Tuesday, July 24, 2012

DIY GoPro Extension Arms that don't suck

For some reason GoPro doesn’t make extender arms in a variety of lengths, nor do they make simple extension parts that do not change axial direction.  Consequently, you always need two separate arms, to create an extension on the same axis you started on, which, apart from looking a bit odd and unattractive with thumbturns pointing in all directions, is a fiddly pain in the butt.

If you want to extend 3 inches out, you need two 1 ½” arms, and to go a mere six-inches you’re going to need four, and a weathervane of thumbturns all over the place.

I have wanted to extend the camera’s reach several times, but I have NEVER, wanted to change the axis to the right or left.

GoPro, you reading this? 

But to make simple arms, in custom lengths is pretty easy.  You need some ½” aluminum flat bar stock, of a 1/8” thickness.  I bought ten-feet of the stuff for ten bucks.  You actually want 15mm X 3mm aluminum flat bar stock, but good luck finding it.  And I’m not even actually sure if its actually 3mm thick that you want, and not 2.5, but it is a metric dimension to be sure.

Not all of the local big-box hardware stores carried 1/8” X 1/2", in their metal tube and flat stock section.  One did, but it was sold out.  I found some in a "Metal Supermarket" chain store not to far away.  You might even find some at your local scrapper.

Cut two, or three pieces to your desired length, and round the edges into Popsicle stick shapes with a grinder, or a Dremel tool, and finish with sandpaper.

Now drill holes in either end.  If you don’t have access to a drill press, start small and move up your drill size until the m5 thumbturn bolt slides in easily. I clamped my pieces together while drilling so the holes lined up perfectly.
That would be it, if your stock was exactly the right thickness.  But since 1/8" was the closest thing I could easily source, I had to thin it a little.  I just took a metal file, and in a minute or two, I was able to thin down the last 5/8” on each end of the flats, (one side only) so it slides into the receivers on the camera's base, and whatever quick-release buckle one plans to use. 
Poster "Daewootech", on "GoPro User's Forum" made a more elaborate mount here, seen here, out of acrylic of the right thickness, but he told me the acrylic was a bit flimsy feeling.  You can use three arms, as he did, but two is fine with aluminum, and the standard thumbturns all fit. If you want three arms, no problem, you'll just have to source a slightly longer m5 bolt than GoPro gives you to reach the acorn nut.

These hex head bolts are only friction-fit into the thumbturns, by-the-way, and will come out with a light tap with something heavy.
I opted to use a pair of 1/2" nylon spacer/washer at the camera end, and it works fine, and the mount feels very stable overall.   I'll hunt down some bolts though, and show a comparative image.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

LCD monitor / NVG Helmet Mount interface

Shown below, is a copy of an old-school, US Army issue, NVG Rhino mount, used for attaching an NVG (night vision goggles) system to a helmet.  I purchased this mount from one of several eBay Airsoft sellers in Asia for about thirty dollars including shipping.
Airsoft NVG Rhino Mount with "Ops-Core" style attachment shroud
Ops-Core style VAS Shroud (Airsoft)  $19.98 incl. S&H
This slot will allow the viewer to move laterally left/right if needed.
Here is the setup attached to a FAST Base Jump helmet.


This one cost me $13.75 including shipping from seller - greatfoto, but there are multiple other sellers of this item on eBay.
Coming up next: Attaching GoPro with LCD Backpack to the Rhino Mount.
You can try multiple. alternate eBay searches for the same thing: NVG mount, PVS mount and Rhino mount.
The final element to the project, is an LCD viewfinder/shade hood which acts as a magnifier, as well as a shade hood for viewing the monitor in bright sunlight.  The eBay item was listed – “2.8X V3 magnifying lens LCD Viewfinder FOR Canon 600D/60D.”

