Monday, May 18, 2009

PeteTether 1.1 - A Wireless Portable USB tether




Quick update: Readers have reported this working with Nikon, Canon, and Sony cameras. An Olympus reader is having issues, I'll keep you guys updated

Since My last blog things have really exploded with people wanting to know more about what I had done. I decided to name this and give it a new version name even though the first one was really an alpha, not even a beta type job. I never intended for the last post to be a how-to or a step-by-step, more of an overview of what I did, and what I came up against in building it. As there have been so many questions for more details, I figured I'd help out and do a full dissection and build, this time in a more proper working configuration (I never intended to keep it hanging out there like that long term, it was more the proof of concept) Also for anyone building this, all risks are yours and your mileage may vary.



So after everyone flooded me with questions I ordered another new set to disassemble from Amazon.





Here's the link where I got it.



A few days later this arrived.


here are the contents, all laid out.

The two problems for making this device portable are the docking station and the power brick that it requires. So to remedy this I built a 4AAA power pack that fed it all the power it needed. To do this can be trivial if you want to keep that docking base as-is. You would simple create your own 5v power source, cut the plug off your brick, and wire it up with the correct polarity. I'd recommend a switch as well, unless you want to literally pull the plug every time you're done.



A better simple DIY way would be this, the Energizer Energi-to-go.





Here a link to what I'm talking about if you want to go this route.


I got mine for dirt cheap on clearance at an office supply store. I actually bought 6 of them as they come with 2 Lithium Energizer AA batteries and an enclosure that holds the two AAs and has a tiny circuit built in that takes 3 volts and ups it to 5-6volts. If I tried to built a 3v - 5v circuit with a battery holder it would cost me more then price I paid for the whole device with the two lithium AAs. They alone usually sell for about $5.
The version I linked to is the nicest one, it comes with 3 different adapters, if you click on the link and look at the second image, you'll see bottom cable looks very similar to the plug on the USB dock.
It is really close to the right size, I simple used an awl and bored the plastic hole out a tiny bit. It now fit the docking station and the polarity is even correct! So if you're not very technically proficient, The Wireless USB adapter set and the Energizer power pack, with the power cord plug widened is all you'll need! No Soldering, and no opening up anything scary!
Its not under $50, but close and you get batteries. The Energizer pack auto senses to turn on and off, so to use it you'll have to unplug it physically when not in use. It does have cool blinking LEDs to let you know when it is in use, that is a plus in my book. It will be a somewhat bulky mess though, so I leave that up to you how well it may or may not work for you.


For those that are more adventurous and want to see whats inside that dock, continue on!

Here is the base being opened up.


The circuit board in itself is very small, and has a simple circuit on it. See the red wire too? Thats the 5th Beatle, I mean 5th wire going to the USB device dongle. It uses this extra wire to inject the additional power needed to transmit the WUSB at 480mbits/sec. Transmitting and receiving data constantly requires more power then the 5volts sitting on the cable, that's why the need for the brick used in the original implementation.


So lets put the dongle on and see how this packages now.


Not so hot looking eh?

All those right angles make for poor packaging if we want this to look thin and cool. Now some people might say, just hard wire the dongle and you're done right? Not exactly. These USB dongles pair by having the host computer pair with the computer when its plugged into the computer. The only way to do that is to unplug it and plug it into the host pc. So if we hard wire we lose that ability hence the need to keep it unpluggable if needed. If only it had 2 right angle USB connectors like the right side one that goes to the device you want to use. So out comes the soldering station and off comes the straight connector.

And here we go, one connector de-soldered and cleaned up. I hate de-soldering connectors BTW.

So I looked around to see if I had any right angle USB connectors, sadly I didn't. I have 400 mini-usb right angle connectors, but I decided against using that as I'd need a mini-usb to mini-usb cable. So back to the drawing board. I decided to keep the project under my $50 total and time constraints and reuse the existing connector. I turned it into a right angle by bending the pins, and adding leads for the grounds back to the large holes. Its also getting glued down to the board for support since I'm not using as it was designed.
After a little tweaking and re-soldering it was good as old, and nearly ready to go.

Here it is after the right angle mod.



