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Setting up a ‘My Naturewatch’ Raspberry Pi Camera

You may remember on Springwatch earlier in the year, there was a piece about how you can make your own, very simple trail camera using a Raspberry Pi . The project is called ‘My Naturewatch’. It is a collaborative design research project between the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths University and the Design Products Programme at the Royal College of Art, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Their aim is to design DIY devices that support new ways to engage with nature (and technology too).

I received the kit earlier in the summer, but have been so busy, I have not had the chance to set it all up and have a go, despite being really excited about the potential and possibilities of such  piece of kit.

The kit I received basically consisted of:

Camera Parts

  1. Raspberry Pi Zero W

  2. Standard Camera Module for Raspberry Pi Zero

  3. USB Power Bank/Battery (ideally over 6000mAh in capacity)

  4. USB charger for charging the power bank

  5. 16GB (or greater) Micro SD Card**

  6. Micro USB cable

  7. A metal bolt, nuts and washers (ca. M6 size) to use as a heatsink

All these parts can be purchased for around £30. They can be purchased from many online retailers, but the retailer Pimoroni supplies a My Naturewatch Camera bundle containing most of the parts (except battery) needed to get up and running. Click here for details.

My Naturewatch have then written a piece of software that turns this kit into a basic trail camera. It uses motion detection to trigger the camera. You have to upload the programme onto the micro SD card and insert it into the Raspberry Pi Zero. The tiny camera also plugs into here.

The instructions are good and easy to follow and it took me about half an hour to make it.

What I really like about this kit was the fact I could connect my phone or tablet to the camera via its wifi. I can log on to the camera and see what it is seeing. I can then make basic changes to aperture speed. I can then tell it to start recording. Overtime it detects movement in the centre square, it takes a picture. At any point, I can get within wifi distance of the camera, log on and upload the images it has taken. #gallery-18961-10 { margin: auto; } #gallery-18961-10 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-18961-10 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-18961-10 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

The whole kit has to be waterproofed. For the moment, I simply mounted the whole kit inside a sealed plastic container. I drilled a hole to  allow the lens to poke through and I made a little guard to protect the lens from rain. In the future, I plan to create something a little more attractive! It was functional though and good enough to start with and took a very short time to create.

I decided to set it up facing a little CJ Plastic bird table I have. The lens focuses from about 50cm and I played around to try to get the best focus for where I felt the birds would land. #gallery-18961-11 { margin: auto; } #gallery-18961-11 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 50%; } #gallery-18961-11 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-18961-11 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */

I turned the wifi off and told my phone not to connect automatically. Being connected all the time can cause the unit to heat up and will drain the battery. When I wanted to check if it was working, I would move within range (I downloaded about 5m away) , connected to the wifi and checked the images on my phone. I could tap on the images I liked and save them. It was easy!

I was pretty impressed by what I captured. The light was quite good so I set the camera to capture images at 1/200th sec. These are a selection of the best images, straight out of the camera, no adjustments.

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Impressed by the quality of the images, I set it up in a different location today. The light is variable on this little water bath, but it seemed to cope pretty well and, again it captured some good images…

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As you can imagine, there are many reasons why this simple kit really excites me! Its simple set-up, combined with good results means that is has massive scope within some of the projects I do. It is a superb project for young and old alike. The camera is absolutely tiny, so could be incorporated into all sorts of set-ups and the ability to download images without accessing the camera is brilliant for some set-ups that you may not want to disturb, like a nest. The rechargeable battery unit is great. It charges quickly and it lasted all day. There are all sorts of different components you can buy to use in this set up. There are different cameras and a unit with IR for night use. I will definitely be trialling some different camera set-ups.

My mind is buzzing with possibilities and I will share my set-ups, experiments and captures. Would I recommend it? Most definitely YES! It will have its limitations, but what a great project and a superb way to get people engaging with the wildlife in their patch.

Do go on to the My Naturewatch website and check it out.

This is only the beginning!…..


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