Sep 14 2011

Helmet Camera: Lessons Learnt

tim

One of the hopes I’d had for The Trip was to capture a good deal of helmet camera footage along the way. That plan was thwarted to a great extent by a broken collar bone, and by spending a fair chunk of the trip travelling in a 4WD. Apart from the Flinders Ranges and the Oodnadatta Track, the parts of the trip I did get to ride and capture were almost all on bitumen, and usually in a straight line.

Now that I’m editing the footage from the trip, I think I can offer some sage advice on the use of a helmet or vehicle-mounted camera:

  • I still don’t care for actual helmet camera footage. On tight and technical tracks, with trees and rocks and other bikes close at hand, it can make for some exciting clips. But after a couple of minutes, it leaves me wanting for another point of view, and vomit bag.
  • Vehicle mounting can work, as long as the mount is secure, and the camera is light. A lot of my footage was captured on a long arm made of RAM mount components. The weight of the components and the length of the arm resulted in a lot of amplified vibration, even though I used a light weight camera head and a wide-angle lens. Use a short arm, and keep it vertical so it can’t bounce under its own weight.
  • Handlebar mounting has its limitations. At speed it works OK, but on slow rides, where you move the front wheel for balance, it can make for some nauseating footage.
  • Velcro is not your friend. It adds a squishy layer between the two surfaces that it is trying to keep together, and on a vehicle mounted camera that translates to more vibration. 3M Dual-Lock tape is best if you absolutely have to use something like that, but ultimately a solid mounting system, backed up by some cable ties, is going to serve you better. Live with whatever inconvenience that causes.
  • Every time you stop, move the camera. When you’re trying to edit an hour of bitumen boredom down to a minute long montage, it helps if you have something to cut to other then from-the-handlebars-over-the-left-shoulder. You can fake a multiple camera rig if you keep moving the camera and the landscape doesn’t change too much. Short of the lengthening of shadows, no one is going to know that your B-roll footage was shot an hour later.
  • Use a mount that is quick to move (for the reason above). I’m starting to lean away from the oh-so-versatile RAM system in favour of a Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp, or one of the myriad Chinese knock-offs available. They clamp quick and tight to just about anything, and the the camera can be repositioned and locked off with the twist of just one knob.
  • If the weather is good, a handful of $11 MD80 spy cameras from eBay will capture all manner of footage from all sorts of angles. You’ll only get an hour or two of charge, but for that hour or two you’ll get total coverage of you, the bike and the surroundings. And they’re so small and light, Dual-Lock tape is more than adequate to hold them in place. (I’ve bought a couple, and I’ll write about them some more soon.)
  • Test everything before a trip. I had high plans for in-helmet commentary, and the ability to speak to my travelling companions while on the move. The closest I got to either was to leave the UHF radio in my top pocket with the volume all the way up. In the end, I did not get one second of useful audio from my helmet camera.

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Aug 24 2011

BIG tank

tim

Safari Tanks make great aftermarket long-range tanks for dirt bikes. In many cases the increase in capacity is enough to make a dirt bike into a serious dual-sport tourer. Their products aren’t cheap, but they have a great reputation. It seems they’ve been working on a tank for the KLR:

KLR650 Safari Tank

The 32 litre KLR650 Safari Tank

It looks as though the tank takes up the same space as the original tank plus the fairing. If the production model comes in decent colours, it will certainly get some market traction – even more so in the US where the KLR has a loyal following.

Compared with some of their other products, that easily double or triple the stock fuel capacity, this one doesn’t seem all that compelling. Not that the size or quality isn’t great, just that the stock tank is so big on the KLR.

It does make me wonder what the dry weight of the Safari tank is compared to the OEM tank and fairing combination of the KLR. I’d also be curious to know how the balance of the bike is changed with the fuel load lower down.

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Aug 16 2011

Now I want a hexacopter

tim

While looking at videos of that camera gyro thingy in action, I stumbled upon a couple of videos where a multi-axis gyro had been used to mount a camera to a radio controlled helicopter. Better still, I found a thing called a “hexacopter” – a 6-propellor helicopter and looks absolutely amazing. And fast.

