Made On Earth — In the Lion’s Den

Craft & Design


Close-up photography of African wildlife has always been an extreme sport. And capturing a unique photo is even more challenging. But then along came a tiny robot called BeetleCam.

Built by U.K. photography duo Will and Matt Burrard-Lucas, the BeetleCam is a modded 4WD robotic buggy manufactured by Lynxmotion and mounted with a DSLR camera. The brothers ordered their buggy with off-road tires to help it traverse Africa’s uneven terrain. Then they stuffed it with two 7.2-volt, 2,800mAh NiMH battery packs that provide a daylong operating time — a must since wildlife photography involves a lot of waiting, followed by much more waiting.

With some creative hacking, the camera is operated by a free channel on the Hitec 6-channel radio controller. A relay switch converts the signal from the R/C receiver to one that triggers the camera’s shutter release cord. The camera, originally a Canon EOS 400D, controls two flash modules using a split off-camera flash cord.

The robot cost $500 and took just a month to prototype. After they stabilized the camera and camouflaged the bot, it was ready for a trip to Tanzania — where it was promptly mauled by a lion and carried off into the bush.

While the camera was destroyed, the memory card and robot chassis were intact. And the downloaded photos proved BeetleCam a success. The unit was quickly upgraded with a Canon EOS-1D Mark III and sent on its way. (Lions were to be avoided.) Oddly, another of Africa’s most dangerous animals — the African buffalo — proved to be not only cooperative but curious about the tiny critter.

The team is now working on version 2.0 of BeetleCam. Will says they also “intend to build a lion-proof version.”

BeetleCam Bros.:

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