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Serial camera module that captures time-lapse and stop-motion videos plus images to uSD card. Use with any micro like mbed and Arduino.
171 backers pledged $11,468 to help bring this project to life.

About

$11,468

171

How it started

For years, we have tried several of the available serial JPEG cameras and we were very unsatisfied with the performance, the horribly translated documentation and the non-existent manufacturer support. Well, thanks to the creative engineers at GHI Electronics and to the community support, we will finally have a USA made, well supported and well documented serial time-lapse camera with much more to offer. Allow me to introduce you to ALCAM.

Introduction

ALCAM allows any embedded system with a serial interface (UART, SPI or I2C) to capture JPG/BMP images and also to record them right onto an SD card. Also, ALCAM gives you the ability to create time-lapse and stop-motion AVI videos and save them directly to the SD card. All done through a set of simple and well documented serial commands. ALCAM can also capture images and videos though a special pin, without the need to send any commands.

Key Features

  • Still Image plus Stop Motion and Time-Lapse Videos.
  • Resolutions: HD 720, 1024x768, 800x600, 640x480, 320x240, 160x120.
  • Serial interfaces: I2C, UART and SPI.
  • MicroSD Card with SD signals exposed for optional full SD Card.
  • Configuration settings available for: brightness, contrast, white balance, special effects, sharpness, saturation, mirror, rotate.
  • Simple human-readable command protocol.
  • OV3640 3MP Image Sensor (with beta support for 5MP and 2MP).
  • Works great with mbed, Arduino, NETMF and any other platform supporting a micro with I2C, UART or SPI interface. 
  • Real documentation and support.
  • Light weight at only .20 oz making it perfect for drones, quads and robots.
  • Dimensions : 30.6 x 47.05 x 9.9 mm (includes camera height).
  • On board 3.3V regulator, works with any voltage 4.5V to 6V.
  • 180mA fully active plus SD card, with planned low power modes.
  • 5V tolerant IOs. Meaning you can directly connect a 5V micro, like an Arduino.

Time-lapse video recording

Speed up time and watch your garden grow and watch the clouds fly by. This feature is very useful for educational and scientific use as well as to help us see things from a completely different angle. For example, GHI Electronics relocated a few months ago. We had a few cameras around the office recording the setup of the production line which you can see below.

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 Ok, we couldn't help ourselves, we had to put up another video!

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Stop Motion

This feature will create a video from triggered captures. This can be used to create some interesting video effects and can also be used when video recording is triggered by events, like detecting motion. Maybe you want to finally catch that sneaky animal that has been eating your garden’s vegetables. The possibilities are endless. Keep in mind this is all done right on ALCAM itself, no need for video editing. The only video editing we did was to add the GHI intro video and add some music.

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Still Image Quality

Here are few image examples that were taken with the ALCAM-OEM board.

Normal Video Recording

The ALCAM-OEM board has been optimized for time-lapse video, stop-motion video and still images. However, it is possible to take a regular video using the ALCAM-OEM board. Keeping in mind there is no audio support as of now, possible feature in the future. The Frames Per Second can be anywhere from 3 FPS to 30 FPS, depending on the image size. For example, 640x480 videos look fine while 320x240 will provide the best quality. Going any higher than 640x480 will result in a choppy video.

What will I receive besides the ALCAM-OEM board?

We will provide complete examples on using the ALCAM-OEM board with Arduino, mbed and NETMF, as mentioned earlier. Those examples can be easily touched up to make the ALCAM-OEM board work with any microcontroller. You will also receive free firmware updates to bring your board up-to-date with the latest improvements and added features. We guarantee that at a minimum updates will be available for all of 2015 and possibly beyond.

We will also ship a Windows-based application (ALCAM Explorer) to run on a PC allowing any backer to take the ALCAM-OEM for a test drive and see how the commands work. This software is not required but it will help in visualizing the commands as well as capturing image samples. Here are few a preliminary snapshots of the provided software. We may open source this software..

The Commands

All the commands that work with ALCAM are human readable but are also machine/coding friendly. Please note that command arguments are specified in hexadecimal. Here are few example commands:

All commands return a two digit response, zeros when there is no error, or an error code. All error codes will be documented in the ALCAM developer's manual. This command/response scheme is similar to our popular file system chipset called ALFAT.

How do I connect my ALCAM-OEM Board to a PC?

The signals coming from ALCAM are 3.3V TTL. Wiring these to a PC's serial port will require a RS232 level converter chip. PCs with no serial port can use a USB to serial adapter cable. A better option would be to use FTDI's serial TTL cable, available here and from their distributors. These cables plug right into the USB port on a PC to provide power and the UART (serial) transmit and receive lines, RX and TX. We will be posting an update detailing this topic. We are working on some changes to make this very easy.

Stand-alone Mode

ALCAM can be used without any micro at all! A pin can be used to trigger image/video capture. This pin can be controlled by the user, through a button, or can be connected to a sensor, like a motion sensor. This feature is being developed and is almost near completion today so stay tuned for future updates with more details.

