Autonomous Surveillance Camera




I would like tell you about a DIY surveillance camera I have built. It is quite different from anything out there on the market. It works for up to a month on a single charge and emails surveillance updates over cellular network. All you need to do is send it an email and the camera would reply you with a picture of your home, country house or car.

Here is a video of how it all fits together: 

The device checks pre-defined email mailbox once an hour. If a new email is received the camera takes a picture, saves it on a SD-card and emails the image to its owner.

Making of the camera was also an interesting journey I would like to share. 

Step 1: Required Parts

I have used following basic components for the device:

MultiTech MTSMC-G2-IP
This GSM modem is great because of its built-in POP3 and SMTP support. Although these protocols are not very complicated to implement having them implemented saves some time.

LinkSpite JPEG Camera
This is a great little device. Built-in JPEG compression support saves a lot of development effort. The camera produces a 640x480 image. The image is around 50K; it is small enough to rapidly transmit over a cellular network.

Sparkfun's microSD Shield
Although there are a few SD card circuits available I decided to go with this one because it is very easy to work with both in software (Sparkfun provides great APIs) and in hardware (again, thanks Sparkfun for built-in voltage conversion).

ATmega 328P
This micro-controller was a natural choice. Arduino Uno uses this chip, so there are plenty of libraries and examples out there. Unfortunately, Arduino Uno itself consumes too much power when it is in a sleep mode, so I had to build a board with more efficient power supply system myself.

TPS2020 and LM2936
TPS2020 is a great power distribution IC. It allowed me turning circuit components on and off as I needed it. LM2936 is an awesome regulator with really low quiescent current. Combination of the two parts allowed my circuit to consume as little as 0.14mA in sleep mode. It stretches battery life for up to a month on a single charge; the camera is powered by 5V from two CR123A batteries.

Step 2: Assemble Breadboard

A proto-prototype breadboard layout would help to debug the circuit. It would also transform your table into a small cyberpunk jungle.

I would highly recommend laying out everything on the breadboard before assembling it.

Step 3: Programming

I would recommend using Eclipse with AVR Eclipse Plugin. You would also need a programmer to flush your program on to the chip. I've used a standard AVRISP mkII, which worked great with my OS X).

Source code for the project could be found at google code.

Step 4: Circuit Assembly

I assembled the circuit with the simplest way I could think of: just solder everything on the prototype boards. It ended up looking like a sandwich with Adafuit boards on the outside and Sparkfun MicoSD card in the middle.

It takes about a day of soldering, cursing, un-soldering and soldering again to put all components together.

Step 5: Body Design

Enclosure Motivation

Unfortunately, not all DIY projects have nice looking enclosures. I believe that a project is fully finished when it fully finished and the circuit, the program and the enclosure are in harmony. So, I decided to use 3D printing service to achieve a look I want.

CAD Tool

After struggling quite a bit with 3D CAD tools, I have discovered a great program OpenSCAD. It is a great script-based CAD editing software. Instead of using mouse to draw 3D shapes one just types in commands. For example, a sphere with radius of 5 would be sphere(r=5). Awesome, right?

Body Design
I decided to go with a clean sphere design. Body constists of three parts: top part that hosts the camera, bottom part that hosts primary circuit and batteries and a middle "holder" piece that binds top and bottom. The design was inspired by an 8-ball from any toy store.

Caliper and OpenSCAD allowed to make precise models of both circuit components and body parts. Source for the CAD files could be found under enclosure folder in the project source.

Step 6: 3D Print

I have used Ponoko printing service to print my 3D enclosure. I should note outstanding quality of the print.

Step 7: Assemble

Once 3D printed case arrives components fit nicely in their places. I have used a combination of screws and double-sided adhesive tape to put everything together.

Step 8: Result

If everything fit together nicely the camera should be working and carefully surveilling your house. Even though emailed image resolution is not HD, it is quite enough to tell if everything is fine at home.

I am using AT&T GoPhone as a network plan. It costs about 8 cents to check an email and about 70 cents to send an email with a picture.



    • Sensors Contest

      Sensors Contest
    • Backyard Contest

      Backyard Contest
    • Pets Challenge

      Pets Challenge

    53 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great piece of work and the ability to program it via the arduino makes it very versatile, perhaps more versatile than your final application of home surveillance requires.
    It does make me wonder though, you say "....quite different from anything out there on the market..." it would help to see your design's advantages contrasted with a standard IPCam.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    you should paint it gray and put lines on it to make it really look like the deathstar. A+ just because it pretty much does thus far.

    Dream Dragon

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not normally a fan of the Arduino System, but this is a really good project that actually does need something like that to make it work. I particularly like the 3D printed project case. That's something I'm going to have to look into. How does it compare to "El Cheapo Project Box" from electronics retailer? No Doubt it's more expensive, but 2 or 3 times as expensive for an infinitely more appropriate and interesting package might be worth the additional expense.

    Well Done and many thanks for sharing your project.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I love this project, I wish I were this knowledgable and creative!

    What changes would have to be made to use an iPhone 4 (or other cellphone) camera? It could theoretically output 5MP+ photos.

    How about replacing the cellular radio with a WiFi module?

    What would be needed to turn this project into an "HD IP Camera?"


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is really cool! I am not at your level of techie, but I can solder w/ the best of them. :)

    What would you suggest building for my problem.

    I have a workshop in an area with a lot of break-ins.

    I'd like to have a camera that would call and send me a photo every time the sensor is tripped. That way I can see the burglars and call the police!

    Not just have a blaring alarm that no one will check out.

    Great work!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great for this project, Google Star Wars Death Star Projector.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is amazing, too bad i cannot find any arduino stuff here, i wish i could "build" the parts, maybe then i could do this cam, also, it would be nice if you could integrate a motion sensor so it will email to you when someone pass by.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I would think that by its very nature, being a surveillance camera and all, it would be autonomous. Great project and Instructable though. A bit too "techie" for my skills/talents though! Now if only someone could help me figure out where I put that Wild Turkey!!


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I think it might be a bad encoding of Russian characters. It says something like "Cool. I've already read about this camera on HABR". I believe it reffers to a Russian website where I published translation of the article.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    This is a really cool project. With the components, it can be used in any form really. A nice 'piece of mind' for those truly paranoid but can't afford the more expensive setups.

    1 reply