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Robotic camera dolly upcycled from a wheelchair and other parts

Virtual reality is all the rage these days, but 360-degree video is pretty hard to capture. Without an expensive robotic dolly, videographers are stuck with either leaving the camera in one place and hiding, or including themselves in the picture – unless, of course, they happen to have some crazy DIY skills and the right parts lying around.

Eric Beck said that he didn’t want to drop as much as $18,000 on a commercial robotic dolly, but with some creativity, time, and dumpster diving, he designed one from an old wheelchair, a video baby monitor, and an Ikea table leg, in what he says is one of the biggest projects he’s undertaken for the YouTube DIY channel, Indy Mogul (via Forbes).

Related: Don’t want to be in your 360 footage? There’s a robot for that

Beck picked up the old electric wheelchair a few months ago from a dumpster, not sure of what he’d eventually use it for at the time. But with few affordable products on the market that allow for panning and otherwise moving a 360 camera without actually getting into the footage, and idea started to take root.

Gutting the wheelchair down to the frame, wheels, motor, and batteries, Beck and the Indy Mogul team tested the motor then wired it to work with a motor controller and receiver he purchased. With a working motor, they did some welding to modify the frame, making it narrower so it doesn’t show in the video, and building a lowered platform for the batteries. An Ikea table leg serves as the camera mount, and so that the film maker can actually hide out of the footage without driving into things, they mounted a cheap video baby monitor on the front for navigation.

The end result? A robotic camera dolly with a motor that’s nearly silent that can travel up to 3 miles per hour — and of course some 360 video with movement and without the camera operator. Indy Mogul completed the rig for about $245, largely because the wheelchair was picked up from a dumpster and they took a few parts from other DIY video projects. To buy all the parts from scratch, Beck estimates, would probably run about $650 — a far cry from the expense of commercial options.