30/52: DIY servo-powered pan/tilt camera mount

This project is one that has been in my “to do” list for well over a year: a servo-powered pan/tilt camera mount!

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

My intention in making this is to have something that I can use for several purposes. First, it seems like it would work great on my DIY Camera Crane (although I haven’t tried it yet, just having finished the pan/tilt mount today). In addition, I love the idea of being able to put a camera on this and having it either randomly or programatically panning and tilting while I’m doing something else (like playing music).

I was definitely inspired by this build, featured in Make Magazine, Volume 19, entitled “MIDI Camera Control”:

http://www.make-digital.com/make/vol19/?folio=129#pg131

I liked the pre-made brackets they mentioned, but figured I’d try my hand at fabricating my own first, partly to save money and partly because it seemed pretty straightforward.

To start out, I decided to build a quick prototype out of Lego, powered by a Lego Mindstorms NXT motor & brick. Because Lego is so easy to work with, I was able to make a quick prototype in an evening:

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

Once I had that done, it was time to start the real build. I had a couple of servos already, as well as an Arduino board, and my plan was to use the Arduino to control & power the servos. Servos (formally “servomotors”) are small electric motors whose position can be controlled, so they’re perfect for this project.

I wasn’t sure what to build the bracket itself out of, but I quickly settled on using Erector, as it bridged the gap nicely between “fast to build with” and “durable enough to support a camera”. The physical build came together pretty smoothly. Here are some photos from that process:

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

You can see the full set of photos on Flickr.

After I’d assembled the bracket and servos, I connected them to the Arduino and started trying to figure out the code to drive them. I’m embarrassed to say that I wasted a day trying to drive the servos from the Arduino’s analog in pins (doh!) instead of the digital output pins. After a few hours down the drain, I gave up and started afresh the next day, and quickly found this helpful video from Make Magazine, which described using servos with the Arduino:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKj9jJgj8Pc

I got the servos hooked up, and did some quick coding in the Arduino environment, along with building the necessary circuit to hook the servos up to the Arduino itself.

30/52: DIY pan/tilt bracket

Before too long (and after much consulting of the arduino.cc website, especially this SingleServoExample page), I had the Arduino controlling the servos and moving the camera around!

DIY servo-powered pan/tilt camera mount from chromedecay on Vimeo.

Unfortunately, I had chosen to use continuous servos at first. A continuous servo can spin infinitely in either direction, whereas a standard servo has a limited range. The difference in programming these is that you can tell a standard servo to move from 0 degrees to 180 degrees, where with a continuous servo, you only have control over the speed and direction the motor is turning.

I quickly realized I needed to swap my continuous servos for standard ones, which I luckily had a pair of as well. Once that was done, it became much easier to tell the pan/tilt mount to point in a particular direction.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any video available yet from the updated bracket, as I’ve just finished it. I’ll get some together and update this post once I do. However, I’m quite excited by the progress I made on this project!

My next steps are to get some good controls built and in place for the pan/tilt bracket – either physical controls (like knobs) or computer-based controls, likely built in Processing. That way, I can either manually control it or automate it to pan and tilt while I’m doing other things. Also, the Erector is a bit wobbly, and it would be great to replace it with a bracket made from flat aluminum stock, or something similar. MicroRax might be perfect, but it’s expensive.

Posted July 23, 2010 by Bill Van Loo in 52things, gear, photos