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Saturday, September 23 2017 @ 02:23 AM CDT

Automation and Remote Control

Previous: Distant Internet - Next: Video Production

Automation for your remote project can perform any or all of several tasks but the most relevant for most projects is saving power and monitoring the power system in general.


There are many reasons to add some automation to a remote system:

  • turn lights on/off to conserve power
  • turn radios/cameras on/off to conserve power or to deal with changing needs such as use of one camera over another when there is limited bandwidth/power such that both can’t be on all the time.
  • monitor systems for problems and/or maintenance needs (fuel, battery condition, etc.)
  • Start/stop generation systems
  • local archive start/stop based on motion detection, etc.

Some IP cameras have basic input/output abilities such as detecting a circuit closing or turning some simple circuit on/off. These can be used to detect motion (connect the output of the motion detector to the input circuit) or turn lights on/off (connect directly to the output if low power, or via a relay if higher power) The Axis line of cameras and their separate encoder modules typically have such remote control/detection circuits available. These may be monitored or triggered via their web interface, or may be set to send e-mail or respond to remote control commands from your local computer.

It may be useful to use the circuit on one camera to turn another camera (or string of cameras) on/off to simply conserve power such as at night.

For more complex control needs there are both simple and complex solutions including:

  • light-activated switch that will turn something on/off depending on amount of light available. Could turn infrared lights on at night, or a camera off at night for example
  • motion activated switch – again, turn lights and/or camera on when activated.
  • Sound activated switch – same as motion.
  • Embedded computer systems with complex capabilities and both local and remote programming abilities.

See Ramsey Electronics for example - the MK125 - Light Actuated Switch shown to the right

The primary consideration for how you employ automation will likely be how much power it draws and/or can save you. For example, in the situation where Hancock Wildlife Foundation was going to be putting a propane-powered generator at the HWF Chehalis tower-camera site, the single board computer I was going to use at the time (PC-104 style) drew a maximum of 8 watts, with a more typical draw of under 1 watt. This meant that if I could save approximately 30 watt/hours/day I could justify its existence from a power perspective. There are several far lower-powered alternatives today. Take a look at the Open Source project Arduino board

In the design I had set it to the task of turning the lights on the tower off/on. This would have saved about 100 watt/hours/day (8 hours of daylight (Winter time) where the lights were off, times 12 watts they used)

In addition, the system had enough control circuitry that I could monitor the battery voltages and output from the solar cells, turn on/off the propane valve, initiate the generator start sequence, and monitor the generator output. It had internet capability, so I could do all this from the comfort of my home, 75 miles away, but it could have been done from the other side of the planet.

The potential for automation and remote monitoring is almost limitless. I’ll get into specific setups in the next book.

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