Custom RC Car for 360 Camera Version 1.0

After shopping for RC Cars specifically built for 360 cameras I realized they are very expensive. They can cost from anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000. So instead, I decided to build my own and saved a lot of money.

Image of the result of my custom built radio control car for a 360 camera rig

This is the first version of the RC Car. Version 2 is being built and awaiting my new gimbal to attach on the RC Car. Once I get my gimbal I will make a new post for the second version.

Custom RC Car for 360 Camera

Research

After doing research and seeing the prices of most retail 360 camera RC Cars, I decided that there had to be a way to custom build one. I already knew the specs of most RC Cars (if you want to compare them see my List of RC Cars for 360 Cameras post) so why not see what exists out there that I can convert or create to be as close as all the other cars. Lets do a quick comparison.

Mantis – $6000 – Length : 800 mm – Width : 540 mm – 50+ km/h

Tero – $4500 – Length : 787 mm – Width : 457 mm – 50 km/h

Alpha 1 – $3400 – Length : 810 – Width: 470 – 60 km/h

SteadyPlus – $4,400 – Length : # – Width : 590 – 80 km/h

So a few main similarities are the length, width, km/h and LiPo battery sizes. Now I have my average benchmarks that I want to match or beat. Let’s start shopping around!

 

Shopping

Image of multiple recommended RC cars

I started shopping around online and at my local hobby shops.  I saw that there are mostly smaller sized RC buggies and that most are not electric, but instead gas motors.  So I thought to myself and wondered why all these professional RC Cars almost look exactly the same… they had to have come from a Chinese supplier somewhere. What is the number one Chinese online shop, well of course it has to be Alibaba. Once I went on Alibaba I started seeing a lot more RC Cars that are closer to my length, width, engine size and with the same batteries. Oh, and did I mention extremely cheap?

So I started searching for :

  • Scale : 1/5 or 1:5
  • Type : Car or Buggy
  • Power : Battery / Electric
  • Speed : at least 50 – 80 km/h
  • Model : 2WD or 4WD
  • Material : Plastic and Metal
  • Motor : Brushless #KV/ #W (# depending on how much power you want)
  • Price : $400 – $1,000 / Piece
  • Supplier has been active at least 5+ years on Alibaba

 

I found a lot of decent options, with a wide variety of costs. But because this was my first time using Alibaba I wanted to make sure I was getting something of quality and not the cheapest crap that will break down after using it once or twice. So I made sure they were 5+ years active and I didn’t buy the cheapest one because I knew if I payed the average amount I probably was getting a decent quality RC Car while still saving money on retail.

Once you narrow down a few options, you can contact the Alibaba shop person and see what the current price is on the RC Car you want. Because they normally sell in bulk to retail stores most prices are set 400 – 800 / piece range and depending on how many you buy the price starts to drop for the bulk purchases. So ask them the price for 1 piece, then the shipping costs. Make sure to request this from 4 – 10 different venders because you will get a wide variety depending on how much inventory they have. Also, because the RC Car is pretty darn big in a box and being shipped from China, try to get a shipping deal to save even more money.

This is the Alibaba company that I purchased my RC Car from: Shenzhen Chigift Electronic Co

 

Do It Yourself – Build Plan #1

Now that I am waiting for my RC Car to be shipped over from China, I can start planning on what exactly I want to do. Do I want it fancy or do I just want a quick and dirty solution just to get it working first. Quick and dirty is my usual go to, so lets start planning for that.

Obviously most RC Cars that support 360 camera rigs have a dampener plate and usually a gimbal on top of that to add even more stabilization. I don’t have those yet (Version 2.0 will SOON!) but I plan on doing those in a future build. So my goal right now, is quick and dirty to get it up and running just to test the vibrations and workflow of placing a 360 camera or rig on top of this RC Car. Maybe tripod on top of the RC Car?

 

How hard could it be to just screw in a tripod on top of the RC Car? Well, I don’t know the exact measurements and locations of the holes in the RC Car frame, so I might have to wait until I get it before forming a plan.

Unboxing

I think it took anywhere between 2 – 4 weeks to get here from China. I probably could have expedited the shipping process but it was already expensive enough.

Image of the large box the remote control car came in from china

It finally has arrived and it is a very large box and pretty heavy. Can’t wait to open it up and see what the RC Car looks like inside!

Image of the remote control car box from china on its side

RC Car, yup! That is the one, must be correct!

Image of the inside of the box after opening it seeing all the items packaged inside

Taking a peek inside, we can see the remote control car, battery charger, manuals, transmitter and tools. Looks like everything is here!

Image of all the items on the ground outside of box

 

Plan # 1 : Tripod Connection

So now that I have the RC Car, I need to strip it down to the basics so I can see what the frame looks like and if there are any existing holes I can use to place the tripod on top of it.

