A Smart Home for Birds – Bird Nesting Box with WiFi Camera

This is kind of a follow-up on my post about one of our bird houses becoming a ‘smart home’ last year… well it wasn’t really a smart home, just a bird box with a weather station on top of it. But it looked kind of cool and a pair of blue tits didn’t care about the whirling parts above them.

This spring my kids and I decided to build a bird box with a built-in live camera. A real (hehe) smart home for birds.

Smart Bird Nesting Box with WiFi Camera

We used an ESP32-Cam for the build – probably the fastest way to get our bird box working without too much soldering or programming (source: ESP32-Cam GitHub repository). We also installed a 5 W solar panel on top of it and added a Waveshare solar power manager to keep the ESP32-Cam up and running over night. The whole build was pretty much pieced together and we still have to improve a few things in our design. But hey, it works, at least when the sun shines.

At first, nothing happend…

Weeks passed, and from all the bird boxes we had only one appeared to be unoccupied – guess which one… (yes, the one with the camera.) We were busy with other tasks and had no time to take care of the bird box. Can you image how surprised we were when we noticed a great tit that kept flying into the box.

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A Smart Home for Birds – Sort of

You’ve probably already seen ‘Smart Nesting Boxes’ for birds with cameras in it – but you’ve probably never seen one with a full weather station on top of it…

Bird Box under a Weather Station

A few weeks ago I wanted to test a weather station I purchased as defective. I needed an easily accessible place to test it before mounting it on the roof of my garden house. So as a quick hack I installed it on the pole of one of the nesting boxes in our garden. First tests showed no issues, but I wanted to test it for a few more days. Well… a few days later I noticed a pair of blue tits moved into the box. Bad luck for me as I now have to wait after their breeding (about 4 more weeks) to remove the station. But the good news is: the station works so far without flaws and the birds don’t seem to care about the moving parts above them. ūüėÄ

LED Grow Light Station for Chilis and Tomatos

Days are getting longer, and in the afternoons the temperature rises above 10¬įC… but if I’ve learned a lesson the last two years then that growing chilis and tomatos in our living room (although located on the south side of our house) is still far from enough for these seedlings…

So I’ve taken a few hours and built an LED grow light station for them. ūüėÄ

Two LED panels (bought on Amazon for ~ 23 ‚ā¨ each, hanging above two tubs with seedlings.
These photos show the seedlings two weeks after sowing the tomato and chili seeds.

Jupiter Moon photo taken with a regular DSLR and Zoom lens

Yesterday evening I spontaneously made¬†a photo of Jupiter with my Canon DSLR, a¬†(300 mm) zoom lens, and a tripod. ūüôā¬†I was really surprised that I was¬†able to identify the four¬†Galilean moons Europa, Io, Ganymed, and Callisto.DSLR Photo Jupiter Europa Io Ganymed Callisto

I did not expect much as I made the¬†shot from my balcony with room and street lights on. Here in Munich we have¬†a lot of¬†light pollution. At first I thought the small spots were lens flares. Also chromatic aberration is pretty visible due to the manual focus, but I’m still proud of¬†the photo¬†because I did not expect anything special:¬†I first had to compare it¬†with the¬†software-rendered constellation of the moons around¬†the time the photo was taken (see below) to be sure.

Jupiter Moon Constellation 2016-05-28 2100

30th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Tragedy – or – Building a PIN Diode Geiger Counter

Exactly 30 years ago a great disaster struck the region of Chernobyl: a nuclear accident occurred that released a large quantity of radioactive particles into the atmosphere. And it is only five years ago that, with the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, a second similar catastrophic event has taken place.

These anniversaries¬†did not directly let me build a PIN Photodiode based Geiger Counter, it is more or less¬†a coincidence.¬†The main drive to build such a device was my curiosity and (please forgive me)¬†a fascinating green glow I’ve seen on various fluorescent Uranium minerals under UV light.¬†But in this context it should not be forgotten that at present there still is a significant increase in background radiation in some regions and some agricultural products due to these events.

There are lots of descriptions¬†of how to build such a device; even cheap commercial products (e.g. the Smart Geiger) use such a¬†design.¬†Especially two sites caught my attention: OpenGeiger.de¬†and Das Gammastrahlen-Mikrofon¬†(German).¬†The design I’ve chosen is based on these sources but I’ve begun to further modify it. In this post I’m showing the design I’ve started with. It mainly relies on two BPW34 (Vishay Datasheet) photodiodes connected in parallel, and two transistors¬†to amplify the voltage fluctuations of beta and/or gamma¬†rays striking the diodes. A 9 Volt battery was added to increase the pulse height.

The common approach to protect the photodiodes from light is to use one layer of tin foil and connect it to ground. This should also protect the circuit¬†against electromagnetic radiation.¬†I’ve started with¬†something different and dipped the¬†diodes three times¬†into liquid rubber (Plasti Dip). My hope was to at least allow some beta particles to reach the semiconductor material.

Photodiode with Liquid Rubber Coating

So far I’ve tested the basic design shown above and had mostly noise on my microphone input. I’d say that sporadic crackling has more to do with the 1 hour hacked together design than beta or gamma rays. The liquid rubber seems to block of light, but the simple design is sensitive to electromagnetic radiation. Waving your hand or even movements in about 1 m distance is visible in the sound profile.¬†An additional tin foil shield connected to ground did not change the noise profile, although the EMR influence¬†was reduced. I’ve tested it with two different sound cards (microphone inputs).

I’m currently redesigning the whole approach¬†and expect better results. So stay tuned…