These Airsoft devices are NOT designed to hold actual NVGs, which are both very heavy and very expensive, but these reproductions, are fairly solidly made out of metal parts and can easily and safely carry the minimal weight of my mini-monitor system.
The Airsoft Rhino Mount I bought included an aluminum VAS (Vision Augmentation) shroud which can be installed on a helmet if your helmet doesn’t come with an NVG attachment point already.  It comes with mounting hardware, and can be easily installed on some motorcycle and PPG helmets by simply drilling 3 holes.
VAS base shrouds are also available separately.  Apart from adding a kind of cool, technical look to a helmet, NVG base shrouds can also be set up to mount visors, flashlights, headlamps, and as this project shows, you can attach a monitor to frame your shots while in the air.
GoPro produces an NVG camera mount which is available for between 30 and 40 dollars, or you can make one yourself for around ten dollars using a NVG QD cover plate available from various Airsoft suppliers around the world.  See my post for a Do-it-Yourself NVG mount for a GoPro Camera.
My flight helmet is a non-ballistic, sport version of a military helmet made by Ops-Core, called a “FAST Base Jump Sport" helmet.  See my review of the Ops-Core helmet here.  It has an NVG mount integrated into the front of the shell, which can hold either a GoPro in an NVG Camera Mount or this project's monitor mount system.  Or actual night vision goggles, if you’re crazy enough to fly at night like this guy is doing.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71RCRguWJAU  (Youtube – "Paramotor flying with nightvision.3gp") All completely illegal, of course, probably pretty much everywhere, but pretty cool nonetheless.

Authentic Rhino mounts sell for upwards of a couple of hundred dollars brand new, but I have seen used mounts regularly sell on eBay for LESS than what I paid for my copy.  Trouble is, there are strict rules about the export of these items out of the USA, so unless you live in the US, you will probably have to be satisfied with the Airsoft version.  A real unit would be preferable in my opinion, however, if you happen to live in the US, and have the time to wait for a deal on eBay.  My copy is a little bit crooked, and the detachment button is a bit sticky. 

NVG Rhino mounts have a second part, called a J-Arm, that snaps into the front of the mount and holds the actual NVG monocular or binocular in place, but the J-Arm isn’t necessary to make this project, and good luck getting one of these parts if you live outside of the USA.  The Airsoft version of the J-arm is reputed to be junk.

Also, I don't think a J-arm will work for this project, as most people will probably want the monitor to be a few extra inches from their eyes in order to focus anyway, so the J-Arm isn’t actually needed.

Are we sitting comfortably?  Good, then lets begin.

You’ll need:
An NVG Rhino mount - or a copy, costing about $30.00 shipped.
An Equinox 2.5” monitor, (about $55 shipped via eBay) and appropriate connectors and cables.  You can also use the GoPro Backpack LCD monitor, and these aftermarket cables here: http://www.chargeconverter.com/store/sandisk?product_id=157 This cable is engineered to use the GoPro's HD backpack "bus" interface, and allow you to view the LCD Backpack separated from the camera, but the Equinox provides a larger view area, is only about half the price, and also features internal power.  The GoPro LCD back pack is a power pig, and will significantly cut into your GoPro battery power.

You’ll also need:
-A strip of aluminum, steel, or steel scrap, about 3” long, and between 1 3/8” and 1 1/2" wide. 
-Some zip ties, and,
-a drill, and maybe a Dremel tool with a cut-off wheel.  And a small Torx screwdriver.

The object is to create a new J-arm for the mount that will be a little further forward than the one designed for actual night vision devices.  It will also be flat, perpendicular to the horizon, unlike an NVG arm which is curved downward.
You'll need a piece of aluminum scrap about  1.5" X 3" and at least 1/16" thick.  Cut a basic J shap, and drill four holes for the zip ties.  You will also need to make a slot for the 1/4" tripod screw so you can attach the shade hood.  I drilled two holes and Dremeled out the space between them, so I can later adjust the mount when worn on a helmet.  The completed mount can now slide a little left to right as needed.