And here is a picture of what it looks like next to its new home, a Radio Shack AAA holder Catalog #270-411. Price only $1.99. I'm actually using 2 of these for a total of $4. One will hold 4AAAs and be the power source, the other will be the home for the PeteTether.

I next removed the power switch on the enclosure, the metal tabs for the batteries, and snipped out all the extra plastic to hold the batteries.

Here's what it looks like before I put the holes on the sides for usb cables and the power connector.

I next used a nibbler, it snips little bites of metal or plastic out and is great if you're into building prototypes. So I nibbled out the sides, and also glued down the red wire with gold pin. Thats another gotcha to overcome. The original design is such that when you drop it into the docking station the gold pin touches a gold plate on the USB dongle. That solution won't work here as it could be unreliable, and we can't have that.

So I took a pin used for another connector and installed it onto the dongle. This will allow it to plug in and off the gold pin. Here is what I'm talking about...

I soldered a wire to the existing wire that was on the gold plate. Its fairly short so it will take a little skill to do this. I place some black heat shrink over the pin after it was crimped on there, bad things would happen if it shorted to the ground plate.



Once completed and soldered together with the other Radio Shack AAA pack, it now looks like this!
With both the Batteries and the PeteTether it measures 2.5"x2"x1.25" not including the dongle sticking out (1/2 the 1.25" if you use another power source). I still have a 1/4 nut on the bottom from the first version, but that could come off. I can run off 4 AAAs or if I keep the power switch turned off I can plug in the Energi to go pack to the power plug that is still functional.



I found an old mp3 player case with a nice big clip on it and packaged it into that to test it on my camera strap. Its not intrusive, it just hangs about 6" above where it connects to the camera. Now if you went with PeteTether sans AAA pack and Energi to go power pack you could have two lumps on your straps. I really prefer the AA solution but I don't like the way it packages with the module. The circuit board is bigger then I can put inside that Energizer module, so I'd need two modules. A better way to go is find that perfect project box that has a 2 AA compartment and room for the tethering module hardware. The problem is that it will most likely cost more then $4 and you'll still need the 3-5v upvoltage converter. If you haven't done prototyping before, you'll find that good prototype boxes are rarely inexpensive.

So I met my budget, under $50, but really close, $40 for the adapter, $4 for battery and module holders, and $5 for the right angle adapter for the mini-usb. I highly recommend that as it can breakaway if its stressed and doesn't hang out there sticking out and just begging to be bent or worse, ruin your cameras connector.

Next up in the future, I need to find an MB-D10 so that I can convert the AA holder to house everything inside. Anyone want to send me one? :) I'll send you back working module all enclosed in AA holder. One of these days I'll probably splurge and buy a real one, The genuine MB-D10 is so much nicer then the knockoff ones.


58 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for posting this. Very cool.

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  2. What is the rough range on the the setup? I am very interested in the option and just curious.

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  3. Thank you very much for posting. Very impressive. I just ordered one to make one for myself as well. One quick question though. That base unit does not seem to have any components on the PCB. If all it's doing is connecting two USB ports with extra power for wireless, couldn't you simply add power pins to the USB cable that connects to the camera?

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  4. I haven't done any distance testing formally, it worked for me line of site up to 30 feet though. This will never be as robust as the newest WiFi as this requires very high bandwidth and to do that reliably from longer distances would need most likely a higher wattage transceiver.

    As to the PCB question, There are surface mount chips on there, they are tiny and on the back side of the board. Keep in mind this board is a voltage block that sends additional power to the dongle and NOT to the device. I really should trace out what the circuit does on the board, but its all surface mount so I can't just eyeball it.

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  5. Thank very much for your reply. If I have to guess, those surface mounts are probably a low pass filter for voltage fluctuations and possibly a diode to limit it to the dongle only. I'll give it a try once mine arrives and let you know. Thanks again.

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  6. Pete, do you think this could work using a Wifi adapter? Such as a linksys or D-link USB wifi dongle? I guess after I make one for myself, I'll find my USB dongle and give it a try. Thanks again for the write up.

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  7. Thanks for taking the time to share, and your willingness to do so.

    If you receive a package from Nikon, I would not open it .... 8?).