Wireless Connectivity

Since ALCAM works with serial commands, any serial-wireless bridge can be used to wirelessly control the ALCAM-OEM board. This can be via WiFi or Bluetooth for example.

Connections and header pinout

There are two headers on the ALCAM-OEM board. One is used for the user interface and the second exposes the SD signals. The pinout may change before we ship ALCAM so please stay tuned to Kickstarter for future updates. 

 This image shows ALCAM wired to an Arduino. Similarly, it can be wired to any micro or development board.

The ALCAM Shield

While wiring ALCAM to any microcontroller is easy, with only a few wires needed (showing in the previous image), we also created a shield to make it as easy as plug and play. This shield will allow for an easy way to connect any Arduino or Arduino-compatible board to the ALCAM-OEM board. The image below shows the ALCAM Shield with ALCAM-OEM board mounted to an Arduino Uno. The headers must be soldered on the shield and are not included.

The Provided Software

Beside the ALCAM explorer that runs on a PC, we will provide these examples:

  • Sketch for Arduino, tested on arduino UNO
  • .NET-MF C# program, tested on FEZ Cerbuino
  • mbed C++ program, tested on Seeed Arch

While those examples are provided to work with the mentioned boards, with little or no changes you will be able use those same example programs on any microcontroller or development board like the Raspberry PI and the Beaglebone Black. After all, all you need is to issue a set of simple commands over the serial bus to control ALCAM.

The lens/image-sensor specifications

We have tested a lot of lenses and image-sensors. We are still deciding on which lens would fit ALCAM the best. There may be an option to remove the lens and install a different one. We will provide the details of what camera/lens combination we used before we ship. Take a look at this image showing some of the lenses and images-sensors we have tested.
As for the image sensor, we currently support OV3640 3MP with beta support for OV2460 2MP and OV5640 5MP cameras. Note that due to the internal memory size on ALCAM, the highest supported image size, still or video, is HD 720; no matter if the image sensor supports higher resolution.

Why Kickstarter?

Even though the basic design is nearly complete, we feel that there is a lot  more that we can do. As “imaging” is somewhat new to our company, we need your help in making the best embedded camera module on the market. Please share your thoughts and ideas on what we can add or improve. The money generated from this campaign will help us in volume ordering the right lens/image-sensor.

Is it open source?

The ALCAM chipset is based on the STM32 microcontroller, but think of it more like a system-on-chip that you can use from your own open source software and devices. We will be providing many open source examples that run on many platforms showing the use of ALCAM.

What SD cards are supported?

The ALCAM-OEM board hosts a MicroSD card on-board but it also exposes all the SD signals for those wishing to wire a full size SD card. This image shows the ALCAM-OEM connected to standard components offered by GHI Electronics, the breakout and the SD module. You can still solder your favorite SD connector.


As for the SD card types, any SD card should work. We have tested tens of cards and they all work fine but if you run across a card that doesn't work, just let us know and we can look into improving the software.

Anything else I should know?

The ALCAM-OEM board does not include a camera flash or any lights. Like any camera, an adequate amount of light is needed to get beautiful images.

Future Plans

We will offer the ALCAM System-on-Chip so that anyone can create a camera with the size and lens that they need. We will also have all kinds of ideas on how can we take this to the next level as this chip has a lot of available FLASH memory. For example, videos currently record with no audio. We would like to add the ability to add audio. Maybe even add built-in image processing or let users load their own image processing algorithms. Your feedback is very welcome on what you would like to see in the future.

Made in the USA

We are proud to say that we engineer, manufacture, ship and support, right from our building in Michigan, USA.

Copyright notice  

ALCAM is a trademark of GHI Electronics. mbed is a trademark and/or copyright of ARM Ltd. Arduino brand is a trademark and/or copyright of Arduino SA. NETMF brand and logo are a trademark and/or copyright of Microsoft Inc. Beaglebone brand and logo are a trademark and/or copyright of Beagleboard.org.

Disclaimer 

The ALCAM-OEM board is provided for educational and experimental purposes only. There is no warranty or guarantee provided. You agree to hold GHI Electronics, its partners and Kickstarter harmless of any loss or damage that may arise from the use of this product.

Risks and challenges

GHI Electronics is an engineering and manufacturing company with over ten years of experience and three successfully funded Kickstarter campaigns. Any risks should be minimal as prototypes of the product were already manufactured and tested. We have hosted multiple successful Kickstarter campaigns with satisfied customers and on-time delivery.

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  1. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    ALCAM-OEM board early bird special. Also ships one month earlier than other rewards.

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    ALCAM-OEM board

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    ALCAM-OEM board and the ALCAM shield

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    A pack of four ALCAM-OEM boards to capture your imagination from different angles.

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    A pack of TEN ALCAM-OEM boards to capture your imagination from different angles and different locations.

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Funding period

- (30 days)