11 June 2012

Balloon-borne camera, part 1 - Introduction

One of my projects for the Canada Science and Technology Museum (/Musee de la Science et de la Technologie du Canada) is to get their balloon-borne camera project working. This is going to be a summer camp activity where the campers use balloons to lift a camera high into the air and record some video. If you're coming here to find out how it was built, welcome! You're the reason for these posts, and I hope you find them useful. I'll just warn you that this will be more of a story than a how-to - I will probably have quite a few mistakes, dead-ends, and corrections as I go along. I'll do my best to update my posts when this happens, so you can skip ahead to working solutions.

The first attempt was the most straightforward - we hung the camera from underneath about 15 balloons. Here's the video from that first try:

As you can see, the camera had a tendency to swing pretty wildly. We chose the particular camera (a Digital Concepts 3-in-1 Micro Digital Camcorder) because we're still testing out the project and if we lost the camera it wouldn't hurt our wallets too badly. So, we aren't expecting HD quality video, but still we should be able to get a better video than that. It looks like the major problem is stability - we need to find a way to stop the camera from swinging.

 Where do I turn to when I need help? The internet! I discovered after some searching that this project is quite similar to kite aerial photography, an activity with a very active online presence. In KAP, as the name suggests, you use a kite instead of balloons to lift your camera into the sky. Apparently this technique is very popular with archaeologists who need a quick, inexpensive, and relatively uncomplicated way to get overhead photos of their dig sites. They have developed some nice tricks for getting good pictures.

Their preferred device for stabilizing a camera is called a picavet, developed shortly before the first World War by the French inventor Pierre Picavet. In the next post, I'll show (with lots of pictures!) how I built mine and explain how it works.

Disclaimer: Although I am a volunteer at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, the content on this blog is my own and only my own, and does not represent an official statement by the museum.

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