Using the Intel Edison as a Smart Camera Controller

 
For the past few weeks I have been working on a way to integrate better cameras into our mapping platforms. Our platforms are based around the APM: Copter and APM: Plane software and use 3DRs Pixhawk autopilots to control the vehicles. While the Pixhawk provides for a sime way to do survey missions, the next step towards advancing this area is to incorporate better cameras, more intelligence and vision processing into the systems. This is where the flexibility of this platforms provides a great advantage over other systems. 
     
The first step towards improving the system is to increase its processing capabilities and data collection sensors. By attaching a companion computer like the Edison, you provide extra processing without compromising the flight control system. This way if the Edison crashes, the Pixhawk can still bring the vehicle back in one piece. 
     
This post will show the first part of what we have been working on which is attaching a better sensor for surveys. Sony has some really cool cameras that have ditched every thing (or almost everything, the flash is still there) that a drone does not use, like a big bulky display and buttons. These cameras are meant to connect to a smartphone and use that as the control interface to the camera. This connection is done through Wifi, and Sony has released an API to allow developers to Crete their own apps. And in fact, all you really need is a Wifi connection to the camera. 
      
Using this API, you can control all aspects and settings the camera allows, things like Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, shooting mode, focus, zoom, picture quality, you can even preview the images that have been captured in different resolutions, and download the full size images of needed.  This opens up a much better control of the capture process and even allows for post processing of the images with vision algorithms on board! 
     
Working with her Dev Team, we have been able to write a module for Mavproxy and made some modifications to the Pixhwak code in order to allow control of these Sony cameras from the Pixhawk via mission items, and from ground stations sending mavlink commands to control the camera.
     
This is all still in its early stages, but it is functional enough now to allow for mapping missions using this system. 
The connections as shown above are pretty straight forward, an Intel Edison is used as the companion computer to translate the Mavlink commands into API calls sent to the Sony camera. The Edison is powered and connected to the Pixhwak using the Telemetry 1 port which provides up to 1 amp of power and forwards Mavlink Messages to the serial port on the Edison. Inside the Edison, MAVProxy consumes these messages and the smart camera module interprets them and sends the appropriate commands to the camera.
    
The messages used are the command long MAVProxy commands for DIGICAM_CONTROL and DIGICAM_CONFIGURE. Once the Edison is setup to connect to the Wifi hotspot from the Camera, it will look on that network for a valid camera IP and try to connect to that camera. Once connected the camera will respond to commands sent from the ground station or from a pixhawk mission. If you own a camera with a power zoom, you can zoom in or out using the DIGICAM_CONTROL message, and trigger the camera using the same message. Here are some results from a mapping mission using the Sony QX1 camera mounted on a 3DR Aero-M. 
    
    
I will write a wiki page on the developer documentation explaining the technical setup, but be aware some changes were required or the Pixhawk code so that it correctly handles the forwarding of the packets, these changes are currently only available on the AC3.3 beta code. The MAVProxy smart camera module is now in master in the MAVProxy Github repository which by the way was just recently moved into the Dronecode project Github account.
    

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Comment by Marden Alcantara on May 27, 2015 at 11:41am

Test with the 2.4ghz control and wi-fi:
Wi-fi 2.4GHz with FrSky its ok. No problem.
Wi-fi 2.4GHz with turnigy 9x module is bad. Wi-fi down.


Developer
Comment by Jaime Machuca on May 27, 2015 at 11:41am

@technicus acityone the BMCC is a really nice camera for video, but the resolution it gets is very limited 1080p (1920x1080) that equates to 2MP, so for mapping work that is pretty much useless. Also the only way to get stills from the BMCC is to set it to shoot in RAW and you will get 1 pic per frame and geotagging those images would be very hard as there is no feedback from the camera when each image is taken. 

I think each camera has its strengths and weaknesses, the BMCC is great for video and productions, but not for shooting stills or for mapping.

Comment by Chris Alford on May 27, 2015 at 12:48pm

I have the VP systems Multi + USB for my A5000 and does allow for control over camera parameters:

http://vp-systems.eu/order_cr.html#CABLE-MULTI-USB

"Controls zoom (mostly 2 speed option), movie recording, shutter release* and camera off/wakeup features of the camera through MULTI interface. USB connection can be used to charge the camera on the fly or for remote control (Shutter speed, aperture, ISO and Movie recording). Can be used both MULTI+USB remote control features."

They also mention a UART control option but I haven't looked into it, just using 3 PWM channels at the moment. 

Comment by Jesus A on May 27, 2015 at 3:04pm
Jaime, very nice work. I am keen to test it myself.
I have would like to know what it is the actual shutter delay using the microusb trigger method.

Aside from this, has anybody tested the Olympus Air? It has a veeery impressive specs and form for aerial surveys. Also an API.
Problem is that it is difficult to buy.
Comment by Oscar Avellaneda-Cruz on May 27, 2015 at 11:05pm

@Marden Alcantara, which Frsky RX did you test?

Was there a drop in signal quality?


Comment by Marden Alcantara on May 28, 2015 at 4:37am

HI @OscarAvellanedaCruz,

> which Frsky RX did you test?
Frsky D8R-II Plus 2.4ghz (ACCST Telemetry)

> Was there a drop in signal quality?
No

Comment by Hamish on May 30, 2015 at 2:53am

I'm really pleased you are extracting the QX1's potential. If it can be interfaced nicely with a drone then this cam could become simply the best drone cam available, because it's minimal, cheap(ish) and high quality.

I don't like using wifi on board the drone though, it's senseless! Has anyone tried contacting Sony, asking about the future of this cam type?

Comment by Simon Wood on June 9, 2015 at 5:02pm

Although this article is about the QX1, it's worth noting that there are several cameras which support the same Remote API including the action cam family.

https://developer.sony.com/develop/cameras/

As far as I know there is no way to hard wire to these cameras, but there are firmware tools for reverse engineering the firmware so maybe one will be found. The run Linux internally...

There's also another github project which supports the full range of 'commands' to these cameras, so you can do all sorts of interesting things.

https://github.com/Bloodevil/sony_camera_api

Simon.

Comment by Balint Vanek on June 15, 2015 at 1:55am

Hi Guys,

I am also considering switching from S110 to QX1, and using the MONO, with a 3DR AERO. I am curious what camera settings I could use. I assume even after integrating the camera into the plane I could change the settings via wifi while on the ground and the settings should be sufficient even without the CHDK script previously on the Canon.

Thanks,

Balint

Comment by Justin on August 26, 2015 at 5:30pm

Is there any development on this.  I would like to use a sony camera on a copter and be able to control the zoom and camera and have fpv

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