No honor among thieves

I recently moved from Austin to Houston (I have family here; shut up) and hadn’t even unpacked properly before my car was burglarized by this fine upstanding gentleman, seen here entering my neighbor’s truck.

PB_home_20130719043328Now, my neighbor was pleased as punch that his new security system seems to have worked – he got images of people stealing his very expensive Maui Jim sunglasses from the truck that his son left unlocked.   He spent time and beer trying to get me to buy and install a similar system until I pointed some things out to him:  The camera wasn’t a deterrent; he still got ripped off.   The images aren’t clear enough to make a positive ID, despite the fact that the camera was less than 15′ away from the miscreant, and despite the kid looking straight into it for a few seconds.

There are some positives, though.  The images are clear enough to identify the number of thieves (2) and their race (caucasian).   We can see the type of car they drove, but not the color or license plate.  The camera presented proof positive that yes, Tommy had been burglarized.  And he was the one to tell me that this kid then spent about a minute in my driveway (in the upper right of that picture) and I then discovered that, yes, I was in fact missing a GPS receiver from a vehicle that someone had left unlocked.

My neighbor’s system cost him about $600, and took him a day to install, crawling around in his attic.   The control software is okay, but extracting video in a usable format is an exercise in frustration.  The cameras do well enough in the dark, with their softly glowing IR LED rings, but the resolution seems like VCR-quality.   Maybe 250 lines of resolution?  300?

In short, it’s cheap, Chinese crap.

There has to be a better way.   And it can’t cost an arm and a leg.

I work with or at least near embedded systems at my day job, so this screamed out for a Raspberry Pi solution.   It didn’t hurt that the Pi’s camera module had recently shipped, and boasted 1080P video recording, and a 5MP still image sensor.   There are even videos of people removing the IR filter from the camera so that it can see in the dark.

After some thought, I determined that the perfect system would be able to do the following:

  • Detect motion in a smart way
  • Record video
  • Get high-enough resolution still or video images to make a positive identification
  • Act as a deterrent.
  • Alert me in real (SMS?) and delayed (email) time to interesting events.
  • Let me monitor the scene and trigger responses remotely.
  • Have different responses depending on things like time of day.
  • Not cost an arm and a leg.   Perhaps $100-120 for one camera unit.

This should be fun.  And the Pi seems like a great fit.

Next: And there was still nothing, but you could see it.


2 thoughts on “No honor among thieves

  1. Wow! That’s a bummer that this all happened. This is also an incredibly innovative solution. And to think, I was perusing online with the idea of using a raspberry pi for an automated coffee maker, haha. I was looking for Pi projects that were triggered through SMS and came across this.

    • Thanks; this has turned into sort of an adventure. Most of it fun. Aside from the getting ripped off part.

      I’ve given some thought to Pi control via SMS. I keep coming back to using a Google Voice account and letting the Pi monitor the inbox for messages. Seems cheaper, if less reliable, than trying to get an SMS radio and account.

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