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  8. I love this Idea.... Hats off to Pete!!! Here is by build.... keeping the pin inside the original base mounting it all into 1 box... I'm usung 4 AA instead of AAA I believe they last longer...not sure if that is true or not
    www.usbox.com/usb

    while this build is slightly bigger I think having the dongle lay flat on the case will keep it safer from accidental damage.

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  9. Incredible, I love DIY's. I recentley built a battery pack and charger for my off camera flash.
    I was thinking of doing something like this but just have not had the time to tinker with.
    Thank you so very much for posting this build.

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  10. I had a hard time figuring out that the dongle attached to the camera had to be powered! Now that I've understood that, I wonder how I can make the box with the batteries and dongle mount to the camera, a la Canon WFT-E2 or WFT-E2A... tremendous post, though!

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  11. Thanks for all the extremely valuable info. I built one of these tonight and am thus far very pleased. I am powering it with an Energi To Go and have successfully shot 300 test shots on the included set of aa's, and it is still going strong. I put it all together inside a small point and shoot camera case that attaches nicely to my camera strap. I am shooting with a Canon 20D using DSLR Remote Pro.

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  12. 400+ shots and still going strong, but i am pooped further testing tomorrow.

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  13. 700+ shots on 1 set of batteries and still going.

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  14. How fast is the image transfer with a canon body? RAW, of course! :D

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  15. Has anyone had any trouble getting the USBW to work with XP? If so what is the working for this? It works fine with Vista but that is not my work pc.

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  16. I've had no issue on my XP laptop. I installed with SP2 and currently have SP3 with no issues on the WUSB side.

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  17. That's odd cause none of my xp pc's will work with it.

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  18. No x64 love. The dongles wont install on an x64 machine. I was hoping to use this rig to control my camera for fine focusing when attached to my telescope.

    If anyone gets it to work on x64, I'd love to know.

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  19. for X64 users I'd suggest installing VMWare and creating a virtual machine with XP 32 bit. People have reported doing this on vista and having success. Kind of a kludge, but once the VM is setup they run pretty nice. I use VMs myself for lots of things I want to keep clean and isolated from my real world desktop.

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  20. I got it working on x64 Windows7. I found drivers on the CU site. For a while the site was DOA and I figured it was permanant.

    x64 drivers here
    http://www.cablesunlimited.com/drivers/USB-WIRELESS-Vista32-64-v100.0.2.18.zip

    My rig is going to be much simpler as my primary use is to assist focusing the camera when using it with my telescope. The scope' tracking motor is plugged in so no need for a battery pack.

    Right now, I'm up and running with Camera Control Pro 2.5, on an HP 8510p laptop running Win7 and am very happy to have saved $. Excellent find.

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    1. Hi, do you still have the drivers for this? Sadly the link is long gone

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  21. Any suggestions on how to get it to work on XP? I got SP3 installed.

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  22. Hey Pete,

    I posted about your wireless tether on my blog, www.WeeklyPhotoTips.com today.

    Thanks for sharing this cool project.

    Scott

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  23. Jussi: On my 20D it takes about 3 seconds to transfer a large fine jpg. I do not normally shoot raw, but did test it when I first built the unit. It was noticeably slower (5-7 seconds), but still very usable.

    I am using this in a professional portrait studio, and am loving it so far. I am planning to build several of these. Has anyone tried using more than one of these at a time (0n separate computers of course)?

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  24. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817801012

    Alter the output cable and you would have a perfectly good cheap aaa battery box

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  25. Can you explain or draw a diagram on how to alter the cable?

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  26. HI just a question, cant i simply use this?

    http://www.amazon.com/Iogear-GUWH104KIT-Wireless-USB-Adapter/dp/B000UU46W8/ref=pd_cp_e_1

    i can plug the usb dongle thing straight to my camera via a usb to mini usb adapter and then plug my PC to the hub looking thing....i

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  27. That IO gear product SHOULD work. But I've not tested the drivers so who knows. That thing would make for one big device however since you'll still need to add a battery pack, and since its got 4 ports it will most likely draw more power then the CU product. I don't see any upside to using that for a camera tether, unknown drivers, bigger size, more power consumption potential.

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  28. Altering the energi to go cable? you're just making the hole bigger so that it can fit into the connector on the tether. I did it with something similar to an ice pick.

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  29. Why not use the power coming out from the USB port at the camera??

