How to set up a DIY dashcam
I’ve been looking at buying a dashcam for my car. If you haven’t come across these devices, go to YouTube and search for “dashcam”; you’ll find lots of videos of people having road traffic accidents, most of them taken in Russia. Apparently, this is because Russia’s law enforcement is so lax (and sometimes corrupt) that whenever such an incident ends up in court, video evidence is often given more weight than dodgy eyewitness’ testimony.
As it happens, that’s the reason I’ve been looking at dashcams, too. We were involved in a minor prang recently, and the other party told his insurance company a story that was very different from the event we witnessed. If we’d had video evidence, it would have made the claims process far simpler.
I wondered whether I could adapt one of the new breed of action cameras to work as an in-car recorder
If you do a web search or look on eBay, you’ll find all manner of dashboard-mounted cameras. Some of them have GPS position-logging, accelerometers for crash detection and front- and rear-facing cameras to record what’s going on inside and outside the car. The more sophisticated models cost several hundred quid. The trouble is, I didn’t like anything I saw.
Given the title of this column, it should come as no surprise that I prefer gadgets that operate wirelessly. Most of the dashcams I came across require a power connection in the car, and I don’t want power cables trailing all over the place. They were rather bulky, too, with built-in screens for reviewing the footage. I want something discreet that, above all, doesn’t block my field of view.
Thinking slightly outside the box, I wondered whether I could adapt one of the new breed of action cameras to work as an in-car recorder. When you think of action cams, you probably picture devices such as the excellent GoPro Hero3 or the Drift HD Ghost. Both of these were still too big and boxy for me, though. I turned my eyes to the Mobius Action Camera, which you can pick up in the UK for around £60.
It’s a fantastic device, about the same size and weight of a car’s central-locking key fob, but containing a 1080p camera with a high-quality, 120-degree lens. The picture quality is excellent, and the Mobius adapts well to bright sunshine and nighttime driving conditions.
Crucially, it contains a rechargeable battery that’s good for around an hour and a half of recording time, which is long enough for my usual journeys. If I want to record a longer trip, I’ll attach something like the Innergie PocketCell power source.
At first, I simply used a bit of Velcro to attach the Mobius to the headliner of my car, and it stayed put pretty well. However, I was worried it might fall off, especially if I had a little bump with another car. Eventually I fashioned a removable mount out of sugru, a putty similar to Play-Doh that sets as a strong, silicone rubber overnight.
It’s dead easy to make removable mounts for small gadgets using this magical material. First, cover the device – my Mobius camera, in this case – with a thin layer of cling film to prevent the sugru from sticking to it, making sure to leave a small gap between the device and the mount. Then, wrap sugru around the base of the device, overlapping the sides (but not the corners) so it’s held securely but can still be easily removed. Once the sugru has set, simply remove the camera and peel away the cling film.
I also performed this procedure around the stem that holds my car’s rearview mirror, so I now have an unobtrusive place to quickly and easily mount the Mobius. You could use a traditional suction-based windscreen mount, which the UK distributor of the Mobius sells quite cheaply, but I much prefer the hidden nature of my setup.
The camera is very simple, with a lens at one end, a microSDHC card slot and a USB connector at the other, and three buttons and a multicolour LED on the top. It records video in 1080p at 30fps, or in 720p at 30fps or 60fps, and takes photos at 2,048 x 1,536. It also records audio. Usefully, you can reduce the video quality if you want to keep the file size down, but that shouldn’t really be a problem, since the camera can take 32GB memory cards (and some users have had success with 64GB ones).
Of course, using the Mobius as a dashcam is only one possible application. As an action camera, it can be used for capturing extreme sports footage when attached to a helmet or bike, or even as a recording platform on a remote-controlled plane or quadcopter. It’s a lovely piece of kit with so many uses.
There’s a semi-official support forum for the camera here, where you’ll find plenty of details about the hardware, plus links to sample videos, firmware updates and all kinds of hacks and mods. There’s even an Android app for configuring the device (the alternatives are a GUI app for Windows users or an easily editable text file for Linux or Mac users).