Keep an eye on your palatial estate with this solar powered WiFi cam

If you’re expecting the serfs to hop the fence with pitch forks and torches you may want to employ a surveillance system. WiFi cameras are a cheap way of doing this, but you’ll need power. [CheapGuitar] decided not to run extension cords, and instead added solar power to his wireless camera. The solar panels are easy to spot in this image, but you’ll have to look close to see the camera.

He already had everything on hand, and this included a cheap WiFi camera which runs on 5V. To weatherproof it he used a plastic sandwich meat container. This is actually one of our favorite project enclosures, we used it for our door-bell button garage door lock. [CheapGuitar] painted it black to help keep it hidden after cutting a hole in the lid for the camera lens. Under the solar panels you’ll find a 12V car battery which uses a USB car charger to regulate voltage for the camera. Each of the panels is a 5W trickle charger and they’re designed to top off deep cycle batteries. The entire thing is cleverly hidden behind his existing landscaping.

[via Reddit]

Comments

  1. Hope Laplace is Suffering says:

    I like it!
    Just the solution for the problem I had !
    Also, this is my first hackaday comment and Im the first one:)

  2. Stu says:

    Quick, free solar panels and a camera up for grabs outside this rich f***ers house….
    That is of course if you can spot that oh so hidden camera in a big black sandwich box! Gee, might stump me that one.

  3. Moser says:

    Wow if anyone has experience with that camera give some details on its performance! I want something like this that I can mount on a remote control car =P

    I can’t figure out how to contact the guy who wrote this.

  4. HomelyPoet says:

    Why was it mounted on the edge of a fire-pit, I wonder?

    To I.D. the serfs as they light their torches?

    Needs a more remote laboratory.

  5. HackTheGibson says:

    Any way to extend this to a few hundred yards away?

  6. HackJack says:

    I wonder if the solar panels are really powerful enough to power the IP camera 24/7. Suppose it can, how long can the car battery last under such condition?

    I think if the whole ecosystem can be packaged inside a 1’x1’x1′ cube, we have a marketable product.

  7. xorpunk says:

    more efficient way:
    -1x gel cell 12V small size battery
    -1x 12v trickle controller
    -1x 12v portable panel
    -1x cigarette lighter inverter(the ones with alligator hookups are cheap and have good +/- protection)
    -1x 5v camera(preferably with decent dynamic color censor and IR)
    -homemade insulated bird box to put it in

    camera uses half voltage and little current so this works under most daylight span scenarios..

    • Ren says:

      “so this works under most daylight span scenarios..”

      I was under the impression the battery and chargers will keep it running into/through the night.

      Anyway, I have a 5 volt D-Link wireless camera at home, it requires a 1 amp (or more) power supply, so it will need some hefty solar panels to recharge the batteries enough for an over night run.

      I am not sure of the IR sensitivity of my wireless camera, so maybe it would be useless at night, even with supplemental IR lighting.

      • xorpunk says:

        there are motion activated units with low off-current.

        as for the “math” I’ve been running the mentioned setup at my parents farm in NC all-seasons for years.. I use a golf cart gel cell with deep charge.. I don’t know maybe I imagined it..

    • reddog176 says:

      You really think the most efficient way is by running an inverter?

      So we’re converting 12vdc to 110vac so we can convert it back to 5-12vdc?

      Seems very efficient to me.

      I like your setup, other than the inverter. Swap that with a simple voltage regulator to drop to the required voltage, and it’d be much better.

    • Andrew says:

      It’s *less* efficient.

      The 12V->USB power supplies for cigarette lighter sockets are switch-mode, so they are quite efficient. They are also off-the-shelf and very cheap, so no problem for maintenance.

      • xorpunk says:

        1. no they aren’t on that many shelves actually, comparatively speaking..

        2. it’s a manual switch and has no over/under protection or fuse(at least ones I’ve seen)

        3. the cheapest wifi camera is around $60(that’s china market with no advance features).. I’ll stick with the $15 inverter to protect mine thanks..

        there are an array of factors that all show why strait-wiring an expensive device to a car battery when there is no drastic consumption coefficient on the proper option is a bad idea.

    • Andrew says:

      Either you don’t know what you are talking about, or you can’t actually explain it well.

      “when there is no drastic consumption coefficient on the proper option”

      What does that even mean?

      • xorpunk says:

        I don’t know what I’m talking about.. don’t tell my employers..

        The setup has been running since 2008 with one cell swap.. and yes the common inverter doesn’t have much of a coefficient when you consider what it does..

        and again I’m on the other planet, I can’t phone in circuit design, so I use store bought components.. sorry if that means I’m not cool in the burbs..