Check this one out, carrying a 4kg weight:

But the footage you can get with a gyro-stabilised camera is just stunning:

Want one…

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Aug 14 2011

Electrical Noise Part 2

tim

Today I pulled apart the bike and checked the wiring for the accessory power outlet that I’d added two years ago. Contrary to my previous doubts, I found that the positive cable originated at the main fuse, and the negative (ground) terminated on the frame under the seat. Both these locations are about a close to the battery as you can get.

I also checked the configuration of the relay, and confirmed that was OK.

Just to be sure, I rigged up another cable, directly to the battery, and started running some tests.

  • AutoCom and VIO POV both connected to bike power, with the engine running: Lots of noise on the VIO POV recording, but none in my helmet.
  • AutoCom and VIO POV connected to bike power, but through a 20A noise supressor: Lots of noise on the recording, but with some of the lower frequencies gone.
  • AutoCom connected to bike power, and VIO POV running on AA batteries: a faint, high pitched noise on the recording, but otherwise clear audio.
  • The VIO POV connected to bike power and not connected to anything else (ie using its own microphone): lots of noise, as before.
This is enough to convince me that the bike power is fine the way it is, and the VIO POV will be running on AA batteries from now on.
I also tested the Push To Talk switch, and found that the 3.5mm plug and socket that I’d added to make the PTT switch removable is pretty flaky. I’ll be looking around for an alternative connector for that.
Pulling the bike apart gave me an opportunity to clean parts of it that normally get missed. There’s still a lot of red dust in hard to reach places, so I dismantled a few things to clean that off.

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Aug 20 2009

Round-up

tim

It’s been ages since I’ve posted an update! The trip is only two and a half weeks away, and while there is plenty still to be done, there’s plenty more that is falling into place.

Tank Bag Insert
I’ve been working on a foam insert for the tank bag, to keep everything in there in its place. At this point it has to house (securely):

  • UHF Handheld CB Radio (and cradle… not ideal)
  • VIO-POV helmet camera recorder unit
  • AutoCom comms integrator
  • Canon HV-20 HDV Camera
  • Battery charger for the above video camera
  • iPod nano
  • Mobile phone
  • 2 x 3-way cigarette lighter sockets
  • Power adapters for the radio, the helmet camera, the battery charger, the mobile phone, the iPod and the AutoCom
  • A pair of gloves

The VIO-POV and the UHF radio barely fit upright in the deepest part of the bag, and the mass of cables and adapters is pretty frightening. Mk I turned out to be to bulky, and trying to shape the layers of foam to compensate for the angled floor of the bag became tricky. Mk II has worked out much better. The foam is angled with the floor of the bag, and the whole insert stops a few inches from the front (handle-bar end) of the bag, leaving space for the jumbled cables and adapters. I think it will work!

Testing… one… two…
Had an interesting weekend of testing recently.

First of all, I’ve worked out that I’ve hooked up the SAE connector to the bike with reverse polarity. It doesn’t matter too much, since the cigarette lighter sockets I’ve rigged up are also wired in reverse to compensate. So, unless I want to hook something directly to an SAE connector, I should be OK… except that in its current state the SAE connector can short against the frame of the bike, which is not so good.

I’m reluctant, but I think I’ll need to fix that.

Ran some tests with the AutoCom the iPod and the VIO-POV, all running off the bike. The first issue was the electrical noise from the bike. I’ll have to add a noise filter to the power supply, which suddenly makes fixing the crossed polarity less of an issue, since I’ll be pulling things apart anyway. The noise wasn’t so bad with just the iPod, but when I spoke and the VOX system kicked in, it was much worse. I’ve sourced a filter… so that will have to be added.

The next thing I found was that the throat mic was freaking out the AutoCom somehow. I’d experienced this already in tests at home, but it’s worse than I thought. I’m not sure yet if it’s just the adapter I’ve made, or if the gain on the mic is a little high, but either way, it creates an awful hiss in the headphones which masks just about everything else.

I’ve got the VIO-POV recorder connected to one of the AUX ports on the AutoCom. It doesn’t pick up the sound from the iPod (and I don’t know yet if it picks up other parties in CB an phone conversations), but it picks up anything from my own mic, or that of a pillion passenger. What I can’t tell (with the electrical noise and the hiss) is whether it records all the time, or just when the VOX control kicks in. The clips I made have engine/power noise right through, and I can’t hear the mic kick in and out the way I do in my earphones… so that will need further testing when the power noise issue is sorted.

