Building a Bee Cam – Where do I start?

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My son’s school have a large bee project going on, it started a couple of years ago and they now have a website in place, some hives and a big interest from the kids as well as a the mandatory twitter account @broomleybees.

When the project first started I made the mistake of mentioning I’d just built a raspberry pi powered camera for guinea pigs to Jilly who has been behind this great project.  Obviously, as any good project manager would do she hasn’t let me forget my offer of getting involved.  The challenge has been finding time but we’re finally there, so what are we trying to do? Well here it is:

  • Place a camera inside a bee hive so the kids can see what’s going on with the bees (the original scope).
  • Whilst we’re at it, why not add some other sensors (type to be defined, at least temp,maybe sound) – We’ll obviously need to present this data too.
  • Oh, and there is no power or wifi connectivity as the hive is in a field.

I decided to split up the thinking so I didn’t panic too much, here are my initial thoughts:

  • Hardware
    • It’s all about the Raspberry Pi, having used them since they came out (admittedly not as much as I’d have liked) and with my kids and a code club I ran I thought they were a good fit:
      • We wanted images, which Arduino can’t do
      • We can expand sensors as required
      • Hopefully at some point another local senior school can get involved with the technology
    • We could have used an Arduino or smaller microcontroller, I did consider this but have more experience with the Raspberry Pi and although more expensive felt it gave us a lot more options, particularly imaging.
  • Power
    • Luckily for me I came across PiJuice on Kickstarter, perfect, a solar powered system for the RPi, unfortunately it’s not available until June (I got one anyway for the longer term as it’s a great project but need a solution sooner)
    • I have decided to set up a prototype using 8xAA batteries feeding the Raspberry Pi through a UBEC Power supply, in line with a blog entry on Raspberry Spy this should help us prove the system will work priort to implementing solar power through the PiJuice.
  • Camera
    • The easiest part (I think!!)
    • A raspi-cam – no ir with some IR LEDs so we can see the bees in the dark,how hard can it be…….
    • Based on power consumption we will either do timelapse or video, I suspect we’ll do timelapse and stitch as this will work better with the comms.
    • Again, based on power I’ll either use motion to sense the bees or use a PIR (if it will fit)
  • Connectivity
    • This is my biggest challenge, as networking isn’t where my experience is.
    • Having looked at various options I have decided to try using RF Transceivers (nRF24L01) between two Raspberry PIs
      • One will be at the hive sensing and videoing
      • One will be connected to wifi in the warmth of the nearest building with power

I do continue to have a few concerns, mainly regarding the physical aspects.  I live in Glasgow and the project is in Stocksfield,Northumberland which I visit regularly to see my kids, unfortunately (not for me) they are visiting me for the next month so my time on-site is limited.  The specifc concerns are:

  • Where in the hive can we put the kit, I think we can use a dummy stage which will hold the camera and some sensors?
  • Will the camera be too close to the bees, there isn’t much space in a hive?
  • Can I use motion, will a PIR sensor work and should I try and get a wide angle lens?
  • Can I stream via the transceivers? All examples I have seen to date are just sending a value rather than a file.

We’ve a long way to go, and not much time but it’s nice to finally start work on this project which has been thrown around for 2 years.

Expect some more technical “how to”posts over the next few days/weeks as we progress and hopefully get something up and running. If you’ve any suggestions or experience on any of the above points then get in touch.

Here is what I’m reading and working through at the minute:

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