Made On Earth
In the Lion’s Den
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.” —Jerry James Stone
BeetleCam Bros.: burrard-lucas.com
Photograph by William and Matthew Burrard-Lucas
20 Make: makezine.com/26