The VOX sensitivity will need to be adjusted, too (if that’s possible). At the moment I need to talk fairly loudly to get it to kick in. It’s not too bad, but if I trail off at the end of a sentence, the gate closes and the last few words are lost. Again, it might be related to the position of the throat mic, and a range of other things.

New Gear
I’ve got a bit of gear on order (some of it on back-order, which could get tricky), and have purchased some other items:

  • Dianese Knee Pads – they’re slim enough to sit inside the top of my dirt-bike boots, and they have articulated knees
  • Pivot Pegz – these things better be the best you can buy, cause they’re flipping expensive. Pretty though. Will fit them in the next few days.
  • Fox padded bike shorts – these have a padded seat like normal bike shorts, but have added protection for the hips and coccyx. My girlfriend the paramedic tells me that nursing home patients wear them to protect their hips if they fall… though without the “Fox” branding, I suspect.
  • RAM Mounts – a handful of balls and clamps so that I can mount my helmet camera just about anywhere. They’re ordered… should be here any day
  • AutoComm cables – an adapter for the UHF radio, plus a PTT switch for Marco. The switch is on back-order, but should be here by the end of the week.

More news to come… I’m going to bed.

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Jul 9 2009

Adapting the Autocom

tim

I’ve done a bit of work with the AutoCom Active PLUS, to make it work with my setup. I’ve added a cigarette lighter plug to the 12v power lead so that I can run it from one of the outlets in the tank bag. I’ve also cut the push-to-talk lead where it goes to the PTT button, and added in a 3.5mm jack, so that I can have the adapter in the tank bag, but leave the PTT button on the handlebars, and disconnect and reconnect things fairly quickly.

Last weekend’s job was to make my Earmolds and thoat mic work with the Autocom. The supplied setup puts speakers and a mic inside the helmet. Since I’m determined to use the Earmolds, that would leave me with a mic in the helmet and speakers (or earphones) on my body, meaning I’d have to unplug something every time I removed my helmet.

I’ve had a throat mic for years, which I bought for another trip, but never really used. The lead is designed to accommodate mono speakers or earphones (which I don’t want to use) so I’ve wired up only the mic pins of the lead. If you’re interested, the throat mic is a Noise Terminator GP, which has since been superseded. I suspect that most mics of this sort are from a common source, and rebranded… but I can’t prove that.

The Autocom kit came with a couple of extension leads for the rider and pillion, so I’ve modified one of these to make the adapter. After confirming that the pin-outs listed here are correct, I’ve wired a 3.5mm stereo jack and a 2.5mm mono jack to one end the lead, and heat-shrunk everything.

The result seems to be OK so far… not that I’ve been on the bike with it yet. But with everything connected I can hear music and hear myself quite well. I also connected the VIO-POV camera to the whole setup, and the Autocom channels my voice (all the time, without music, to the exclusion of the inbuilt mic) to the camera footage, which is perfect!

All I’m missing now is a UHF radio and the adapter to connect it to the AutoCom. Fellow traveller Marco recently bought a GME TX680 for his, though I don’t think he’s tested it as part of the rig yet.

Apart from that, I just need to organise the contents of the bag so all of the wires are out of the way, and the items I need to access are within easy reach. If, after all that, I can fit a video camera and a pair of gloves in there, I’ll be pretty happy!

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Jun 21 2009

VIO POV 1.5

tim

I’ve previously posted about the VIO POV helmet camera system. Since then, the new POV 1.5 camera has been released. It sports a wider-angle lense, and a new camera assembly that has the lead permanently attached. VIO has also released a POV 1.5 MOTO kit, suited to motosport applications. It includes a vehicle wiring harness and replacement cover for the battery compartment which has power input and a tripod mount for the recorder.

A friend was able to pick one of these up for me on a recent trip to New York, which saved me a few hundred dollars off the local price.

