Another mod being performed by creative owners is the installation of additional cameras. A worthy endeavor, being able to take video or pictures from a different angle with HiDef equipment. Ever since I’ve had my drone, I have hung different types of cameras from it.
On top, underneath and hanging by strings, Oregon Scientific SportsCam, A wireless 2.2GHz video cam powered by a 9vdc battery and finally a GoPro Hero 960.
The reason I chose the Hero is that for the weight factor, onboard battery and removable storage media and of course, its small size. Weighing in at 96gr, without the polycarb housing, it is the logical choice for High Def pics and video and its versatility between the two modes.
Attaching the Hero to the drone posed a few technical challenges. Using the attaching hardware meant you have to use the housing. Housing and mounting hardware add a fair amount of weight, the weight that degrades the drone’s performance substantially. After much tinkering and late night sweating I found the most logical configuration.
This mod will reduce drone weight, reconfigure the electronics package and void the warranty.
Remember, use the blunt knife and alcohol technique to surgically separate the drone components.
First, tear down the drone and remove the protective plastic protection plate from the top of the bottom hull, then remove the forward camera/ribbon cable using the separation technique, no need to separate the motor assemblies from the cross piece nor the battery cage from the lower hull. Make a template of the Hero
footprint using stiff cardstock and attach this template to drone lower hull. Carefully cut the nose from the hull. What I used a hot-wire saw to complete this cut, but a steady hand and a sharp butter knife may do the job.
Using the saw again, I cut a pocket as close to the tail as possible. Large enough to re-mount the cam and close enough to not include the upper tailpiece in the video feedback. I then carved a recess to lay the ribbon cable into, deep enough to allow the magnet to rest. (the mag keeps the clamshell closed and locked).
I used two-sided sticky tape to remount everything. Snake the ribbon under the battery cage then replace the thin plastic protective cover using sticky tape if neck. The ribbon will reach the board and twist at the connector. DO NOT CREASE THE TWIST! It will cooperate at assembly time.
Re-assemble your drone. When it comes to plugging in the ribbon cable, you’ll need to twist the cable before insertion, this brings the cable around the sharp edge of the mainboard. Once inserted, slide a 1/4 inch wide by a 1-inch long piece of cardstock between the cable and the board. This is important! It will keep the ribbon from being
damaged by the vibration of the drone. On top of the lower hull, cut back the protective plastic cover to the front of the Hero. This will enable you to place Velcro, or whatever you use, to help secure the camera to the drone. Remember to cut a corner of the plastic so you can access the shutter button.
The upper hull will require trimming as well. Remove the skin from the hull and again, using the hot wire saw (or equivalent) trim the nose using a curved cut.
NOTE: the yellow stuff is reflective tape I used to strengthen the nose, a weak point on the drone.
At this point, the drone will be nose heavy. It can still fly, but control is diminished. This imbalance will be compensated by the internal Gyro logic, and more power will be applied to the forward props thus drawing more juice from the battery. To balance the drone with the Hero attached means MORE weight will be needed. On the drone, the face of the Hero from the center of gravity is 4″. A 43-gram weight would be necessary at the tail of the drone 4″ from the center. This weight drastically limits any functionality or controllability of the drone at this point.
The further away from the center of gravity, the counterweight is placed, the less weight is needed. The addition of a tailpiece to attach this counterweight would be appropriate.
At fifteen inches from center, only a 14 gr weight would be needed to accomplish balance. I used thick (1/8″) plumbers solder and a bamboo skewer stick. Weighing a piece of solder (14gr) and wrapping it around the sticks blunt end, I then painted the whole thing black and inserted it an inch and a half or so into the lower hull below the repositioned camera. When completed you’ll have a drone with a skinny tail.
And this is what it should look like when you are done. NO outer skin, which weighs more than the hull and unnecessary. I do not trust Velcro. I strung a rubber band from one spar, across the face of the Hero to the other spar, I call it the “seatbelt.”
With the camera installed in this fashion, it won’t get damaged during a cush landing being protected by the forward spars. The cam is close to the center of gravity, and all the extraneous weight that was removed helps compensate for the added weight of the Hero. The storage card can still be accessed with the Hero attached and the camera can be removed for other uses.
These Hero cameras were used on the FENIX 1 (their spelling), the capsule that rescued the Chilean miners from the collapsed mine and is also used on most of the reality shows and documentaries in the film industry and the like. Because of its versatility (explosion proof and waterproof to 150+ feet), I chose to use it on my drone.
This camera and all its accessories can be purchased at Amazon.com. I personally prefer Amazon because of its return policies and quick deliveries! The Hero 960 costs around US$179.00 and the Hero 1080 is around US$250.00. All Hero cameras produce excellent HiDef quality audio, video and still pictures.