July 12, 2016

Watch: How to Build an $18,000 360° Robot Dolly for Around $500

These guys found a motorized wheelchair in the garbage and turned it into a remote-controlled camera dolly worth $18,000.

The good people at Indy Mogul have pulled off a pretty wondrous DIY stunt. Now, whether or not you have the skills to pull it off too is an entirely different question.

They admit it's a pretty insanely complicated build, but the finished product is definitely "super awesome." Especially when considering the cost. They modeled the dolly after an $18,000 robot and ended up putting their whole thing together for around $500.

Here's what they used:

Motorized chair: ~$120 (Craigslist)
Sabertooth Motor Driver:  $129
Controller and Receiver:  $52
Ikea table leg:  $15
New batteries (if needed): $99 each
Baby monitor (optional): $90 

And here's how they did it:

These are the (incredibly simplified) steps to build:

Step 1

Find a wheelchair. Specifically, an electric wheel chair or scooter. Apparently, they are pretty easy to find on Craigslist. But host Erik Beck was lucky enough to find one in the trash. For free.

Step 2

Gut the chair. Strip out all the junk you don’t need, which basically leaves you with two sides of the frame, the motors and the wheels. 

Step 3

Test, Test and Re-Test. Test the motors, the batteries and the motor that will end up powering your robot (They used Sabertooth), then test how it all works with the RC controller.

Step 4

Modify the frame. This guy has some insane welding skills, so perhaps this is the part where we lose the average DIY enthusiast. Taking the remnants of the chair he previously gutted, Erik reworked the metal to make the frame narrower and more sturdy. He then zip tied everything together, threw on an upside down table leg and attached the 360° camera to the top. 

Step 5

Make it "super awesome!" If you weren't lost before, Erik even makes a point to tell us that this is where things get really tricky. He fabricates a few supports to allow the batteries to sit lower on the frame, gave some extra weight to the table leg camera mount, replaced the old batteries and gave it a "stealthy" black paint job.

Step 6

Give it eyes. Since the operator must be out of the robot's sight lines for 360° video, the team needed to come up with a way for whoever is in control to see what the camera sees. The solution, a cheap video baby monitor attached to the robot on one end and the RC controller on the other.

Just in case you wondering if it all really works or not, take a look at the test footage below.

Your Comment

2 Comments

This is super cool and generous information. I have to say the real cost is not revealed, this gentlemen has a shop full of tools, the experience to use them, and the ability to be a creative problem solver, which is a very valuable skill set. The R&D time for this prototype is prob around $2500, the build time another $2000. That's a low estimate.

If you refined this product and went into production, in which you would need to make a living, you'd need a couple more skilled people, custom parts made by a large manufacture, larger facility, more tools and all the rest of the overhead that comes with owning a business. My guess, that puts this product at the $8 to $10 grand mark at least.

This is why equipment cost so much in our industry, it's low volume, niche, specialized gear.

But hey if you want to work for free I have a couple custom table frames that need to be welded together. All in good fun here with a different perspective.

July 12, 2016 at 2:10PM

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JD Burditt
Cinematography / VFX Professional
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+1, exactly my thoughts on this. Super cool build though.

July 13, 2016 at 7:29AM

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Kim Janson
Gimbal developer
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