Auto-stabilized camera mount 2.0: better, cheaper, faster!

I spent a few hours yesterday trying to perfect the gyro-stabilized camera (shown) in preparation for a test flight today. But even when I tweaked the settings it wouldn't take long before the gyro lost track of where "down" was and it ended up with the camera assembly at one side or another when it should have been level. It turns out that the drift cancellation wasn't perfect, which isn't too surprising. Unfortunately I really did need to it be perfect to avoid the little errors adding up over time and rendering the whole thing useless.

And then it struck me. I'm an idiot. The PLANE knows where down is! In many of our UAVs we're using IR stabilization to keep the wings level, and the way that works is that a FMA "Co-Pilot" sensor measures the infrared gradient between sky and earth on both sides and front and back, and uses that to establish a vertical axis. Then it just moves the ailerons and elevator to keep the plane flying perpendicular to that axis.

All I needed to do was to let that same FMA Co-Pilot drive the camera stabilization, too. Once I'd slapped my head and realized that the solution was right in front of me, it was a simple matter of removing the gyro, attaching the camera tilt servo to the aileron output of the Co-Pilot via a Y-harness (it's still driving the ailerons with same channel) and putting on a longer arm on the tilt servo to compensate for the lower throw distance of the Co-Pilot's signals. (All the other components and build instructions are as described here)

Today we tested it, and it work brilliantly. It's SO much better than the gyro-driven model. Here's a video of it in action:

The advantages include:
  • Doesn't need special calibration and doesn't drift. "Down" is alway down.
  • Much cheaper. Without the gyro, the cost drops from $100 to $25 (two servos and some aluminum)
  • Doesn't take up a separate channel. The camera stabilization automatically comes on when I turn on the plane stabilization.
  • Saves power because the tilt servo isn't always jittering with every gyro twitch.

But what about our UAVs that use gyro-based autopilots, rather than IR, for stabilization? There's no good way to have those autopilots drive the camera assembly, too. The answer is to bolt on a cheap ($49) and simple Futaba "pilot assist" sensor and controller, which uses visible light to do what our FMA units do with IR. You can just put it on the camera mount where the gyro was and it will keep the camera pointed down. It's not quite as neat as the ones that use the same stabilization system as the entire plane, but it's equally effective.

Views: 19641

Comment by Gary Mortimer on August 19, 2007 at 8:13am
Good work, I 'm going to completely steal this idea top job.


Comment by icebear on August 30, 2007 at 6:28am
Very smart idea - I'll try it out!

Comment by Gary Mortimer on September 18, 2007 at 9:24am
Just about to build my version, I thought I saw stills somewhere, also do you have any video from the camera now from the modded mount.


Comment by paul hubner on December 10, 2007 at 11:45am
Do you even have a job?? I have no idea how you can cram so much cool production in! Nice work.

Comment by RunningCat on May 23, 2008 at 1:35am
Yo Chris, i was wondering whether this stabilization system can be use to level a turret on a moving r/c tank ?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on May 23, 2008 at 7:35am

I don't think the IR system would work well that close to the ground. You might be better with using a gyro, as in the earlier version.

Comment by Rory Paul on June 22, 2008 at 8:09pm
Chris. I know this is an old pot but its the one that initial drew me to Diydrones. In your opinion how much did / does the stabilization of the camera mount improve your still image quality? I have a gryro stabilized plane but always end up with a number of images that have bad distortion due to pitch or roll however I am concerned that the mount may introduce more movement? Your thoughts...before I build one...

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on June 22, 2008 at 8:20pm
The toughest thing for me is motion blur, so getting the right camera and shutter speed is most important. The advantage of stabilization is that it's easier to autostitch the pictures together afterward into a mosaic, since they tend to all be from a straight down perspective. If you don't care about creating mosaics, don't bother with the stabilization.
Comment by king kong 2.0 on August 27, 2008 at 6:12am
does anyone here have a simple(cheap) solutions on how to film video from a moving car?(even maybe a mount or a clamp that can fit on an elbowed arm-fit that can move in an out of a carwindow?)
Comment by MorenoEnNYC on October 14, 2008 at 6:39pm
Hi Chris, I've been inspired by your effort using the co-pilot system...I've order the kit just today. How have you been coming along? Is drift not an issue at all? Thanks!



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