Drill a hole (2-holes actually) for the 1/4 inch tripod screw you will be attaching.  Dremel the holes to make a slot, so you can ultimately get some sideways adjustment for your viewer.
Using a small Torx screwdriver, remove the plastic block behind the J-Arm receiver on the mount.
Zip tie the monitor to the J-arm receiver.  I spray painted mine with black laquer paint firs
The J-Arm receiver will slide forward and backwards and lock into eight different positions.  When not being used, the monitor can be slid into the rearmost position, and then slid forward when you’re in the air, and want to frame up your shots.  (The arm is currently in its forward-most position in the pictures above.)

Attaching the monitor itself to the Viewfinder, shade hood was a challenge, and here is my solution.  

You'll need two very small zip ties, (100mm) attach two holes drilled at the corners of the strap attachments on the monitor, and two corresponding holes in the metal of the attachment frame.

It wont work so well on the thinner bottom edge, and you need that edge clean and flat so the magnets on the shade hood will keep the hood solidly attached.  So I sewed a strip of 3" X 1 1/4" nylon fabric to the bottom, and two strips of hook and loop Velcro.  

A little epoxy cement under the fabric keeps it from moving after it is sewn on. This thin fabric that loops over the bottom section of the mount, in the picture below, does not interfere with attaching the magnetic shade hood.  

And the Velcro allows the monitor can be opened up from the back for battery change-out, if you are using the spare batteries that are cheaply available.  However, you can charge the monitor battery without opening the thing up if you prefer, so this last sewing stage can be a glue job instead of hand sewing, or machine sewing the strap and Velcro.
Here it is with the monitor flipped up and out of the way.
And finally, shown utilizing the magnetic shade hood.  Apart from making a superb sun hood, allowing the screen to be seen in the brightest glare conditions, the 2.8 power magnification eyepiece makes it ideal for people who need reading glasses to see stuff.

You don't need to use the magnifying shade hood, but I like to, and not just because the magnifier helps me see fine detail.

A word on the eyepiece:  The magnets may want to pull away from their plastic slots on the hood.  So I used a drop of epoxy under each of the four magnets to keep them from ever coming out and getting lost.  But once you get them permanently glued, the shade hood clips on pretty snugly, with corner protrusions that center the device, and it sort of "clicks" into place.

When flying, I keep the hood on a lanyard around my neck so I don't lose it.  I wouldn't rely on the magnets alone to keep it attached, as the magnetic attachment alone would never survive the knocks of a typical flight. For the most part, the LCD viewer is visible in daylight conditions, and the hood need only be swung up and clipped on occasionally.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tripod Quick-Release Plate and GoPro Interface

GoPro makes a tripod mount that utilizes a standard ¼ - 20 receiver bolt which will thread into most tripod screws.
They're inexpensive, and just the thing if you want to hook up to a mini-tripod like a Gorillapod.

But any tripod worthy of the name has a quick-release plate that clips into the tripod head by a quick-release lever, and it is a time-consuming pain-in-the-butt, to attach your GoPro to these mounts.  First, you must screw the thing on and off, which takes time, and since your camera is probably attached to one of the GoPro’s other mounts, you have to unscrew the thumb-turn and switch the camera over to the tripod connector as well.  Furthermore, your tripod plate is probably attached to a different, larger camera to start with, so in all probability there was an additional unscrewing step involved as well. 
Instead of all this, why not integrate your tripod's ingenious quick-release concept, with GoPro's unique quick-release format, into one handy DIY project?  It's an easy one.  You can watch a video demo here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzK9-Hyo338

Somewhere in the house you probably have an old VHS tape container, even if you don’t have an actual player anymore.

This VHS plastic cuts easily with a razor knife, and a ruler.  Cut some strips to match the footprint of your tripod’s quick release plate.  Unfortunately, all these plates are different and aren’t interchangeable.  I made two, one for my Sony branded travel tripod, and another for my Rokinon/Fidelity monopod.
You want to make a little step pyramid of plastic squares.  Cement them together with strong contact cement.  I like BARGE general-purpose cement, which is popular with shoemakers.
Build your little pile just a little bit larger than the plate that you are duplicating, and then use sandpaper, a grinder or a file to smooth the sides, while you test fit it intto your specific tripod.
Now, cement a standard GoPro flat mount to your plate, and add a countersunk screw for added solidity and security.The picture above, has an early version with Velcro sewn to a plastic square base.  This would be useful for someone who has a variety of Velcro based camera platforms.  I drilled through the top of the mount right out the bottom and counter-sunk a screw to hold it securely together.  Then I trimmed off the excess from the bottom and applied the 3M Velcro.

