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SD990 for Aerial Firefighting

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SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« on: 22 / January / 2009, 00:45:07 »
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Hello,
I'm a wildfire attack pilot and would like to use the Canon SD990 IS to continuously record fires I'm assigned to. The camera will be attached to the outside of the plane pointing 45 degrees down and to right.  The hi-res photos will be given to the fire teams (fire planners, dispatch, ground crews, GIS/mapping team and others) once we land.

Is it possible to get help with this project and porting CHDK to the SD990?  I'm not a C programmer and have not yet used CHDK, but would like to do whatever I can. I have a SD990 camera already and the hi resolution is great for aerial photographs and fire fighting.  I'm hoping to install and test the camera by April so as to be ready for the fire season starting in May.

My wish/hope is to get a version of CHDK for the sd990 that will do the following from the moment the camera is powered up until it powers down:
- take non-stop continuous pictures at the fastest possible interval.  Hopefully every few seconds.
- write to the 32 GB SD card full res 14.7 MP pictures with normal compression
- Focus always set to infinity
- exposure automatic
- IS on, but I'm not sure this matters
- LCD display always off (to save batteries)

The camera will be turned on just before entering the plane, operate untouched and out or sight. It will be turned off when back on the ground.  We are very busy in the air, so it won't be thought about until back on the ground.  Flight missions over the wildfires are normally about 4.5 hours roundtrip, but can go up to 5.5 hours.  If batteries won't last 5 hours, then maybe lengthening the interval time will be needed.

I hope this is the correct forum to post this message.  If not, sorry, but please tell me where to post, or proceed.

Thank-you,
Mark Zaller
Air Attack Pilot
Columbia, CA
mszaller@yahoo.com

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Offline barret

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Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #1 on: 22 / January / 2009, 04:38:19 »
about battery life: your camera (sd990) is a bit different from mine (a550), but i can tell you that for example canon a550, powered by two AA NiMH rechargeable batteries (2800 mAh) can take photos in intervals of few seconds for over 10 hours.
« Last Edit: 22 / January / 2009, 04:45:18 by barret »

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Offline PhyrePhoX

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Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #2 on: 22 / January / 2009, 13:03:21 »
looks like an interesting project. i hope someone ports the cam for you.

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Offline reyalp

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Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #3 on: 22 / January / 2009, 18:32:46 »
This is an interesting project. Having suffered through last years fire season in CA (see http://tinyurl.com/buezmp), I'm definitely for anything that helps you guys do your job!

Scripting wise, CHDK should have no trouble doing what you need to do.

Are you set on using the sd990 ? You can pick up a CHDK supported camera quite cheap. While they are mostly lower resolution, you may find that one that is better suited overall to what you want to do. Pocket point and shoots rarely take full advantage of their max resolution, and vibration may limit the max useful resolution you can get anyway. You could always start with a cheap used camera that is already supported, and switch to the 990 when/if it does get ported. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have something really expendable for testing purposes anyway ;)

Porting particular cameras doesn't happen on any fixed schedule. It depends on a developer having that camera, and the time to do it. If you are interested in loaning the camera to random strangers on the internet, I might be able to do this.

Depending how high your fly in transit, you might also have temperature issues (battery life drops drastically below freezing).

At max quality and resolution, it looks like you should get a somewhere over an hour of continuous shooting at max rate on a 32G card (~5300 6.3MB shots at a bit less than 1 per second).  However, according to the canon specs, battery life is only 700 with the LCD off. While you can probably do better than CIPA standard, doing 7x better might be a stretch.  The S990 does offer an AC adapter, so you could probably build an external battery pack an package the whole thing in a box. I'd guess you probably want to package the camera somehow anyway, rather than having it hanging in the breeze.
Don't forget what the H stands for.


Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #4 on: 22 / January / 2009, 22:25:52 »
Hello Reyalp, and others,
Thanks for the interest and offer to help.

I've borrowed my wife's SD850 IS to get started right away.  I've downloaded CHDK for the SD850 and am wading in.

The ~15Mp images is what steers me to the SD990.  I've done some simple testing, and so far am impressed to see straight and horizontal lines showig no wasted/blurry pixels.  The higher the resolution the better from the air (people will zoom in when on the ground), but other cameras are an option, especially if the battery life the SD990 is not long enough. 

Not yet tested, but my plan is to build a special aircraft inspecition plate (6" round) with a small hole for the lens.  I'll mount the camera on the inside up against foam pointing out through clear air at 90 degrees to the air stream.  Forward looking glass/lens quickly picks up bugs and ash.  This special inspection plate will have quick releases so I can easily pop it on and off, before and after flight.

I also capture Hi-Def video sometimes.  I use Panasonic cameras (sd100, sd9), and they work fine (OIS and all).  1920 x 1080 HD video (AVCHD) is beautiful, but more difficult to play.  Either a relatively new powerful PC is needed or an HD TV.  Taking snapshots out of the video for emailing is again another process.  It does look great, but isn't as high resolution/quality as an SD990.  KIS, keep it simple is of great value when people are either very busy, or would rather be operating a shovel.

