This is hands down the best bird feeder project we’ve seen yet. I got an email from the folks at Manifold, a creative design agency in San Francisco, this week. One of their developers works from Denver, Colorado, and has been spending some time building the ultimate bird table. It’s autonomous, it’s solar-powered, it feeds, it photographs, it tweets images when a bird comes to feed, and it’s open source.
A PIR (passive infra-red) sensor detects when a bird lands at the table to feed, and triggers the camera. Photographs are then uploaded to Twitter. PIR’s a great choice here because it only responds to warm-body heat; if a leaf blows in front of the assembly, nothing will trigger, but if a toasty-warm little bird stops by for some seed, the sensor will detect it, and set off the camera.
This was not a trivial build. Issues like waterproofing, power constraints, and all those fiddly annoyances you find with outdoor projects had to be dealt with. The prototype (built from the ground up out of bits of wood: no pre-made bird feeders for these guys) took around 25 hours to put together. Here’s a time-lapse video of what happened in the workshop.
The first iteration of the Tweeter Feeder had a few bugs: the webcam in the assembly didn’t offer high enough resolution for decent pictures of the birds, and was swapped out with a Raspberry Pi camera board. But the camera board’s focal depth wasn’t right for this project, so an additional lens was put into the assembly – and then all the camera code had to be changed to reflect the switch. With cracking results: here’s a before and after picture.
The PIR sensor was getting false positives from changes in temperature due to the sun on the feeder: an additional motion sensor was added to iron those out. A light sensor found its way into the assembly to stop the camera triggering when there wasn’t enough ambient light for a reasonable photograph. The solar panel positioning wasn’t optimal. And so on and so on – but the bugs have all been stomped now, and the end result is a thing of beauty.
Read Chad’s account of what they were up to on Manifold’s blog (which has a ton of information on the development of the Feeder Tweeter), and then head to the Feeder Tweeter site itself, where there is an area for developers with a hardware list, wiring diagrams, links to all the code you’ll need on GitHub and much more. And let us know if you decide to make or adapt the Feeder Tweeter for your own use – we’d like to see what you come up with!
Here’s a guest post from our friend Pete Wood at RS Component’s community arm, DesignSpark. Pete is one of the organisers of the Oxford Raspberry Jams. This post was first published at www.designspark.com.
Raspberry Jams are now being held all over the world; I’ve been trying to go to about one a month, and am lucky enough to be in Tokyo for some press and meetings while the Tokyo Jam is on later this month. There’s a list of events in each month’s MagPi, and if you’re looking for something near you, it’s worth checking the events page on our forums. If you can’t find a Jam near your home, why not look into setting one up? There’s information on how to get started at the Raspberry Jam website, which Alan O’Donohoe tells me will be getting a redesign in the coming months.
Over to Pete!
This month’s Jam held at DesignSpark HQ in Oxford UK was our biggest turnout yet, with over 30 Pi Geeks crammed into the room!
Raspberry Pi Camera
I kicked off the event by showing the new Raspberry Pi camera module, which will be available from RS Components later in May. In the picture is a pre-production module, the production version is a couple of millimetres taller. The camera gives stunning HD video from a 5MP sensor at 30 FPS.
Next up was one of my RS colleagues, Pete Milne, who showed us his Digital Signage application. Pete has connected up a network of Raspberry Pis to flat screen TVs here at the RS Oxford Offices and at our main facility in Corby, Northamptonshire. The Pis run a libreoffice slideshow in a continuous loop and display Health and Safety messages for RS employees. He’s been running these continuously for over 8 weeks without having to re-boot, so it’s very robust. The Pis runs without a keyboard or mouse and the content can be updated remotely over the network.
If you want to create your own Digital Signage Application, Pete has shared how to do it on GitHub. Just follow the INSTALL file for setup details.
Wii Controller Car
Oxford Raspberry Jam regular Alex Eames presented another cool little project using a Wii controller and Nunchuck. This one was for controlling a remote control car that has an on-board Raspberry Pi with Bluetooth dongle. It also allows the control of brake lights, headlights and indicators and also drives an aircraft propeller. Alex plans to build all this into the car itself, which would need to accommodate the Pi, the electronics hanging of the GPIO, some model aircraft batteries and the motor and fan. Alex, I think you need a bigger car… how about a Monster Truck?
Our next demo was one that has been featured on the Raspberry Pi site a few weeks ago for a Raspberry Pi powered video wall. Alex and Colin from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) have built this system in C and some Python Code. It has clever features like bezel compensation to accommodate different styles of screens. They showed a 4 screen setup, but have also run a 9+4 configuration. The software is scalable to any size or shape. Each screen needs a Pi, and one separate Pi is used as the master. This is a classic example showing that you can build your own video wall for a fraction of the price of a commercial solution that would certainly cost a lot more! Chaps, I can see a business opportunity here for screening big screen sporting events on a budget down my local pub. ;0) They expect to licence the software/design at some point. More details are available on their website.