Image of the remote control car stripped down to just the core components

Looks like the tripod will not work just by connecting it to platform on top.

Image of the tripod test to see if it will fit on the remote control car platform

But, the tripod wont easily attached as I once thought. So plan B has been created and I need to build a platform as wide as the RC Car itself. This way the tripod can be as wide as possible and be as stable as possible on top of the moving RC Car.

 

New Plan

Image of the schematic drawn for the custom remote control 360 camera rig

Here is the new plan:

Build some sort of platform above the battery, spring system and wires. This way I can place the tripod on top of the platform and should be easy enough to drive around because the center of gravity is very spread out through the tripod legs and close to the RC Car from the platform.

Image of my schematic top view for the custom platform to build on top of the remote control car

 

What do I need?

  • Custom platform (wood?)
  • Angled braces for tripod legs
  • 4 very long screws
  • Screws for brackets and tripod on platform
  • A lot of nuts, washers, split washers
  • Drill & bit for holes in RC Car frame and wood platform

Time to go Home Depot and see what I can find!

Image of parts from home depo

Got all the hardware needed, lets start trying to put it together!

Now its time to measure and make sure everything will work the first time. Like the saying ‘measure twice cut once’ is really true, you want to measure over and over again to make sure you have everything perfect. No one wants to go back to the hardware store and re-purchase things multiple times.

I measured out the perfect size for the hardwood platform and got it cut to the exact dimensions at the hardware store, so that was pretty easy to do. But now I need to make sure I place the tripod perfectly on top. As well, I need the correct hole placement to be able to screw it into the RC Car frame.

Here I have cut out paper to measure on, so if I make a mistake I can either erase it or start over again with an exact sized piece of paper.

Image of the custom measured wooden platform for my custom remote control car 360 camera rig

Measure, measure, measure. We want it perfect the first time.

Ok, so we should be good to go for the top wooden platform on measurements. We can start drilling everything. A few things we need to do now :

  • Drill holes in the wooden frame
  • Hammer the metal brackets to an angle for tripod
  • Drill holes in the tripod legs
  • Drill holes in the remote control car frame
  • Screw in the wooden platform on top to test if correct height
  • Screw in the tripod on the wooden platform and test if looks correct
  • Place screws, bolts, washers, split washers to hold our wooden platform above the RC Car frame

 

Image of setting up the tripod wooden platform and brackets for the custom fit

Bending the brackets, drilling holes in the tripod and drilling holes into the wooden platform.

Image of me preparing to drill holes in the remote control car frame to attach the custom rig for 360 camerasNow we can drill the holes in the remote control cars metal frame to set the perfect location of the screws to hold up our wooden platform.

Image of the side of the custom remote control car with screws holding up the platform

Screws are in the correct place and used the correct format of washers, nuts, split washers to make the entire thing vibration proof. Wooden platform is on top and it looks like it might just work out.

Let’s try putting everything together and see what it looks like.

Image of the completed project. The custom remote control car with a platform to hold the tripod and 360 camera rig

Success! It looks like it was planned perfectly and on the first try! Lucky me. Now I will have to go test it out and see how usable it will be.

Now I want to test the wobbliness factor of the tripod with a GoPro Omni 360 Camera on top while moving around, because I know it is pretty heavy and the tripod can only do so well.

Time for some testing!

 

Drive Test # 1

I went and tested on my slanted drive way, because I knew that the tripod will be very top heavy and I wanted to semi test its limits so I know what I can or can’t do.

 

Non 360 – Panoramic Video

360 degree video on grass

360 degree video speed test pavement

 

 

Overview

So after shooting a lot of video using the custom remote control car for 360 cameras, I was pretty happy with the results. Obviously this is only just a quick and dirty version 1.0 to see if it was possible, it is! Next tests will be placing the Garmin Virb on top of it and see how good the stabilization software is in the post production software that Garmin includes in the purchase of the Garmin Virb. I could also test it with the Xiaomi Mijia to see how well the vibrations are removed and compare it to the Garmin Virb.

I do have a MOZA Air 360 gimbal for my GoPro Omni coming at the end of the month, so I might make some modifications to the RC Car to support a gimbal. Obviously the end goal is to have an amazingly stabilized experience by using the RC car for any type of video using the GoPro Omni 360 Camera Rig. If I can get the gimbal, RC Car and GoPro Omni working well with each other, I think it would be a huge success.

I will follow up this post or edit it at another time to add the videos of the Garmin Virb before / after stabilization as well as the Xiaomi Mijia.

The total costs of this build were pretty cheap, depends on which RC Car you buy but my overall costs were below $1000. Once you start adding gimbals and other stabilization features the price will start to increase.