Trail Camera Controller Scores Big in Our DIY Competition

PHOTO: Don Kirk

SURPRISE!

This infrared-light photo of raccoons was taken in Don Kirk’s backyard. The bucket feeder lures critters into camera view.

The winners of our second DIY competition, cosponsored with our friends and colleagues over at Make magazine, are IEEE members Don Kirk and Bill Green from Indiana. Don, an avid electronics hobbyist, has worked as an electrical engineer for the past 21 years at Magnequench International (formerly a business unit of the Delco Remy Division of General Motors), which produces high-energy permanent magnet materials. Bill, another long-time do-it-yourselfer, has worked for 17 years as a mechanical engineer, also at Magnequench.

Their winning submission: an all-in-one controller board for a trail camera that costs about US $20 to make. The board detects physical motion using a pyroelectric infrared sensor. When motion is detected, the board turns on the camera, signals the camera to take a picture, and also triggers a slave flash if it’s nighttime. Don demonstrated their invention at the Maker Faire in Austin, Texas, on 20 and 21 October.

Animal lovers—and hunters—use trail cameras to keep an eye on animals that come prowling around, mostly at night. Bill, an outdoor enthusiast, had access to some wilderness property about 2 hours away from his home and used trail cameras there to monitor wildlife activity as well as unauthorized human activity (such as ­trespassers). He originally started building trail cameras using commercially available controller boards, but he couldn’t find a single board that combined all of the features he wanted in one place.

So one day Bill and Don started talking about trail cameras, and Don, who was looking for a project that would allow him to use Microchip Technology’s micro­controllers, decided to build a board for Bill. And that’s how the Trail Camera Controller Board (Allâ''in-One Design) was born.

Nighttime pictures are taken by using what Bill and Don call IR (infrared) setups. They’ve converted their cameras to be sensitive to infrared light by removing the infrared blocking filter located in the camera lens assembly and placing filters over the flash units to block visible white light but let through the infrared light that is also generated by the flash. When the camera takes a picture there’s no white flash, and the only thing the animal sees is a little red light coming from the flash—but only if it is looking directly at it—so it really isn’t aware that a picture is being taken.

Don and his wife, Chris, are now as hooked on trail cameras as Bill already was. They had no idea how much wildlife was running around in their backyard at night and can’t wait until morning comes to see what creatures have been ”captured.” Congratulations, Bill and Don!

The editorial content of IEEE Spectrum magazine does not reflect official positions of the IEEE or its organizational units. Please address comments to Forum atn.hantman@ieee.org.

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