I purchased a Gigapan Epic Pro a while back (www.gigapan.com).

I love this device but I would like to be able to access the buttons on it, from a distance. (I want to mount the unit on top of a camera crane unit - about 10ft off the ground).

I would still need to be able to push the 7 buttons from the ground.

Here is a high res photo of the unit in question


(Added image of 7-button control panel)

Control buttons

Preferably I would like to use some kind of remote control unit with a joystick for the movements but this is a preferance not a necessity.

I have no experienc ein robots or engineering at all, so if someone would care to explain the process to get this done I would greatly appreciatte it.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Major question: Are you willing to take the device apart (and possibly modify it)? If you are, there are a LOT more options. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Mar 14 '13 at 8:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, my knowledge of electronics and robotics is very low, I am not willing to risk bricking a $900 piece of kit :( \$\endgroup\$ – Colin Mar 14 '13 at 9:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps the manufacturer sells a kit to enable this. Otherwise, telepathy or an actuating arm is the way to go. \$\endgroup\$ – Gustavo Litovsky Mar 14 '13 at 15:27

I'm in New Zealand - just across the pond. How many of these can I sell? :-)

GEP manual here - no indication of remote controllability.

ebay = GEP for sale - $US895

It seems unbelievable that the manufacturers would not have made these units "remoteable" but a quick web search does not reveal any information that suggests that they can be remotely controlled. Making it so should "just be a matter of engineering" [tm].

Two main methods suggest themself.

You could make a completely external button pusher using 7 solenoids or servos mounted on a frame which was able o be located rigidly relative to the GEP. This is clunky and Heath Robinson but would work and leaves the unit unopened for resale and warrant purposes.

The "proper" solution would be to make electrical contact with the joystick/button connections and operate parallel electrical switches remotely. This is liable to be very easy conceptually and in practice anywhere between not too hard and stunningly difficult, The latter is extremely unlikely, but designers sometimes do very very obscure or unusual things. So it's best mentioned, just in case.

Actual remoting in either case can be by wore or wireless in a range of flavors (Bluetooth, WiFi, ISM band short range, ...)

If you need the LCD display remoting , again two main methods suggest themselves. The Mickey Mouse Heath Robinson clunky method is to use a small video camera (web cam level) to view the display and drive a remote monitor. This is liable to be very satisfactory if done even half well and MAY be much much easier than accessing the LCD signals electrically. LCD signal access may be easy and may be diabolical. Worst case they may use some form of COB (chip on board) on LCD glass driver with no leads accessible and for an extra bonus could throw in a processor as an integrated part of the LCD. This is an unlikely approach but COB is quite conceivable. If they do use integrated driver you may be able to access the LCD drive data stream which could be very easy to remote and to decode. Or not. The webcam approach does have advantages and is a nice fallback position if you do decide to try direct access and fail.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 - a photo of the button internals would help determine how easily hacked the unit would be. I'm guessing not that hard from the size of the unit, but you never know. I agree it seems like an amazing omission for something like this for there to be no remote capability, considering how easy a simple IR system would be to add in (I have a cheapo ~10 year old Olympus here that has one) \$\endgroup\$ – Oli Glaser Mar 14 '13 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Just one thing on the LCD display remoting, many (most?) newer DSLRs can do live view over compositive video and/or HDMI so that's an easy way to go about that side of things on many cameras. \$\endgroup\$ – PeterJ Mar 14 '13 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your feedback Russel. The solenoid actuator is what I had in mind but like you say, didn't want it to be so heath Robinson looking... especially as I plan to use this setup for work. ( I am a Photographer by trade). \$\endgroup\$ – Colin Mar 14 '13 at 9:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterJ - The videocam that I had in mind was to read the LCD on the Gigapan Epic Pro - but, a second one to read the DSLR LCD may be useful as well :-). Usually the Gigapan user will not be accessing the camera directly once the unit is in use. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Mar 14 '13 at 17:28

Given the lack of robotics / engineering expertise as stated in the question, the following approach is relatively non-challenging, and could potentially be built at home as a DIY project:

  • Acquire 7 low-power, miniature push-type or push-pull solenoids, with stroke length between 1 and 2.5-3 mm. Two examples:
    1. Miniature solenoid - type MGBP010: 10 mm x 9.4 mm x 24 mm, 24 Volts, 2.5 mm stroke
      Miniature solenoid - type MGBP010
    2. Small push-pull solenoid 110C: 11.3 mm x 11.3 mm x 13 mm, 3, 6 or 12 Volt models, 1.5 mm stroke
      110C Solenoid
  • Buy 7 pushbuttons and some basic electronic parts (wires, capacitors, power supply suitable to power 7 of the solenoids you select, etc)
  • Wire up each solenoid through one pushbutton, such that pushing the button causes the solenoid shaft to extend, and releasing the button retracts the solenoid shaft.
  • Mount the 7 solenoids on a board or hard plastic sheet arranged precisely as the buttons on the control panel are arranged.
  • Attach some soft material, such as pencil erasers, to the solenoid shafts
  • Mount this "robot fingers" board atop the Gigapan control buttons, carefully aligned, and tape or clamp it in place, leaving room for the 1.5 to 3 mm stroke to just sufficiently push the buttons, without breaking them.
  • Now, when you push any of the pushbuttons, the respective solenoid will punch the control button, your remote hands are ready!

While the above method is pretty low-tech, thus with little risk of failure, I am sure many experts would be appalled at this approach, and would insist that a microcontroller and a host of other electronics be used.

Therefore, here are some additional bullet points, for such an approach:

  • Obtain a basic, low cost microcontroller development board such as the Texas Instruments MSP430 Launchpad ($4.30 delivered world-wide) or an Arduino or clone.
  • Find a suitable schematic from the web, for accepting 7 inputs from 7 pushbuttons, and 7 digital outputs
  • Connect up a MOSFET or BJT driven switch for each of the solenoids, with flyback diodes across the coils to protect those transistors, such that a "high" on one of the digital outputs will activate the respective solenoid.
  • Experiment with your code till the remote fingers behave as desired.
  • Set all this aside once satisfied, and just implement the low-tech version described earlier.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Long ago (30+ years probably)(!!!) I produced a scanning disability aid using an interface deficient Apple II computer that I was not allowed to modify in any way. User input was a head operated single switch used to operate an on screen letter matrix scanner providing predictive "texting" program. This allowed a severely disabled user with Cerebral Palsy to produce letters and words. I found that the easiest non invasive interface was a solenoid with a rubber tipped arm that pressed a keyboard key. It worked well. The current requirement is essentially a superset of this. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Mar 14 '13 at 10:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon Sometimes old tech is still the simplest answer :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Anindo Ghosh Mar 14 '13 at 10:55

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