Submission by Steve – Li at Laser.com kindly lent me a Robocam to try out with my existing X10 camera. The robocam is a pan & tilt base for mounting your X10 camera on allowing you to keep a watchful eye on a wider field of view than the camera currently provides.
To get your X10 camera on to the Robocam is quite straight forward. The camera itself screws down on to the top cover of the robocam using the two screw provided and the power cable passes through a slot in the side of the cover. The spare cable can then be wound around the cable reel in the bottom of the cover to keep everything tidy. The camera power lead is then connected to the power lead in the top of the pan & tilt base using the short adapter lead. This means that the camera and base can be powered from the same X10 power supply.
Construction – The cover can then be snapped on to the base making sure you have the word ‘Front’ on the cover in line with the word base ‘Front’ (makes sense). All that is left to do is to plug the robocam power lead into the leading coming from the X10 power supply. Both leads are approximately 2 metres long so you can locate the power supply about 4 metres from the pan & tilt base. The one thing I would have like to have seen is some screws fixing the cover to the base rather than just clipping it in, without these it wouldn’t be too difficult to detach the cover and camera from the rest of the unit and run off with it.
Operation – The robocam comes with it own handheld keypad (CM14A) which allows you to switch between cameras and once a camera is selected move that camera around. The operation is on two levels, firstly selecting the camera and seconding moving the camera around. The camera selection is controlled by sending an X10 On commands to the X10 power supplies and the camera movement is then controlled by sending RF signal directly to the robocam pan & tilt base.
For people unfamiliar with the X10 power supply I will explain how they work. When one receives an On code for it’s own address it switches on but when it receives an On command for any other device on the same house code, it switches off. Thus by having cameras on say C1, C2, C3 and C4 as you switch one camera on, the other switch off. So you only ever have one camera powered up and transmitting to the X10 cam receiver. This principal has just been extend so when you switch on a camera it powers up both the camera and pan & tilt base. The camera switching buttons on the keypad send out a standard X10 RF commands which need to be picked up by a RF receiver such as a TM12U or TM13U. The keypad allows you to set any house code and house number as the first cameras X10 address and then assigns the next 3 house numbers for cameras 2-4.
As well as free control using the direction buttons you can store 4 pre-set positions for each camera. You program each position by moving the camera to the position you want using the direction buttons at the top of the keypad, then move the keypad slider to program before selecting a program button to store the position in. To recall the position you just need to press the position button with the keypad slider in the normal position. Other function available on the keypad are center which centres the camera, sweep that sweeps through the 4 programmed position and scan that moves you up or down to the next camera.
The base pans through 180 degrees and tilts 70 degrees but with the extra 60 degree angle of the X10 cam this gives you a viewable coverage of 240 by 130 degrees. The movement is whisper quiet and very smooth, none of your big brother sound effect going on here. However, this is at the expense of speed and it take just under a minute to pan through the full 180 degrees. I was concerned at first that with the camera moving round and the transmitting aerial attached to it doing the same, that the signal may well be poor. To be fair the X10 cam did very well with only a minor break up in a few places.
To determine range I conducted a carefully set up experiment that involved me walking down the garden while my wife waved at me every time the camera moved. I managed to get to the end of the garden ~120 feet and it was still working so a good response there. I did notice however that when I tried it standing on my garden path the range was limited to not more than 30 feet indicating that it needs to be mounted above the ground for maximum range.
My conclusion – So what do I think of the Robocam. Well it was certainly well built with the exception of no screw to fix the cover to the base more securely. The action is good and very quiet, if a little slow, ideal for wildlife or watching over a sleeping child though. The programming was certainly easy and no problems with the range. So thumbs up all round? Well not quite, for me the big drawback is the need to have the keypad to control the movement because of the non X10 RF signals. This means I can’t control it via the internet or via a webpad in my lounge. For those technical ones, it is sending out a 20 bits RF signal instead of the 40 bit normal X10 RF signal and this is being picked up directly by the pan & tilt base.
All is not lost though as you have three options. Option 1 try and get hold of an American version of the robocam. Why? well because they have a device (CM19A) that plugs in to the serial port of a computer and broadcasts the robocam movement signals and some PC software for both control the cameras and view the video feed. Option 2 build your own CM19A for the UK 433MHz signal with a PIC and TWS 434 and the details from Dan Houston’s site http://www.laser.com/dhouston/cr14a-rf.htm. Option 3 make something suitable out of the keypad (CM14A) that comes with it. The only other option is to wait until we get a UK version of the CM19A and software.
In conclusion the Robocam is a good piece of kit especially if you only want to use it while your in the house and are happy to use the keypad that comes with it. If your looking at controlling it some other way, you are going to have to do a bit of work to achieve what you want but that’s the fun of Home Automation some times. For me however at £120 + vat, it’s a nice to have rather than a got to have so I won’t be keeping it.
Click here to see the RoboCam at Laser.com.