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.
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.
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.
Ok, we couldn't help ourselves, we had to put up another video!
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.
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..
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.
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.
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
Is it open source?
What SD cards are supported?
Anything else I should know?
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.
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.
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.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)