    • Andrew says:

      The problem is that you claim your way is more efficient, without actually explaining it clearly. From the brief description you gave it is not more efficient (because you are using an inverter, which is notoriously inefficient). Instead of explaining things clearly you just repeat the same thing over and over.

      That might work with your employer, but it doesn’t work here.

  8. BadHaddy says:

    Lots of people are failing to do the math on this one. I’m mostly off grid, with grid hookup to actually sell my excess summer power and buy small amounts in winter. I’m fairly familiar with how this sorta stuff works :)

    Those 5 watt panels are quite bad, a cheap type of panel called amorphous silicon. They probably only put out about half their rated capacity, and that’s on a good day. Lets pretend they put out 100% rated. In my area (Tennessee) we get about 5 hours per day of ‘prime time’ solar power irradiation. Hes dumping about 75wh/6.25ah into that battery (again, assuming an impossible 100% effeciency) per day. If the USB power adapter is 100% efficient at the conversion (and its not) and he needs 5 watts/hr to run the camera, hes putting enough power into the battery to run the camera for 15 hours/day. If we account for low quality/overrated cells, charging, and conversion losses hes getting closer to 39wh/day effective power. Most car batteries are 75ah. If he gets 2 weeks straight of nice sunny days, the battery will be dead in 2 weeks.

  9. Solar says:

    @BadHaddy, so assuming most cheap webcams are 5V and 1A, or 5W/hr to run… what kind of combination do we need here assuming real world efficiencies? What type of panels + battery would you recommend, assuming cost is a factor. Thanks in advance.

    • BadHaddy says:

      I couldn’t give any SPECIFIC recommendations without knowing the average solar insolation in your area.

      Worst case in my area would be around December. We would get 3-4.5 hours per day of good sunlight for solar panels.

      Considerations:
      Is it a critical application? If so, plan for 14 days or MORE without good sunlight. We can probably plan for 3 with this system. This means we will need to store at LEAST 375wh. No problem, even the most feeble of the commonly available deep cycles can pull double this amount off.

      How fast do we want to charge the battery? We have 3 hours to collect at 120wh of energy. We also want to charge the battery to 3 days reserve capacity, in, say, 6 days. This means, per day, we need to collect 180wh.

      Efficiency:

      Solar panels are rated a bit high, but good ones should put out about 85% of their rated power on most days. A NON MPPT charge controller is also about 70% efficient. If you get an MPPT controller, you will actually get closer to 95%, and you will be able to get more wattage from the solar panel. We are being cheap though, so no MPPT. At this low of a charge rate, the battery should charge anywhere from 50-90% efficient depending on temperature. Lets just pick 75. This means that 44% of the rated capacity of the Solar Panel is making it into stored energy.

      The End Result:
      With 3.5 hours per day, and the need to collect 180wh, we need a panel (or panels) rated at ~116watts. They don’t make that size. You can snag 2x60s, or a single 120, or 3x50s (etc). The best bang for buck NEW small panels as of last month (when I last checked) were Epcom 50 watt panels @ around 90 per. For 150 watts of power, you are looking at 300 bucks. Sometimes used panels can be found for (much) less. You cannot mix-and-match panels within the same bank. Toss in a battery, a mid grade charge controller, and you are at 400 bucks. Again, used equipment will be your friend. Or, you could get in with someone like me. I order panels by the CONTAINER load. $114,000USD for about 120,000 watts of panels delivered to the loading dock. My panels aren’t the right kind, you need OFF-GRID panels, which are a different voltage.

      • BadHaddy says:

        But, and I just thought of this, those cameras don’t REALLY need ALL that power 24×7. If they are not running their giant bank of IR LEDs. I would carefully calculate their power consumption, and back it up with empirical data. The efficiency of your 12v->5v power supply would need to be rolled in too.

  10. Greenaum says:

    Don’t those cigar adaptors just use something like a 7805? So it’s turning 7v into heat, ie wasting more than half the energy going into it? Why not just use a 6v battery? With maybe a couple of diodes to drop to 5v? Many solar panels can be bridged to give 6v or 12v.

  11. Ruski Ruckus says:

    Now we are talking…

  12. BadHaddy says:

    The LED on his USB converter is eating about 1wh/day of his less than 40wh per day collected. Should unsolder it and any others that arent needed…

  13. David Ralph says:

    I was looking for a solution to power a micro PC (3G data dongle) and a low power camera to send a live stream from remote forest locations – surveillance of timber logging. I need to read the truck registration plates as they enter and leave the site. I need to have never less that 20W and probable need more like 60W. What would you recommend for components and enclosure?

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