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Dig Cam, An Armchair Caver's Dream.

by Bob Smith

Several months ago, I overheard Les Williams (WCC) discussing events to be organised for the Mendip 2002 gathering, with him saying something like: "Wouldn't it be great if we could watch Tony digging in the car park from the safety of the bar!"  There was much laughter until I mentioned that it could be quite easily done, since I had a camera that was small enough to be put into an Oldham headpiece, and viewed on any suitable TV.  His eyes lit up and he asked me if I really meant it.  After a few beers, we decided it was a 'goer' and so Dig Cam was born.

My next few days were occupied with finding suitable cables, connectors and a power supply for my miniature CCTV camera.  Eventually, I had all the parts gathered, and started the task of assembly.  With all the innards of the lamp removed, and the hole for the switch filled with hot melt glue, I coaxed the cable in and soldered it to the camera.  The comers of the circuit board had to be filed slightly to get it into the headpiece, and this too was held in with hot melt glue.  The whole unit was then sealed with more hot melt, and due to the length of the lens the toughened glass had to be glued to the outside of the bezel.

I had built a power supply and video feed box, and added around 50m of cable, and having no suitable caves in Portsmouth, tested the unit in the ideal conditions of my loft, the images being displayed on my PC through a television receiver card.  The effect was promising, so the whole lot was brought to Mendip, causing much ridicule and piss-taking: "So you need a TV and a mains supply, what f"**ing use is that in a cave!?"  Since it had been built for the specific use of viewing Hunters Lodge Inn Sink, where both these were available, I wasn't too bothered, but it did make me think about how I could remedy this.

Mendip 2002, Sunday 16th, 09.59 hrs.

Having arranged with Les to set up Dig Cam at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning, I was woken rudely by Bev telling me to get my hungover arse out of bed.  Bleary eyed, I dragged myself out of bed, and grabbed a lift to meet Les at the Hunters', or so I thought.  When I arrived, Les was nowhere to be seen, there was no TV and a small group waiting to see this "underground web cam thingy". Dig Cam was rapidly becoming a farce.  Luckily, Trevor turned up in time and returned to the shed to get the Belfry computer, which was quickly installed in the Function Room.  The camera, now placed on Bev's helmet, we were treated to images of Trevor stripping off in the car park.  A Petzl Duo provided light and so into the depths went the pair, with Alex following shortly.

For the next hour or so, various small groups paused on their way to the bar to watch Alex bashing rocks, and Trevor removing spoil.  There really is a limited amount of time that this can captivate even the hardiest of armchair enthusiasts, and again Dig Cam was becoming the proverbial damp squib.  Thank God Tony arrived when he did.  The ailing interest was noted, and Tony asked me if I thought that the camera would survive filming a bang.  I thought it probably would and then everyone¬ís interest perked up.  Trevor had finished drilling shotholes and the other two were returning to the surface.

Tony and I got kitted up and returned below to lay the charge.  The limitations of having a 70m umbilical cord became apparent as I struggled with a snotty mess of cables, with no idea whether I had damaged the fragile connections I had hastily made the day before to extend the cable to the dig face.  Eventually, I got to where Tony was laying the charge, and sat whilst Tony gave a televised broadcast of the use of explosives.  When everything was finished Tony returned to the surface, whilst I wedged the camera in place and secured the lamp provided by Brian Prewer.  A shout from Tony confirmed a good shot, so I exited, and was surprised by the number of people assembled to watch it all happen.  Roger Dors was given the pleasure of setting it all off, with a countdown, then a flash, a reassuring 'whump" from below, and then spontaneous applause and congratulations.  The camera had survived, clearly showing bang fumes drifting in the still intact lamp's light.  As the crowd left, the cables were cut and Dig Cam remained underground until the spoil could be cleared.

The advantage of using the computer for this event was the ability to capture the pictures and save them for later use.  Since the outing, interest was expressed about possible uses for a small remote camera. I have since purchased a small portable TV that can be connected, and the camera can also be run from a battery. The addition of sound is not too far off, but any more suggestions for improvements will be appreciated.

Dig Cam in action in Hunters' Lodge Inn Sink.