Our project is an autonomous camera slider for your smartphone. Most modern sliders on the market today are expensive, heavy, and targeted for professionals with big, expensive cameras. We envision a product that will revolutionize how everyday people can capture scenic moments in their lives. Our goal is to create a small rig that can drive up and down a taut line using a continuous servo motor. Additionally, this structure will have an accelerometer that can detect the tilt of the camera. Combined with continuous servos and clever time-lapse software, this device can compensate for changes in tilt of the camera and produce very stable and smooth film. All of this can be controlled between two Arduino micro-controllers, one of which is a receiver and the other a controller. The two communicate via Bluetooth, allowing the user to interact with Scenic from large distances.
Modern day film and photography equipment is expensive. Very expensive. As photographers in college, we are constantly looking for cheaper alternatives to high-end cameras and accessories, which often cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
One popular style that photographers use is the time-lapse, which is a technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured is lower than that used to view the film. When played, time appears to be moving faster than usual, and thus lapsing. This is like the opposite of slow motion.
Right now, professional time-lapse camera sliders exist in the market, but are quite expensive (hundreds of dollars for a decent one!). One limitation of these sliders is that they are mounted to a physical track, which means that they have a limited range and are confined to the ground. We wanted to see if we could extend the range, flexibility, and efficiency of a slider, while also keeping the production cost very cheap. Thus, we came up with Scenic, a motorized time-lapse slider that travels along a cable stretched between two anchor points. This would be 3D printed and made with affordability in mind, which should appeal to more consumers interested in capturing better timelapse photos.
What it does
Scenic is motorized time-lapse slider that travels along a cable stretched between two anchor points. These anchor points can be on trees, lampposts, or rails – basically anywhere you can imagine!
Made from 3D printed parts, Scenic is very strong, compact, and user friendly, allowing for a single person to transport and assemble the rig anywhere they wish. The rig has three pulley wheels, one of which is attached to a continuous rotating servo. The line goes under the two outer wheels and over the center wheel. Due to the tension caused by the outer pulley wheels, there is enough friction between the rope and the servo wheel to cause smooth, continuous movement along the line.
Additionally, the camera is suspended below the rig the by a ball-head mount, which allows the user for 360 degrees of movement for the camera.
To capture a timelapse, simply attach a camera, such as a GoPro action cam or a smartphone, onto the ball-head mount. This type of mount allows the user for 360 degrees of movement for the camera, which enables you capture stunning video at unique angles.
Scenic is controlled by two Arduino microcontrollers with Bluetooth modules attached to each. One Arduino is mounted onto the rig and controls the velocity of the continuous rotating servo. Also, an accelerometer is attached to the bottom of Scenic and detects any shaking of the rig while it is on the line. Red indicator lights flash when Scenic is shaking too much, while constant blue light indicates stable movement.
To communicate with Scenic, simply select a speed and a direction on the controller, and at the push of a button, send the updated velocity via Bluetooth to the receiver. After the blue LED on the rig flashes three times, the green light will turn on and Scenic will begin to move along the string to capture a beautiful timelapse.
To stop Scenic, simply press the reset button on the controller to clear the speed, and send the update to the receiver. Scenic will flash blue again three times to indicate an update in velocity, and the green light will turn off. The shaking sensors now activate to indicate any new movement of the slider.
How we built it
The first step was conceptualization and brainstorming. After a preliminary design review, we began to design the components of the rig on SolidWorks. This step took a very long time, as we had to undergo many trial and error processes to obtain optimal dimensions for our product. After about 10 different parts, we came up with 6 main pieces for the main assembly and secured the parts together by hot glue.
Next, we attached the continuous rotating servo, an acclerometer, and an LED to the mount. These were controlled by code written for the receiver Arduino. Then, we wrote the code for the transmitter/controller. To connect both micro-controllers, we paired the two devices with Bluetooth modules. Both of these Arduinos (and accessories) were powered by external USB batteries.
Finally, we attached a Glif tripod/smartphone mount to the ball-head mount that was secured to the bottom of Scenic.
Challenges we ran into
3D printing, particularly dealing with rafts, misprints, and correct sizing for dimensions.
Signal interference among Bluetooth, servo PWM, accelerometer readings, and LED output.
Setting up Scenic to get good shots.
Accomplishments that we are proud of
Learning how to use Solidworks and MakerBot 2.
3D printing the whole rig and assembling the the parts together to build a functional slider.
Connecting the Arduino microcontrollers via Bluetooth.
Writing the code to interface with the controller.
Implementing clever combination of hardware and code to send Bluetooth signals that don't interfere with the servo, accelerometer readings and the LED output.
Getting successful timelapse runs with Scenic in real-world scenarios (In Hill cafeteria, Penn Park, Penn Blanch P, Levy Park, Penn classrooms, Detkin Lab, Locust Walk, the Quad, etc.)
What I learned
I learned how to design 3D models on SolidWorks and print them on Makerbot 2, a 3D printer.
C programming, Arduino circuitry/microcontrollers, Bluetooth connection, integrating different sensors/motors/controllers.
Timelapse techniques, mechanical design/engineering, photography, filmmaking.
What's next for Scenic
Scenic 2.0 will be cheaper, smarter, more stable, and more robust.