Because I use my monopod a lot in the air, I made a plate specifically for it, so I can quickly switch between the GoPro and my Vixia.
If you want, drill out a hole into the bottom, large enough to fit a 1/4" - 20 steel nut, and fill in the gaps with J-B Weld, or 60-minute epoxy. Now your mount can adapt to a mini-tripod as well.
But better yet, just build a simplified, dedicated mount, specifically for your Gorillapod or mini-tripod, skipping the angles, maybe just a simple square, or an oval, and using yet another flat mount that can actually incorporate GoPro's quick-release capability.

Put the "Quick" back into quick-release.  GoPro has made a very clever, quick-release format, and the easier it is to snap over from one mounting platform to another, the more likely you will be to actually USE them all.       

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Adding Music Speakers to NAC headphones.

Like a lot of other PPG pilots, I fly with NAC intercom/communication speakers on my helmet for in air comms with ground partners, or other pilots.  I've come up with a simple modification to allow me to listen to tunes while flying, without compromising my comms ability.

Many pilots just shove a pair of  noise-cancelling earbuds into their heads before donning these ear-muff style headsets and swear that not only is the sound excellent, but that the additional noise dampening effect of the earbuds is a value added bonus.   I did try the buds, but just didn't find them comfortable with my helmet as I could feel pressure on the earbuds from the headset pressing against them.  And it means extra, loose wires to contend with, that have to go under the earmuff pads, which is less than ideal.

Also, while the earbuds worked okay most of the time, once in a while, one or both buds would shift slightly in my ears, or even fall out, which was getting a little annoying, and not much to do about it once I was off the ground.

My NAC headphones are designated Peltor H520P3 but this mod will probably work on any Peltor headset including simple noise-attenuation, or "ear-defender" style earmuffs.  This modification is very simple, and only requires a drill or a Dremel tool to accomplish.  Or even a small file, since you are only working with plastic.  When completed, the wiring is neat and squared away, and only requires 'on and off' for your music system to work.

You’ll need a set of helmet speakers of the type used for speaker-ing the inside of motorcycle and ski helmets. I picked up this set of knockoffs from an eBay seller "exrell" in China, for $4.39 including shipping. The listing was for "Motorbike Motorcycle Helmet Stereo Speakers Volume Control for MP3/4 Radio iPod."
Or try something like these IMC HS-200's which are sold in bike stores and online for 40 bucks.  

If you use the inexpensive eBay guys, start by tossing the foam covers, and their Velcro backing.  You won’t need them. Or the included 3.5mm male to female extension cable either in all likelihood.

Then pop off the cushioned rubber earpieces on your Peltor headset.  They are designed to open up for battery changes, and they just snap in and out.  However, you may find a sharp tool may help them come off if you’re having any difficulty.  

Then drop in the flat mini-speakers.  Notice that the hard while plastic ovals on the back of the earpieces, have a tiny hole cut drilled in them in the lower-half where the internal NAC speakers sit to let the sound out. 
I used a Dremel with a burr attachment to cut another hole over the new speaker for the same purpose.  The large, sloppy looking hole on the top right is mine, to mate up with the new drop-in speaker beside it.  A drill would have made a cleaner job, but you can't see it when assembled so I took minimal care.  The gray, acoustically permeable material that is glued to the edges of the other side of the white ovals will peel back with relative ease.  You can see the backside of this material through the drill holes.

Then I cut a notch into the plastic cups. I chose the top/rear of the headphones, so the speaker wire will be close to the wires for the comms.  Then I just snapped the headphones back in place.

