Adding a Wireless Router + Cam to an RC Heli (and camera defense)

Guy gets WiFi-enabled RC helicopter as a gift, wants to add a camera, ends up swapping in an entire (if very small) wireless router running OpenWRT. The result is streaming video live from the air, from an network-controlled helicopter. Which is bloody neat. And really impressive that a company managed to get this running, RC helis are quite hard to fly and require very low latency from any control system.

Speaking of cameras: go to just about any hardware store and pick up some thin polyethelene (or whatever) sheeting, like painters use. It’s incredibly lightweight and dirt cheap (2€ for something like 4×10 meters). Coupled with some steel wire strung between the walls to suspend it from (maybe use a double layer) and you’ve got an instant camera-proof working area. (Now just watch out for all the other attacks.)

“Last Christmas, [bonafide] received a WiFi enabled remote control helicopter from his employer. The heli is an interesting bit of kit, able to be controlled with an Android or iDevice. Being the good tinkerer he is, [bonafide] took a screwdriver to his Wi-Fli Bladerunner Helicopter and reengineered the toy to use an off-the-shelf wireless router.

The protocol used by the Wi-Fli helicopter is closed source, but a few people have had their hand at reverse engineering this cool toy. Instead of simply controlling the helicopter over WiFi, [bonafide] wanted to add a few unsupported features like sending images from a webcam. This isn’t supported in the toy’s firmware, so after a valiant attempt at flashing new firmware, [bonafide] decided to replace the electronics with a WiFi router.

In the stock configuration, the helicopter receives commands from an RT5350F-based WiFi module. This module communicates to the servos and motors with a serial connection. [bonafide] replaced the WiFi module with a very small router capable of running OpenWRT. The new router was easily configured to send commands to the motors, and allowed [bonafide] to add a small keychain webcam to stream video back to his desktop.”


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