Once things are working, tests can determine battery life and number of shots.  The interveralometer can then be set to the right interval.  Possibly lower conpression will also stretch out battery life. Plumbing in electricity is possible, but this complication would greatly reduce the utilization (pickup rate) by others.  Continuous shooting sounds to fast if it is under a second. 3-4 seconds per shot would be ok.  Depending on the plane, we go about 100 - 200 feet per second (70-140 mph) at 1000-3000 ft AGL (above ground level)

One step at a time, but if this all works well, then I hope to pursue the removal of the IR cut filter so as to see better through the smoke. Of course not as good as thermal IR, but a lot cheaper.  In addition to quality/resolution, cheap & easy does count, because then everybody will implement.  The company I work for has 10 planes, but we won't keep this for ourselves.  Like other technology implementations we've put together (moving map topos on Tablet PCs in the cockpit with daily fire tracks), I can team up with the right people to write another whitepaper describing how to do it for the whole fire fighting industry.

Which California fires were you near last year?  I worked out of Redding and Siskiyou on the Lime complex, Ukonom and Panther.  I'm training on some new airplanes now, and could possibly to drop in.  What airport are you near?  Columbia airport is near Yosemite.

-MarkZ
 mszaller@yahoo.com


Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #5 on: 22 / January / 2009, 23:21:13 »
If battery life is am issue, I'm sure it wouldn't be a stretch to rig an external battery pack that connects to the DC in port (I assume there should be one) that has a longer life as needed.

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Offline reyalp

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Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #6 on: 22 / January / 2009, 23:43:38 »
Once things are working, tests can determine battery life and number of shots.  The interveralometer can then be set to the right interval.  Possibly lower conpression will also stretch out battery life. Plumbing in electricity is possible, but this complication would greatly reduce the utilization (pickup rate) by others.  Continuous shooting sounds to fast if it is under a second. 3-4 seconds per shot would be ok.  Depending on the plane, we go about 100 - 200 feet per second (70-140 mph) at 1000-3000 ft AGL (above ground level)
Canon gives the same spec (700 shots with LCD off) for the SD850, so running one of the existing intervalometer scripts should give you rough ballpark for the SD990 as well.

Rather than plumbing electricity into the airplane, I'd make a battery pack of out of rechargeables, and attach that to your camera/inspection plate combo. That would keep it simple, cheap, and self contained. If my googling is correct, the 990 uses a 3.7 volt, ~1100 mAh battery. Three NiMH AAs would give you 3.6 volts and easily 2500 mAh or more. If that isn't enough, there's plenty of larger options.
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One step at a time, but if this all works well, then I hope to pursue the removal of the IR cut filter so as to see better through the smoke. Of course not as good as thermal IR, but a lot cheaper. 
This will be a very delicate operation on a subcompact P&S camera. Even the relatively bulky A-series is packed in there  http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=251630 Definitely something to try with a cheap ebay camera first.
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Which California fires were you near last year?  I worked out of Redding and Siskiyou on the Lime complex, Ukonom and Panther.  I'm training on some new airplanes now, and could possibly to drop in.  What airport are you near?  Columbia airport is near Yosemite.
Inside the evacuation area for Trabing, also close to summit. I am very close to Watsonville airport (WVI). Feel free to drop me a PM if you come out this way.

edit:
BTW, it appears there isn't yet a firmware dump from the SD990. You can try to get one using the process described in http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/Porting_the_CHDK

Cardtricks with the "new dryos" option is the simplest.
« Last Edit: 22 / January / 2009, 23:54:18 by reyalp »
Don't forget what the H stands for.

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Offline PhyrePhoX

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Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #7 on: 23 / January / 2009, 00:15:25 »
hm, i'm sure i saw a dump on fe50's drop somewhere?


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Offline reyalp

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Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #8 on: 23 / January / 2009, 00:35:35 »
hm, i'm sure i saw a dump on fe50's drop somewhere?
You are correct. I was silly and just checked the wiki. http://drop.io/chdkdumps/asset/ixus980-sd990-100e I forgot I even participated in the thread the dump was posted to http://chdk.setepontos.com/index.php/topic,2801.0.html

MarkZ, you should check using the vers.req trick what canon firmware version your 990 has. If it isn't 1.00e, try to get dump.
Don't forget what the H stands for.

Re: SD990 for Aerial Firefighting
« Reply #9 on: 23 / January / 2009, 13:52:43 »
I would do this with a remote trigger to start the script as well as possibly an external battery pack.  The remote trigger would allow not starting shooting until getting close to the fire area.  This will have a distinct advantage of speeding up the review on the ground.  A full 32 gig card will take quite some time to upload, generate thumbs, and then review.  Photo after photo of zero interest on the way to the fire and the same on the way back.  This could be done without wires to the cockpit; rather, an rf remote control to the usb connector should work nicely.
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