The updated kit is very good, with new accessories and mounting options. It comes with an innovative helmet mount which can be affixed by Velcro, double-sided tape, or magnets. The magnet option works with a second plate which you can place on the inside of a hat, to allow the camera to attach.

Probably the only disappointing change is the lack of a tripod mount for the camera itself. One of the clamps in the old kit included a tripod thread… the new one doesn’t. Also the nature of the new clamp is such that changing the camera from one mounting option to another is a bit fiddly. At this point I plan to work out a RAM Mount solution for the camera head which will stay in place, and use RAM’s own mounts from there to quickly move the camera around.

I’ve take a few test runs, with the camera on the roof of the car, and with it attached to various points on the bike. I’m really happy with the results – except for the point where the card died with 2 hours of footage on it. I’ve replaced the card… and so far so good, but no real footage to show just yet. What I can say is that the crash bars probably vibrate a little too much to attach the camera to, but that the handlebars work a treat. The wide-angle lense means I can point the camera back at myself while riding and get me and the background in the shot.

The wireless remote is great. I was able to tag shots easily while riding. I’m not sure yet where I’ll mount the remote, but at the moment it’s been Velcro’d to the top of the tank bag, and that seems to be working OK.

I’ve also been playing with the tagging system, with it set to a 5 minute loop interval. It appears that the camera doesn’t start a new loop when you press the tag button, but starts a new loop every 5 minutes regardless. If you press the tag button 1 minute into a loop (for instance) it will retain the current loop and the one before it, so as to retain the last 5 minutes (or more) of footage. It’s not as accurate as “save the last 5 minutes please”, but it does ensure the footage you want is retained, and that’s what matters. Any loop that doesn’t have a tag within it, or within the loop immediately after, is disacarded automatically.

I’ll post some footage as soon as I have some.

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Apr 28 2009

Work Weekend

tim

Managed to get some great work done on the bike over the weekend. A few weeks ago I ordered the Wolfman Large Expedition tank bag (in black), ProiTaper ATV Hi handlebars and a bunch of cables and connectors. They finally came, so I worked out what smaller bits I would need, bought those, and got to work.

Naked, but for a fancy pair of handlebars

Pro-Taper SE ATV Hi Bars
I took a couple of phone-photos of the OEM bars in their current position in case I needed to compare them later, but in the end it was the front fairing and the dashboard that decided the angle of the bars. I’ve been holding off on buying a riser kit, but I think I’ll get one now. The new bars are almost the same bend as the stockers, which means they’re just a little too low when I’m standing up.

SAE Power Connector

Fuse

Amongst the gear that I’d ordered (and waited some time for) from BlueRim were a couple of fused SAE wiring harnesses. I decided to go for these instead of a dashboard or handlebar-mounted Powerlet socket, since a mounted socket would require a connecting lead, which is both more expense and something else to go wrong down the track.

Wiring

The cable I’d purchased was long enough to reach from the battery to the tank bag, but I ended up deviating from my original plan and adding in a relay, so that the tank bag would turn on and off with the ignition switch. By the time I’d run the cable from the battery to the dashboard (where I’d mounted the relay and sourced the switched power) to the tank bag, it was all too short. Since I had to cut the cable to add the relay anyway, I spliced in some extra cable, and it worked out pretty well.

Relay

I sourced the main power from the main fuse under the seat, just near the generator. This is the same as taking power straight from the + terminal on the battery, but the location is better. The switched power from the relay came off one of the dashboard backlights (which, it turned out, had a blown bulb).

Connector

I routed the connector itself up through the handlebars and used the tether on the end-cap to keep it in place. It seems to work pretty well there, and the cable is stiff enough that it isn’t going to move.

Powering the Tank Bag
Another item I sourced from BlueRim was a waterproof power connector for the tank bag. The external socket is made from hard

SAE Socket

rubber, and there’s a metal plate inside the bag that clamps the whole thing in place. On the inside I added a double adapter, so I now have 2 SAE connectors inside the bag. All-up, it came out looking pretty sweet.