The hole I drilled below, is actually quite a bit larger than it needs to be, as the speaker wire is pretty thin.  A simple slit cut with a hacksaw blade would probably have sufficed.
These little eBay speakers do have a left and right.  So before you install, plug them into your computer monitor speaker output, and play this youtube test program: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8ODm-F9-IM

That's it.  The sound from the el cheapo eBay speakers is okay, but not super loud.  About as loud as the earphones that Apple gives you with a new iPod.  You may wish to amp these up to overcome motor noise. 

I ordered a self-powered, mini-amplifier, the FIIO E6 for $23.00 (incl shipping) from Amazon to punch up the volume.  It's super-small, about the size of a book of matches, and although I lack instruments to definitively measure, I'd say that the volume in my speakers is almost doubled.  So much so, that at max volume the headset is uncomfortably loud, and I have to dial it down even when the motor is on.
A nice review here: http://anythingbutipod.com/2011/10/fiio-e6-portable-headphone-amp-review/
An earlier generation of FIIO's amplifiers, the E3 is simpler, and less expensive.  It's a little bigger, because it's powered by a single AAA battery instead of a lithium battery/USB interface, and this might better suit some people.  It only costs ten bucks on eBay with shipping included.

The main difference between the E6 and the E5 is the fact that the E6 is made of plastic and is consequently 15gr lighter than the aluminum E5 at 30gr.

I used Barge all purpose contact cement to attach some hook Velcro to both my IPod Nano and the Fiio amp to the to mate with the Velcro on my FAST helmet.

All I have to do now, is to turn on the iPod, and I'm good to go.

One other thing.  My NAC phones are hardwired to a Garmin radio 2.5 mini-plug.  Another bonus of having a second set of speakers with a connected 3.5 mini-plug, is I that can sometimes opt to fly without music, but rather choose to  monitor the air band of my local airport with my Yaesu 120 scanner instead.  While the private airport I sometimes I fly out of is unmonitored, incoming aircraft give a heads-up that they are on approach about 5 miles out from the runway they're coming in on.

The Yaesu also has a 3.5 mini-plug out connection, like that of my iPod system, so I can fly with a scanner instead of the iPod any time I want, while still having pilot to pilot comms at the same time.

UPDATE: My E6 just fell apart on me.  I had it Velcroed to my helmet, and while peeling it off one day the whole thing split along the seam and a few tiny parts got lost.  E6 owners should watch this, especially if they add Velcro.  The plastic E6 is much lighter construction than the all-aluminum E5 that I bought to replace it, so this petty calamity gave me a chance to compare it to the E5. Unfortunately, the E3 and the E5’s are getting harder to find, and have both gone up in price, (the E3 doubling from $10 with free shipping up to $20) but each variant has some advantages.
Fiio E3
E3 PROs - Inexpensive. You have the convenience of AAA batteries in the field, which is why I bought it to use as a spare, in case I found myself out in the field with a dead amp and no time/facilities to recharge. Still quite small, about the size of a 9v battery - a bit thinner, but slightly longer.
No Brainer operation.  It’s either working or it’s off.

E3 CONs - No on/off switch with the E3.  When connected to a device, a light comes on but unplugging is more hassle than pushing a button. It comes with a very long connection line compared to the other Fiios  This unit distorts more than the E5 and E6 at highest volume.
Fiio E5
E5 PROs - Simple operation. On/Off, Bass Boost On/Off, and a volume control. Same 20 hour power life on a USB charge The aluminum E5 is arguably better looking than the plastic E5 with its shiny plastic fingerprint-attracting surface.