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  30. Hello,
    could you explainme the process for conect the dongle and battery box?

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  31. Hi,

    I'm having a real problem finding wireless USB products in the UK to replicate this device.

    Any clues folks?

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  32. It works fine with the Wireless USB Adapter Set from Olidata (Italy). THX Pete!

    Michael

    www.fotograf-in-frankfurt.de

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  33. Pete, Thanks for the detailed discription!

    Could the same thing be done with the 'N' version of wifi?

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  34. Its not Wifi, so no it can't be done with N. There is a true Wifi method of doing this for better range, but it would come at the cost of a lot of speed/performance.

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  35. If anyone has any interest in polymer molding you can make your own MB-D10 type container. There are DYI's about making cases out of plastic, fiberglass, carbon etc.

    The easiest way would be to borrow/rent a MB-D10. make a mold out of that and off you go.

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  36. Hello,

    Would Battery Lead (+) soldered to RED Wire(5 Beatle) and Battery Lead (-) soldered to where?

    This step was not shown.

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  37. Hi Pete,

    Are you interested in selling this product you made? Please contact me at htgoodshot@verizon.net.

    Thank you.

    Hide

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  38. Hi,
    I would also be interested in distributing your product.
    Please contact me at tomas(at)to-mas.net

    thanks
    Tomas

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  39. Hi
    This is great! I am in South Africa and I am going to try to find these at a decent price...
    But may I ask a probably ridiculous question... why a simple USB bluetooth dongle attached to the camera could not work to communicate with the PC?

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  40. Another question... are these USB wireless dongles Mac OS-X compatible?

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  41. Hi Pete - we have a situation where we have a studio ~ 20 feet from the work computer and there are 2 walls in between - will this solution work? if not do you know of any good solution? Thanks a lot
    BTW - you have done a great job in this post.
    Ajay

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  42. would the Radio Shack Lenmar® 5V/750mAh PowerPort™ Mini USB Charger/Power (Black) work as the camera usb power? there is a usb plug and a plug for the camera out cord. Am I thinking right here?

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  43. I live in Quebec and i search the same cable unlimited kit or alternative kit and i don't find any, do you have a idea to the company can ship in canada?

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  44. IT WORK WITH MY 5D MARK II
    Now to improve this project, I plan buy a chip Battery Back on e-bay, strip (remove) the inside and the connector, keeping my camera power with his battery inside the camera , so use the inside as a compartment for the battery and the transmitter.

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  45. is there another usb tethering product that would work for a Mac? Its an awesome project idea, but is limited to XP only

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  46. i'm wondering if you can tether the files with ipad?

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  47. have anyone tried using the Cables To Go 29571?

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  48. The Amazon comments say that the this Cables Unlimited device only transmits 10-15ft and doesn't like any walls blocking the signal.

    I can't believe that there aren't any more manufacturers trying to make a similar device but with a better range.

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  49. Your article got me thinking. I could use a wireless solution, but need more range (say to cover a football or basketball game). I came up with a more expensive option ($200), that's bulkier (it fits in a small shoulder bag), and I have not tried to "repackage" or "condense" anything down (yet), but it does have an initial range somewhere over 600 feet...and early indications are I might be able to get more than that with some more tweaks. Check out http://www.flickr.com/groups/diyphotographynet/discuss/72157625174713209/

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  50. Oh, and I forgot to mention...it all works on a MACINTOSH!

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  51. Would Bear Extender work with this to increase range? http://bearextender.com/bearextenderpc/

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  52. Hi, The link to the Energizer battery pack seems to be different than your description. Could you please post which Energi Pack model you used? Thank you!

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  53. Hi, I'm finally getting my Cables Unlimited wr2000 usb kit but I noticed that the CU site is down. Is there anyone who has drivers for it and can share with me?
    Thx

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  54. I just found your Blog today, through the post on your original project. Just curious; did you ever get ahold of an MB-D10 to try out that idea?

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  55. Hello Pete or anyone still checking this out. I am fascinated by this solution but I am a Mac user. Would any please take a look at this link and see if it makes sense as a solution. I have a couple of young astronomers in my home and we would love to use this set up with our scope. http://afterthemac.com/product.php?id=n300HS-ATM

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