Building a connected nesting box network. Part 1

Info: This is Part 1 of a not yet defined number of Parts about building a connected nesting box network.

Prolog

In April 2015 a friend and me build a connected nesting box to observe the inner life of it. The box itself was a standard great tit nesting box with a hole in the roof. On the box sat a PVC waste pipe which housed a Raspberry Pi connected to the RPi NOIR Camera. A UMTS USB Stick and some IR LEDs were also in the pipe. Outside the pipe we fitted a solar panel and a battery to buffer the solar energy.

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Everything worked well and the project was a great success. But in Jule 2015 we decided to go a step further and build 3 to 4 more observing boxes to try to observe the endangered boreal owl in the free wild.

The idea

We realized that building 3 to 4 more of these systems would be a pricey matter (and also boring). The Pi with camera and UMTS Stick isn’t that expensive but the huge amount of energy the Pi consumes, even in standby, requires a equivalent big solar panel and battery.

Luckily i was experimenting at this time with the MySensors network, a cost efficient way of building your own sensor-network. The sensor nodes itself are very power efficient and just consist of a atmega328pu, a nrf24l01+ module and the sensors you want. The nrf24l01+ pa/lna modules can reach up to 1km @ 2mbps in free line of sight and expect of a missing compatible camera it seemed like a overall good fit.

So a new idea was born:

  1. Repurposing the predecessor project (the Pi nesting box) as central point to receive/save pictures and upload them to the internet (gateway).
  2. Design smaller µC powered camera nodes to take pictures and send the resulting snapshots over the nrf24l01+ pa/lna network to the gateway.

Nestingbox Network Concept

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4 Responses to Building a connected nesting box network. Part 1

  1. Piotr says:

    Hi!

    I love your project, you have just inspired me to build simmilar one in my cottage house :)

    I have constructed live-streaming bird house using a single Raspberry Pi with much in common with your design.
    First those LM2596 modules – mine were constantly overheating, not putting up nearly as much power as they were advertised.
    Didn’t you have any trouble with yours?
    In my case huge radiators helped along with locating PSU outside of the actual box.

    Then – high humidity and temperature in the box killed my raspberry’s SD card.
    And then another one and another…

    I see your camera is quite out of focus.
    Did you try to set it?
    It needs just a few turns of the lenses to get the perfect quality – there are guides online as how many turns you need for specific focal length.

    Sadly now my box remains unocupied for two years in a row, but it managed to capture some nice pictures.
    If you’d like, check them at:
    http://sikorkizanina.blogspot.com/
    or https://www.facebook.com/Sikorki-z-Anina-168138733243097/

    • Oitzu says:

      Hi Piotr,
      nice to hear! :)
      Got no problems with overheating LM2596 or SD cards yet. But in the woods its also not that hot as on a plain field or in the city.
      But the LM2596 modules and especially the china clones are all together not that good and i would not recommend to use them. The ripple they produce is really bad and they do not keep their adjusted voltage with rising and sinking temperature. I need to search for something else.

      I don’t have humidity problems yet. Maybe the sealed project box + the little humidity absorber packs helped.
      I wonder though why i got not temperature problems with the sealed box, but maybe they arise with rising outside temperatures.

      About focus: Yes we adjusted the focus on all cameras. But it is kind of hard to get the right focus. Most of the cameras are adjusted while the nesting boxes were empty and you can’t know which high the birds will later nest due to the nesting material they place inside it.
      Also: Later readjustment has risk to scare the little birds to much. Although i think a great tit would be fine with that.
      About which of the 4 cameras are you talking exactly?

      A shame that no bird got in your wonderful box. You got some great video and pictures over there. :)
      I wish i could also do videos but the bandwidth on the remote location is just to low and the arduino nodes could also not handle this.

  2. zoobab says:

    nrf24l01+ is using 2.4Ghz, which needs line of sight and does not behave well when there are trees and water involved in the leafs. There are other transmitters operating in 434Mhz or 868Mhz that should do a better job in non-line-of-sight networking through the forest.

    • Oitzu says:

      Hi zoobab,
      it’s totally true that the 2.4Ghz link has its limitations and a 433Mhz or a 868Mhz transmitter would achieve a greater distance in a non-line-of-sight/bio-mass environment. But i do not know a transmitter in the mhz range that would achieve a sufficient transfer-rate to transmit a digital picture.
      Do you maybe know a transmitter that could achieve that?

      Currently we got a stable link of about 300m non-line-of-sight, maybe even more, we not fully tested the limitations yet.

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