Michael Sabielny, creator of Nerdcam, was concerned that adoption was held back because there isn't a frame that protects the $150 unit. He asked if I'd be interested in designing a frame just for it. Little did he know that I've been obsessed with 3d since the first time I looked through a Viewmaster.
I've always wanted to fly 3d FPV, but I wrongly assumed that it would require a complicated dual VTX setup and expensive virtual reality goggles so I never delved deeper. Turns out that the Nerdcam works with all standard FPV equipment (assuming your goggles have a 3d mode), and the camera unit is the only thing you'll need to get up and flying in 3d. The camera unit stitches two images side by side into one, the VTX sends it, and the goggles split them back up and sends an image to each eye. This reduces the horizontal resolution of each image by half, and it is noticeable. However, when your eyes lock into the 3d image and it pops, the image gets a boost in clarity and realism that, for me, more than makes up for the loss in resolution.
Michael's concept of the frame was an H quad with the camera unit in front. I wasn't crazy about that idea, since it would push the front props really far apart and make a heavier, less responsive quad. My first thought was to create a new pod based on the Orca base, with the camera unit between the props. There's plenty of room in there, and you have the quickness and agility of the Orca.
I was really looking forward to the challenge of drawing up this pod, hoping to make it both functional and cool looking, like some kind of alien deep sea creature. But then I got the unit in my hand, and this concept seemed less doable. For one, the board extends past the lenses quite a bit, so the pod wouldn't have that cool octopus looking head. Secondly, I never thought through how the unit would slide into the pod – there's just no way to insert the Nerdcam into a sleek, enclosed pod.
So the next thought was to use the Mixuko/Full Tilt Boogie base. I could bolt something to the Mixuko carbon top, and that would hold the cam in the same relative position as my original idea. And with the four mounting points, I could design a hinged pod that would open to allow the cam unit in, then lock it in place when screwed on. We can do this!
I printed it up and it worked, but for reasons beyond me it printed horrendously, all wrinkled and nasty. With 45 degrees of cam tilt it should've printed well with few supports, but no matter what I tried it kept coming up rippled. I refined it a few times, added antenna tube mounts (which I seem to always forget), and built it up for a maiden at the FPV Addiction club field.
The maiden turned out to be really fun, with everyone at the field tuned in to follow along. The 3d effect is there at all distances – even clouds looks super cool – but, as expected, it really kicks in up close. Shooting a gate is pretty freaky, you get more of a sense of it going past you on all sides. Flying low is really fun as well, grass in the foreground really jumps out at you and gives you a keener sense of altitude. Shane just circled the gates as closely as he could and enjoyed the view. We all had a blast flying it.
Of course, the inevitable question is: does it make you a better pilot/racer? Well, in my opinion, not really. At racing speeds you're focused on obstacles that are pretty far away, so the 3d effect is less pronounced. Plus, the cam unit is like a big ol' airbrake. I do think it adds another dimension to FPV, and it's a setup I intend on flying a lot just for fun and a change of pace. It doesn't hurt that I won't have to bring any extra kit to the field to fly it.
With the frame concept proven I got in touch with Chris Griffin for printing help. He took the STL and sent me a factory file with his settings, and lo and behold the ripples were gone. I'm so glad to have his help 'cause 3d printing tuning just eludes me.
And here's some shots of the clean pod. This is how the Nerdcam gets into the pod.