it.
And then five minutes later as the sun finally disappeared, the shadows of the cloud formations made these nifty looking ray designs.  So we took  photos of that sunset, too.  

Good thing the drinks showed up at that point, or no telling how long I'd be sitting here boring you with additional photos.   But show up, they did.

And that's the end of that.


Anonymous said...

Awesome! Couldn't quite grasp what and how it worked via the pendulumn action, found this very similar device and video and now see it "walks" across the gears in order to rotate Pretty damn simple and effective.

Has me wondering if scaled up can this concept be translated into real energy or something? Build something on Twisted Sheets to take advantage of continuos rocking / motion of the boat while under way, even to just charge an mp3 player or something?

More importantly while the camera is continually moving like that how come the pics are always crystal clear? Is it the speed of the camera itself, or you got to harvest 1/1000 shots that aren't blurred??

Anonymous said...

Yep, that's exactly where I got the idea. But the parts drawings he has available online were designed to be made on an industrial quality high end 3D printer that uses solvents and plastic powder, and supports the parts. My hot glue gun type owner's version 3D printer cannot make things like that. So I had to modify his idea into something I could work with.

The GoPro camera seems to do a good enough job with shutter speed when it has plenty of light. Those aerials are not the best, as it was getting later in the afternoon and the sky was about 50% cloudy. I didn't have a single blurred photo out of several hundreds taken that day, though. I've been disappointed with the Pentax, and have stopped using it for the KAP. I have a Sony POV camera waiting for me in Colorado, though. And Garmin is coming out with a new one shortly that is really looking promising.

Anonymous said...

Always a pleasure and privilege to read your stories! read all your stories is what I do during my lunch times! thanks to you. Nat

Anonymous said...

Hey dad,
Do you have panoramic on the camera, it would be cool to get a longer pic off the kite as long as theres no wind, yahoo twisted sheets floats again,love the dooley shot

kristine barr said...

Great explanation! Even I understood most of it. Turks and Caicos must be much bigger than I thought.

Mike said...

Great toys, Gringo. You're getting good at this, maybe you should make it a...... never mind. Great stuff.

I read something about massive dust clouds moving across the Caribbean from Africa- see anything about that? It would explain the great sunsets.

John Schieffelin said...

Great news Twisted Sheets is afloat once more. I look forward to hearing about your first outing, although I realize there is a fair amount more to do on the boat before that happens.

The 3D printer sounds great, although I am so mechanically inept I do not understand how a printer produces plastic parts. To me a printer prints, period. However, I like the aerial photos a lot -- they provide such a good sense of place and scale to the blog.

Anonymous said...

I can't come up with a way to construct a good pano from this platform. Three consecutive photos would not line up at all with all the camera motion. I could maybe snip and tilt and put together more of a mosaic, except the fisheye lens distortion of the GoPro wide angle makes that very problematic. Imagine trying to match up different angles from different fisheye focus patterns. The detail gets much worse out at the edges.

Anonymous said...

John, just think of the printer printing a single line across the page. Then it raises up from the first line of characters the thickness of the quick dry ink, and prints them again exactly over the same spot. with enough subsequent passes, the printed line will now be 3-D.

These just use something thicker than ink that sticks better. Otherwise it's basically adding Z axis mechanism and some temp and extrude controls to an x y printer.

Catherine said...

The hull shape of TS has a lot of "rocker". Maybe if/when you extend the hulls, some of the rocker could be taken out at the same time for better performance.
Always enjoy the photos and Dooley's comments.