E5 CONs -  Only one level of Bass Boost instead of three on the E6. However, the E6 had a fiddly interface between levels with an On/off that is integrated into level change, so it is easy to accidentally switch levels.  Also the level indicator lights were VERY hard to see in bright sunlight.  The E5 less so.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Drill a hole in your GoPro

If you like, you can just buy some of the special bits that are available for drilling acrylic.  They have sharper, more like pencil-like points than the points on the high-speed steel bits we are all used to seeing.  Normal twist drills may chip and crack acrylic because of their tendency to lift and twist the material rather than scraping it like as a drill bit which is designed for acrylic will do. However, a normal twist drill bit can be easily modified for use on acrylic with a bench grinder, or a Dremel tool with a cutoff blade.  Simply dull the sharp leading edge on both sides.
A slower speed is recommended for acrylic.   Especially at the start and at the end of the process.
If you have a belt sander, you can also taper can also be modified from the original flat, 120 degree, to a sharper 60-90 degree point. This sharp angle allows the bit to easily enter and exit acrylic sheet without chipping.  Meh.  I didn't have easy access to a belt sander, and didn't bother, but still had no problem with my drilling.

I started by drilling a 1/8" pilot hole, and moved up to a final 5/16".   This particular size of hole will allow the 2.5mm mini-plug shown below, to enter with jsut a bit of snugging up. The fit seems probable to be even a bit waterproof.  Water resistant at least.  I ordered this patch cable from eBay, the shortest, lightest, 4-pin mini-plug to RCA cable I could find, listed as: "2.5mm TRS plug to RCA female adaptor" (sic)  $2.88 from from eBay seller flyjoy2009.
Finally, once you've drilled your hole(s), use a counter sink to relieve the sharp 90° corner on the outside edge.  (I just used a large high-speed steel bit, and twirled it with my fingers in the hole a few times to lightly counter sink the surface, where stress cracks might occur.

Lastly, since I fly with an external monitor only on occasion, but fly along a lakefront on a semi-regular basis, this is how I can add some nominal waterproofing my no-longer water proof camera housing on those days when I'm not cabling my camera, but flying over water and might need it to protect the camera in the event of a water crash.

I picked up a 3/16"" rubber washer at HomeDepot for a few cents, and a 1/8" Chicago Screw from a leather supply wholesaler.  
A Chicago screw, (also known as a sex bolt, or  barrel nut) is a post-shaped nut that is internally threaded, and comes witth an accompanying machine screw. The post section has a very low-profile, flat base, which will just barely fit inside the housing with the GoPro enclosed.  You'll still have room for the anti-Fog inserts, or a couple of strips of "Sham-Wow" style cloth, a home-brew substitute, condensation inhibitor. The base of the post will be either a solid, or open back.

You might beg one of these little gizmos from a local shoe repair person, or pick up a dozen 1/8"pairs from Tandy, or off the internet for a few bucks. 

I bought a package of ten (pairs/sets) of "SCREW POST - 1/8" nickle OPEN-BACK" Chicago screws from Tandy Leather for $3.99.  Tandy has brick and mortar stores all over North America, and also sell on-line.

When installed, the camera just barely fits inside the housing.  It pushes the camera slightly off center, however, and the on/off button won't work properly.  So what you need to do is clamp the base in a pair of Vice-Grips, and file the curve off the bottom of the post base, further flattening it, as shown below. 
You might get the same effect rubbing the bottom of the post section against some Emery paper, but filing is fast - and only takes a minute or two - just enough to reduce the thickness of the base by about that of a piece of paper or two, so that the camera goes in and out without rubbing, and all the buttons work. 

I gave it an overnight bucket test, and the rubber washer will keep the casing both reasonably waterproof, and air-tight enough to keep the humidity out too.

I wouldn't want to risk scuba diving with this system at any depth, but it will hopefully keep the camera dry in the event I ever have to put my motor down in Lake Ontario, or Lake Simcoe, in which case I'll probably have more to worry about than my camera, anyway. 
This system of Chicago screws and rubber washers also makes for a workable solution for attaching homemade MOLLE straps to the back of a GoPro, which you can see in my nest post on attaching MOLLE straps to a GoPro.

POST SCRIPT:  My local Home Depot sells 1/4" Chicago screws in packs of 4 pairs, for $2.99.  They are aluminum, open backed, with threads all the way to the bottom of the base posts.  These will work, if you carefully cut them down to 1/8".  I tried cutting some closed-base posts, and they didn't work.  Turns out, the threads did not go all the way down, and at the 1/8" point, they were just smooth cylinders.