CONSTRUCTING A GHOST SAFARI™ "HATCAM"
By Ghost Safari
Entire contents copyright © 2001 Video Hammer Productions LLC
What’s a “Hatcam”?
A “hatcam” is essentially a miniature camera mounted on a hat with some means to transmit its video and audio signal to a recorder or monitor. The Ghost Safari Hatcam consists of a miniature IR camera with integrated microphone mounted on a ball cap. The video and audio signal of the camera is fed to a camcorder running in VTR mode stored in a “fanny pack” worn by the investigator.
Why a Hatcam?
There are a couple of very good reasons why an investigator would want to wear a hatcam:
- The hatcam records everything the investigator sees. This significantly increases the chances of catching an anomaly on video.
- The hatcam frees the investigators hands for other tasks, such as taking still photos, notes, taking EMF readings, etc. Once the hatcam is running, the investigator doesn’t have to worry about running a video camera by hand.
In this picture, our team member Bill D. dons one of our hatcams:
The lights on the hat are the IR lights built into the camera. They are visible because this picture was taken with a Sony Nightshot camera. You can see the camera’s umbilical dangling at the back of Bill’s head. This runs down his back, around his side and into the front of the pack he’s wearing around his waist. The fanny pack carries the camcorder that’s running in VTR mode (to record the audio and video signal from the hatcam camera) and the battery that feeds power, via the umbilical, to the hatcam camera.
Hatcam Block Diagram
Here’s a block diagram for the hatcam:
As you can see conceptually the hatcam is very simple. We’re replacing the camcorder’s CCD and lens with an external camera (the Miniature IR Camera). We’re only using the camcorder as a recording device. Note that the camcorder could be replaced with an A/V transmitter to send the audio/video signal to a remote monitor/recorder setup.
How to Build the Hatcam
To build a hatcam like we use, here’s what you need:
- A miniature IR camera (security camera)
- A ball cap
- A roll of 1½ “ Velcro (sew-on and self-stick kind)
- Some cardboard (small sheet)
- A hot glue gun
- A couple of double-side, ½” Velcro (wire ties)
- A camcorder that can run and record in VTR (Video Tape Recorder) mode
- A Radio Shack 9.6V remote-controlled car battery
- A fanny pack large enough to hold the camcorder
- Soldering iron and solder
- A couple of connectors to adapt the 9.6V battery to the hatcam umbilical
- Wire stripper
- Heat shrink tubing or electrical tape
Our instructions for building the hatcam will not be a blueprint, but rather the rough steps. It’s assumed you know how to solder, use an ohmmeter to check connections and pick out suitable connectors at Radio Shack.
First, you need a miniature camera. We got ours at Sam’s upon advice of a gentleman we ran into at Radio Shack! He happened to overhear me looking for a camera we could power by one of the radio-controlled NiLi batteries Radio Shack sells, and he just happened to work for a company that uses the little cams to inspect pipes! Talk about serendipity! Anyway, here’s the security camera set you can buy at Sam’s for around $90 or so:
The kit comes with a monitor, two cameras and two, 60 foot cables. You’ll only need one camera and one of the 60 foot cables (which you’ll chop off to around 6 feet or so!).
The camera looks something like this:
The little tabs at the bottom interleave with the wall mount. Cut these off with a hacksaw (go ahead, do it!). Cut and attach a piece of “male” self-stick Velcro to the back of the camera large enough to cover the back.
Now, attach a band of “female” Velcro to the entire outside periphery of the hat. You can sew this or use hot glue. We used hot glue.
You could now attach the camera to the front of the hat, but you’ll find that the viewing angle would be all wrong. We found that we needed to construct a small, trapezoidal-shaped box out of cardboard, then cover the front with “female” Velcro and the back with a piece of “male” Velcro. This makes a little angled platform from which to attach the camera to the hat.
Before attaching the camera, cut short lengths of double-sided Velcro strips and wrap them, male side out, around the umbilical. This will allow you to attach the umbilical feed to the hat.
Once you attach the camera to the hat, it should look something like this:
At this point, the hat portion of the hatcam is complete. Now, the hard part.
Take the 60 foot extension and cut off about a 3-foot portion from both ends. Discard the excess 54 feet of cable!
Now, strip and solder together the two remaining pieces to make a short version of the original cable. Basicly, we’re just shortening the cable because the one that comes with the security camera is WAY too long! This new, short cable will be the lifeline that feeds power, video and audio to and from the fanny pack camcorder and battery.
The “hard” part is adapting the 9.6V battery to the camera’s power input (red, RCA connector). There’s now magic here – you just have to buy the correct adapters from Radio Shack and solder away!
Take heart, we’re almost finished. All we have to do now is attach the video and audio (mono) of the camera to our camcorder. To do this, we just need two male-to-male RCA couplers, once again, available from Radio Shack:
The dangling red connector in this picture is the right audio feed to our stereo Sony TRV230 camcorder. This will remain dangling, since the hatcam camera is mono, rather than stereo. You can also purchase a mono-stereo splitter if you want to record to both stereo channels at once.
Now, we can place the battery, cable adapter assembly and the camcorder in the fanny pack:
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