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In medicine, the term "off-label" is used when a doctor prescribes a drug for a reason or in a manner not specifically intended by the manufacturer nor appoved by the FDA. When doctors prescribe something off-label, it's usually because they think the drug will be successful in treating a condition that doesn't already have a good solution with a different drug.
I'm not a doctor, and I don't even play one on TV. But as a techie with a penchant for working on unusual or special-purpose projects, I often use electronics and software in off-label ways. That's what I did with Amazon's Ring Stick Up Cam Battery. This is not what Amazon intended for this product, yet it works really well.
Watching over a laser and a spinning wheel of death
The off-label problem I wanted to solve was watching my Glowforge laser cutter and Inventables X-Carve CNC while they were working to make sure nothing bad was happening. After all, the Glowforge is a robotic laser -- it shoots an actual laser beam -- that burns material to cut or engrave it. The X-Carve is a robotic cutting machine that spins a steel cutter at thousands of revolutions per minute.
So, yeah. In one room I have a robot-controlled laser beam that can slice through most materials, and in another, I have a robot-controlled spinning wheel of death. My wife is so very tolerant. I am so very lucky.
Normally, the best practice when using either of these machines is to stay with them while they do their work. That way, if something goes wrong, you can see it happening and shut the robot down. Unfortunately, it's wildly unpleasant to be in the room with either of these machines.
Even though I have a ventilation fan that exhausts the Glowforge fumes right outside, the small room where it's located becomes filled with fumes that persist long after the cutting process completes.
And even though I have dust collection with the CNC, there's a lot of very fine particulate matter sent into the workshop air that I'd rather not inhale. Both machines are also insanely noisy, especially with the add-on ventilation fan.
Installing a camera is the next best thing to being there. Through a remote camera, I can watch these devices on either my phone or computer. If there's an issue, I'm just a room away.
Why the Stick Up Cam Battery
I thought about using the combination of a Raspberry Pi and webcam to monitor my 3D printers, but I didn't want all the extra wires (and the few hours of complexity configuring the custom monitoring Linux distro). More to the point, Amazon had previously sent me the Stick Up Cam Battery camera back when they sent me one of their Alexas to review, and it was sitting on the review shelf, waiting to be put to work.
If that was all it was, I might not have chosen the Stick Up Cam. But the device comes with a hefty battery. Amazon claims it can watch a house for about six months on a single charge. The battery is easy to pop out of the camera and connect to any micro-USB charger to give it a fill-up.
It also comes with the Ring app, which allows for live viewing either in a desktop browser or on a phone. While I didn't need most of the Ring ecosystem features (like motion detection and two-way audio), the basic functionality and solid 1080p video quality were a win. Plus, setup was a fast five-minute job, which is a huge win, especially compared to what it would have taken to connect a webcam to a Raspberry Pi and install a custom version of Linux.
But there was one problem: the field of view, especially below the camera, wasn't good enough to watch my dangerous little robot friends. I needed to mod the camera.
Designing a custom camera mount
I did a quick test with a piece of cardboard and found that while increasing the angle of the camera did help, that slight angle didn't help nearly enough.
To get the camera to see fully inside the Glowforge and to see the bed of the CNC, I needed the camera tilted at 45 degrees. Unfortunately, that much tilt resulted in the camera toppling over. So I needed to make something to keep it at 45 degrees.
Since I was already working with a CNC and a laser cutter, I decided to round out the desktop fabrication trio with a 3D-printed camera mount. I modeled it up in Autodesk Fusion 360 using parametric values (which allow you to easily change dimensions) and have the design recalculate and lofting (which creates a mesh between two objects, and is how I got the angled swoop to work).
The design has three main features. On the left is a tube, into which you slide the camera. On the right is a rectangular area where you can slide in a 1-2-3 block as a counterweight. If you're not familiar with 1-2-3 blocks, they are inexpensive tools that measure one inch on one side, two inches on another side, and three inches on the third side. They're heavy precision steel and have a lot of uses in the shop and lab. I got two from Amazon for $18.
Here's what the final mount looks like after it came off the 3D printer.
The third feature of the design is a hook that lets me hang it up when it's not in use. It fits very nicely on my pegboard.
Proud as I am that I remembered to put a hanging hole in it, there'd be no point if it didn't do the job. Let's see how it does.
Using the Stick Up Cam Battery to monitor my gear
This solution works really well. As you can see, it sits nicely on the corner of my Glowforge. Because the camera is both wireless and battery-powered, there are no wires to interfere with using the laser. The only thing I have to do is remember to move the camera so it doesn't interfere with the lid opening.
It does a great job monitoring the cut. Although you can't see the actual laser beam doing the cutting, here's a screencap of the Stick Up Cam's video feed that was taken while the laser was burning the plastic material. To be sure, if there's ever a fire in the chamber, I'll be able to see that -- and act on it immediately.
I can see what's happening without having to breathe in the noxious odor -- and that's with a custom ventilation fan venting to the outside. I can't imagine how rough this is for laser users who don't have outside ventilation.
The battery strength is quite nice. After doing a 15-minute cut, the battery level in the camera was still at 98%. This means I can probably do 20-50 projects on the laser cutter on one battery charge (although, in practice, I'll probably charge it up once it drops below 50%).
Because this rig is portable, I can put it on anything I want to monitor. Here's the unit sitting on my CNC.
So there you go. The Stick Up Cam Battery makes for a great monitoring camera, especially when paired with an inexpensive weight and the 3D printed holder. If you want to make one yourself, you can buy the camera and 1-2-3 blocks directly from Amazon. I've posted the .STL file for my 3D design on Thingiverse, so you can download that for free. 3D printers aren't very expensive, so even if you don't have one, you might consider getting one for projects like this. Here's ZDNET's list of inexpensive 3D printers you might want to consider.