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Part I: Home Automation > Remotely Monitor a Pet

Chapter 3. Remotely Monitor a Pet

What You Need
  • Three X10 lamp modules or wall switches

  • Three indoor X10 motion detectors

  • Three wireless cameras

  • A wireless video receiver (compatible with wireless cameras)

  • An X10 wireless transceiver

  • X10 Powerlinc Serial Controller

  • Eight AAA batteries

  • A stable Internet connection that allows inbound connections (broadband helps)

  • A computer running Linux

  • A video capture card with composite video input

  • Sticky poster adhesive

  • A screwdriver

For a list of specific parts used in this project, refer to Exhibit A at the end of this chapter.

My wife, Erica, is an overprotective mother. We don't actually have any kids, though—just a cat. Sammy's not even the kind of cat that you really need to worry about; he's healthy, young, and built like a goat. But Erica still worries. Erica worries so much that we can't take an overnight trip without spending half the time wondering if the cat is okay.

Erica and I got married a couple of years ago and went on a honeymoon cruise. We hired a pet sitter to come and feed the cat on a daily basis, and to reassure Erica that everything was okay, I set up a cheap webcam and some motion detection software. It worked terribly.

Of course, it was still better than nothing—we were able to connect to the Internet from the very slow satellite link on the ship, and browse through a directory of webcam pictures to verify that Sammy was alive and that the pet sitter was feeding him. However, the motion detection software was very unreliable. The video from the webcam had so much noise that the motion detection software triggered almost constantly. It would even take pictures throughout the night, when there was total darkness and the camera couldn't capture an image. Worst of all, I actually paid for that software.

The camera was in the room with my computer, but the cat didn't spend much time in that room. So we had to look at hundreds of pictures to find a single one that actually had the cat in it. This was especially tedious because the webcam software just dropped the pictures into a folder. I used Windows 2000's Internet Information Server's directory-browsing capability to view the list of pictures from a browser, but this was slow because it didn't display thumbnails.

Clearly, it's time for something better. This time around, I'm going to set up a Sammy-monitoring system that can do the following things:

  • Take pictures in three locations: the cat's food bowls, the cat's favorite window, and the cat's litter box.

  • Take pictures only when there really is motion. No more false alarms.

  • Turn lights on when necessary so the camera has adequate light to take a picture.

  • Don't take pictures when it's too dark.

  • Automatically process pictures to improve image quality.

  • Allow me to browse thumbnails of the pictures from an Internet café.

Figure 3-1. The conceptual design is simple, but the execution will be complex.

And of course, it needs to be cheap. Figure 3-1 shows this project's conceptual architecture. As you can see, the pet triggers the motion detector, which sends a signal to your computer, which in turn will take a snapshot through the remote camera nearest the pet. Then, the picture will be timestamped and saved to a Web page, where you can view it anywhere in the world.



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