nature’s “spy” camera you can build yourself with a Raspberry Pi

You have probably ever been curious to see up close or capture an image of that sparrow that occasionally comes to your balcony or terrace in search of possible bread crumbs or food remains. Or the cat that walks on the nearby rooftops on summer nights. Perhaps you live close to nature and want to “hunt” an image of the characteristic fauna of your area.

What if I told you that for less than 30 euros one can feel like a biologist or at least satisfy the curiosity about the fauna that surrounds us? The project My NatureWatch has been promoting it since 2018 with great success.

It all started with a BBC television show

SpringWatch is a great idea from the BBC to bring UK wildlife into every home. Its first episode aired on May 30, 2005.

That first season was configured with 12 episodes that were broadcast live with the help of up to 100 cameras that traveled different parts of the United Kingdom. The goal was show wildlife naturally that made its way in spring.

A1vyciyjw4l Ri Cover of the BBC Two TV show that inspired the project

Since then, each year, on the same dates, around 3 million Britons are glued to the screens when the Springwatch live show starts on BBC Two. During the twelve episodes of each season, at the rate of 3 per week. Due to its success, the idea for the original show has been carried over to other times of the year (fall and winter).

Among the images that can be seen in the program there are some that come from hidden cameras or spy placed in such peculiar places as bird nests, burrows or gardens.

One of the purposes of the My Naturewatch project is to provoke in people curiosity and respect for the fauna that surrounds them in their closest environment

With that starting point in mind, in 2017, members of the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths (University of London) and the Royal College of Art’s Product Design Program began discussions with the BBC’s Department of Natural History, who were those responsible for the creation of the SpringWatch program, to study ways to collaborate in the program.

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His objective was to develop a product that was available to any citizen and that fit the idea behind the program: to know the wild nature that surrounds us. In the season of the series issued in 2018, the working group announced its My Naturewatch project, which they made available to anyone who wanted to join from home.

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The project, of course maker spirit, was shown at fairs, educational centers and different actions were carried out that made it very popular. And that was precisely the purpose.

Andy Boucher, co-director of the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, defines it as a project that aspires to unite the interest in the fauna that surrounds people in their closest environment with the one that already exists for technology and the creation of a community. curious about the images taken by the DIY cameras from other project members.

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In fact, the project has not stopped here. It has been associated with a monitoring program for small birds that we usually find in private home gardens and that, with the help of RFID technology in their identification rings, can be monitored using feeders that read these labels.

But the best thing about the project is that, today, anyone with a certain interest, curiosity and a Raspberry Pi can build their own. nature spy camera.

How to build your own nature spy camera with the MyNaturewatch project

My Naturewatch is a comprehensive DIY system that uses basic cameras to automatically capture images of animals passing in front of the camera with the help of motion detection algorithms and computer vision.

The system is a very basic and affordable recreation of the hidden camera systems used in documentaries or by biologists and professionals. The project includes everything from the instructions to start the system to the necessary software or advice on where to place and camouflage them.

Raspberry Pi Placa Zero WH 512 MB

Raspberry Pi Placa Zero WH 512 MB

Elementos del sistema My NatureWatch

The basic system can be obtained for a few euros, around 30. The highest cost is the corresponding Raspberry Pi as well as the camera. The rest is basically where we want to go with our DIY system.

My Naturewatch it can be configured on a Raspberry Pi Zero W, Pi 3A +, Pi 3B + or Pi 4B. The ideal, due to size and consumption, is to opt for the Zero model. But in any of them it works perfectly.

Nwcam Instructions 7603

Along with the Raspberry Pi that we choose, we only need the following as main components:

  • MicroSD card of no more than 64 GB preferably.
  • Camera module for Raspberry Pi (from 15 euros).
  • Some heatsink for the Raspberry Pi if we don’t have a case that includes it.
  • Power Bank type battery.

The rest of the elements will already depend on the design that we want to make for the “container” of the system, which must be watertight to prevent the system from being damaged by water, since the main idea is that it be left outdoors for long periods of time.

Steps to follow for construction and commissioning

Something to keep in mind before starting the project is that the Raspberry Pi will have to run an exclusive distribution that the My NatureWatch project has developed for this purpose (basically a server with a few extra functions). Doing so is as simple as with any other distribution that is installed on a RPi.

We first download the image of the distribution and then the free Etcher software, with which we are going to save the image of the distribution on the microSD card. The project warns that it can cause problems with capacities of more than 64 GB. We have done it with a 16 GB without problems.

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Next we will insert the microSD card into the Raspberry Pi and, connected to the power supply (the external battery, for example), the My Naturewatch server will start. We spent a few seconds and we can go on to configure the system.

To do so we must connect from a computer or smartphone to the Wifi network that creates the software on the Raspberry Pi, of type MyNaturewatch-123456. The numbering will be generated automatically and differently for each distribution. The password is ‘badgersandfoxes’.

The next thing will be to go to the address using a browser and the simple one will appear interfaz de My Naturewatch.

Mynaturewatch Using 00 Interface 02 Desktop Interface of the web version on a computer

There, in addition to seeing what the camera records live, we can start the video recording function of taking images, which will be registered in the application’s gallery. Images or video only start to be recorded when motion is detected in front of the camera.

The rest of the options are just as simple and allow you to vary the orientation of the image to the sensitivity of the motion detector or automatic exposure.

Mynaturewatch Using 00 Interface 05 Desktop

This basic configuration limits access to the camera when we are within range of the Wi-Fi network created by the Raspberry Pi. In case we want to access it from any site with a network, we must modify some files of the distribution to make it connect directly to the Internet.

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The fun part: building your own case

Although from the project My Naturewatch They give advice to build a housing and protection for the camera, once the distribution is configured, the maker part arrives to think about and build our own housing.

Here it is advisable to first fix the Raspberry Pi and camera to a cardboard or rigid element, which then we must insert in a watertight place because inside, in addition to the RPi itself, the external battery that will power the minicomputer must remain. In the project that we have mounted, a 5000 mAh battery gave us a whole morning of surveillance, around 8 o’clock.

My Naturewatch proyecto

The last step is to just enjoy and think about which corners near home, the patio, an excursion with a circular route or the areas that come to mind, we can leave our My Naturewatch spy camera well camouflaged and feel a little Rodriguez De la Fuente de the fauna that surrounds us.

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