Motion Detected Camera
Another Oxford Jam regular, Dave R, showed his Pi with a webcam motion detection system and linked to a DSLR. Dave created this for his bird table, to capture pictures of birds when they land on the table, I think I need to build a similar solution to stop my kids from stealing my Haribos…
Touch Screen Display
Paul had two projects to show. The first was a simple touch screen for the Pi to allow control and display. Paul was reading and displaying temperatures. The screens are semi-intelligent, storing screen images and having a sound output available. The screen images are loaded via a Windows app and USB connection. The Pi can then control the display of those images.
Sky Remote Controlled LED Lighting
The second demonstration was a programmable LED strip and infrared receiver, controlled by a Sky TV remote control. A simple Python script reads the codes from a remote control. He could the use this to flash the LEDs in various patterns and colours. The LEDs are driven by SPI and can be daisychained up to 1024 LEDs.
Paul M and Annierei L, showed us their ChiPhone box. ChiPi is an Electronic messaging system for children allowing them to send and receive voice messages. They have designed a child friendly box with large buttons and microphone. With simple record and ‘To/play’ buttons it makes for an easy messaging system connected to the internet via WiFi. You can find out more about their project on their website.
Pi Keyword Cruncher
Pi Jam regular and Data Geek John finished off our live demos by showing us his Pi based RSS feed collector and keyword analysis tool. The Pi collects data from various RSS feeds every 30 minutes and stores the results in a MySQL database. The data is then used to monitor trends in keywords, which over time show either peaks of activity or trends of ‘chatter’ about specific topics. The advantage of John using his Raspberry Pi Instead of his 50W laptop, is that it the Pi only takes 2W and can be left on all the time. It also frees up his laptop to do other tasks.
RaspBMC Toddler In-Car Entertainment System
The final presentation of the evening from one of my Jam co-hosts Alex Gibson, who in true Hollywood awards winners style couldn’t attend in person so sent a video message! Alex’s video featured his project for a Pi based RaspBMC In-Car Toddler entertainment system. One of the most impressive bits was a headrest bracket he had printed out on his Raspberry Pi-based 3D printer.
Thanks to all those who showed their projects. Looking forward to the next event!
NESIT is the New England Society of Information and Technology in Connecticut, and they have a made a security system for their hackspace that gives us terrible feelings of envy. Their old RFID door lock, powered by an Arduino, was getting old and came bundled with some problems: it didn’t allow for easy modifications to the database of users (the old setup wrote user information straight to the Arduino’s eeprom), couldn’t output video, and would have been expensive to hook up to the network; running its server all the time would have cost about $200 in electricity over a year.
Running a Pi for a year costs about $3.
So Will, one of the hackspace members, set to work getting a Pi interfacing with an RFID reader, and finding some housing for the whole setup. It had to be secure, lockable and robust: somehow he squirreled up an old outdoor telephone network box made of heavy-duty plastic, which he cleaned up, using a Dremel to modify the door of the box so it could accommodate an LCD screen originally intended for a car reversing system.
…after. Note glistening result of elbow grease application.
Will really went to town on this build. He could have stopped there, but has also made sure that the system will tweet when someone enters or leaves. It also monitors temperature, can be controlled from his phone, sends an email alert if someone tries to tamper with the case, and detects motion: if it spots someone walking past, it’ll play a short video about the hackspace.
NESIT’s put details of the build online, and have made this video of the system in action. We note that the “beep” you’re using doubles as an excellent cat-scarer, Will; I have the scratches to prove it.
Tricky things, birds. Even when you’ve got yourself sorted out with boxes and feeders to entice them into your garden, it can be very difficult to get a decent photograph – they don’t stay still for long, especially if they see you coming (and it is amazing just how adept birds are at spotting the slightest movement – the sort of movement you might make to operate the zoom lens on your camera, for example), and many feeding birds will only visit the table for a few seconds at a time, even if you’re well hidden.
Enter Adrian Bevan and his Raspberry Pi.
Adrian had built a shutter release for his Canon1000D SLR, and decided to extend his new knowledge by making a DIY remote release. He’s been activating it manually, but has also made instructions available for using it with a motion detector (Adrian’s currently using a webcam and a second Pi for this part of the kit), so that the SLR can fire automatically when the Pi it is attached to senses that there was a bird on the table using information streamed from the outdoor Pi.
Your best bet here is to set the camera up in continuous shooting mode so that it’ll take several shots over a few seconds once your target has been spotted. Adrian has put exhaustive instructions on making your own setup on his blog, complete with circuit diagrams and code, alongside some video of the shutter in action.
Speaking of birds, I was, sadly, nowhere near a camera when a sparrowhawk dropped out of the sky to disembowel a blue tit on my front lawn this morning. Rotten shame, that. Oh – and if anybody has any tips on how to stop my bird-feeders being reliably emptied within ten minutes of filling by a horde of marauding starlings, I’m all ears.
Adrian has used that old Pi hackers’ standby, Tupperware, to house the webcam, battery pack and associated Pi in a waterproof environment. Securely housing your DSLR outside in a way that means it won’t get wet but can still take pictures is, obviously, a bit trickier; his is, I think, set up indoors, pointing out of a window, with a whacking great zoom lens attached to the front. If you’ve any ideas on how to set up and leave a good camera outdoors without it getting wet or stolen, please let us know in the comments!