Gadgets
I removed the cigarette lighter plug from the end of a 3-way lighter-socket powerboard, and replaced it with an SAE connector, and hooked that up to the inside plug on the bag. I also fitted a cigarette lighter plug on the AutoCom, and connected that to the power outlet, along with my Belkin iPod car charger. I connected the iPod and my mobile phone to the AutoCom, conntected the whole thing to the bike, and tested it. Apart from the mic not registering on the phone, the whole thing worked quite nicely. The AutoCom fades the music when you speak, and it really does cancel out background noise and wind (well, all I did was blow in the microphone, but it seems to work).

More to follow on the push-to-talk switch and other tank-bag gadgets… but it’s coming together.

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Apr 3 2009

Autocom has arrived

tim

My new Autcom Active-PLUS arrived the other day. The unit looks much the same as the photos, though I was surprised to see that the connections for rider, pillion and UHF radio are all full-sized DIN plugs. I’d guessed that they’d be mini-DIN plugs – much like a mouse or keyboard plug – since that’s what I’d had on my old Aldi helmet radio system.

Not that it matters. I might just need to rethink how the cables come out of the tank bag, since I don’t think the access ports I was looking at would be large enough.

The leads from the main unit are reasonably long (though the pillion lead is shorter than the rider’s, so I guess they’re expecting it to be mounted at the back of the bike) so I won’t need both the supplied extension leads. I’ll sacrifice one of these and get it turned into an adapter for my throat mic and earmolds. I’ve managed to find an image of the pin-outs for the rider/pillion leads, and for the UHF lead.

So, here’s what I’m thinking regarding the tank bag and GPS:

Heavy Duty SAE Power Lead
This will run from the battery to the front of the bike. I was originally planning to terminate the power supply at a nice Powerlet socket with a lit, but looking at the cost, the effort of drilling the dash area etc, I’ve decided that an SAE connector with a rubber cap, clipped up under the fairing, will do the job. I can also tailor the length of lead I have available so it exactly reaches the bag. It can be clipped out of the way when not in use.

PowerMate Bulkhead Kit
This is an access port through the material of the tank bag. It’s basically an SAE connector on both sides, with a plastic sandwich plate to hold it all in place. I’ll add a second one of these for the PTT switch, which I’ll get to in a moment.

SAE Splitter
Inside the bag, I want to power 2 banks of cigarette lighter sockets. At this point I have 6 devices inside the bag that need to be powered, so 2 banks of 3 or 4 sockets will do the trick. Anyway, each of these will connect back to the power supply via an SAE plug.

Handlebar Push To Talk (PTT) Switch
As reluctant as I am to spend money on what is essentially a push-button, I think in the end I’ll have to. I’ll chop the switch lead from the rest of the harness and add in some SAE connectors, so that I can remove the tank bag and leave the PTT switch behind. I’ll need to decide whether I buy a separate adapter cable for the UHF radio I choose, or just remove the plug from the end of the harness and put the right connectors on the end. Since it’s all in the tank bag, it won’t need to be waterproof, or particularly long.

The rider and pillion leads will just go out the top of the bag, I think… the plugs are too large to use access ports.

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Mar 29 2009

Autocom, Bash Plate… coming

tim

Wow… it’s a bit sad when my twitter feed is generating more blog posts than I am. Need to remedy that.

Last week I ordered an Autocom Active PLUS from a reseller on eBay. It pays to shop around for these, since the one I bought got undercut by another reseller a few ours before I purchased, and I missed it. Also, by the looks of Autocom’s UK site, they’re replacing their entire model range, so there’s a good chance that all the existing models will start to drop in price in the next few months.

Anyway, I’ll soon be kitted up for iPod, phone, UHF radio and GPS chatter in my ears. I’ll need to get a an adapter made up for my Earmolds and my Noise Terminator throat mic, but that shouldn’t be too hard. In the meantime, the kit comes with two complete helmet setups, so I can at least test it with one of those.

At this point I’m still leaning toward a tank bag as the means of housing the Autocomm and all the associated gadgets. The Wolfman Expedition is probably winning – I’ll wedge all the power adapters etc in the bottom corner of it, and put a false floor over that. I’ll need to feed lines out for power, GPS and the PTT switch at the front, and for the mic/headphone jack at the back. Should be a nice setup when it’s done.

I’ve also ordered a bash plate from JNS Engineering in the states. I was able to share the postage with a couple of other guys… pretty happy about that.

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