Build your own motion-triggered "Internet of Things" camera
March 19, 2012
Adafruit's "Internet of Things Camera" is a neat mashup of existing Arduino components into a versatile remote monitoring camera. The key here is in the word remote - a capability that's granted by the inclusion of a first-generation Eye-Fi card, which is an SD card with built in Wi-Fi, that can upload images to your computer or other device, or better yet to a variety of photo-sharing websites such as Flickr.
Gizmag regulars will be aware of the term Internet of Things, but in case this is a new one on you, it's a term that basically describes the notion of objects - potentially all objects - having some sort of uniquely identifiable online presence and, in more recent years, the ability to report data. This might be data that it's designed to collect (as is obviously the case with this camera), or merely information about its own wellbeing - like a vending machine asking to be restocked.
It's this ability to report online, to Flickr, yes, but also to Twitter, or via email if they're preferable, that ensures Adafruit's camera lives up to its name. And crucially, no coding is required to get online functionality up and kicking - it's simply a case of entering your log-in information into the accompanying Eye-Fi application. That said, there's a bit of syntax to learn depending on the specific information you're asking the camera to report.
I should emphasize at this point that the camera doesn't come assembled. In fact it doesn't even come as a kit. You'd need to buy each of the required components and assemble them yourself, though Adafruit gives a lot of guidance as to how this is done. The main components are an Ardunio Uno microcontroller, TTL Serial JPEG Camera (or a weatherproof variant, if required), Adafruit's Data Logging Shield for Arduino, an Eye-Fi wireless SD card, and some sort of power supply.
By default the Internet of Things Camera is a motion-sensing camera - but because it's comprised of Arduino components, this isn't set in stone. Adafruit suggests that a time-lapse device, or a camera triggered by a laser trip wire are relatively simple modifications. The recommended camera outputs video, from which stills are then logged and shared.
If you're already dreaming up potential applications for this thing then you're probably wondering about juice. Adafruit says a 9 V wall adaptor is the easiest way to keep the camera ticking, but for some uses that isn't going to work. In which case a battery pack of six AA batteries will apparently power the camera "for several hours".
Adafruit positions the camera as a bit of fun, unsuitable for serious security or health-related applications. Adafruit reports that about one in 100 images, or one in 10 images, can arrive corrupted depending on how the actual camera device is connected to the Arduino board, so this isn't robust enough for life and death applications. There's also a plea from the creators to back up any data already on the Eye-Fi card - just in case.
Clearly designing and building one from scratch would be more challenging and rewarding. But then I've got precisely nowhere with my own pet project: capturing some images of a family of foxes that, at about this time of year, insists on using my back yard as its personal I-95. Perhaps I'll make a deal with myself. If I don't get round to home-brewing my own device I'll borrow another design. Adafruit's Internet of Things Camera looks like a suitable candidate.
It's not the cheapest, though. We reckon Adafruit's suggest configuration will set you back the guts of US$100, and that's before you've tracked down the Eye-Fi card that suits you need. Then again, there's nothing to say you're restricted to the suggested setup - that's the beauty of Arduino.