The digital detective
Setting up a web camera for your home
By Byron Ricks
Last week, I awoke each morning to find my garbage cans toppled and trash littered across my porch. It looked like a practical joke, but I wasn’t quite sure. I just knew that I didn’t want it to continue. I couldn’t stay awake all night or stay home every weekend to see exactly what was going on. During a video chat with a friend, I got the idea to use my web camera, or webcam, to monitor the situation. I became a digital detective. That way, even when I wasn’t home, I could be working on finding the identity of the trash tippers.
This wasn’t a novel idea, of course. Webcam video chats have occurred for years. It’s not surprising that webcams have expanded their range to monitoring the home. Given my situation, my first thought was security—using a webcam to look for pranksters, prowlers, and burglars (oh my). But I’ve since learned that some of my friends use webcams for other reasons: to monitor a sick pet at home, for example, or to be notified of a package delivery. Perhaps one of the most obvious things to monitor with a webcam is, well, your computer. Think about it. These days your computer probably contains some of the most valuable information in your home—and your webcam is right there with it and can be easily moved to point at your PC. Convinced? Here’s how to set up a webcam surveillance system for your home.
The basic idea
The technology is amazing, but the concept is simple: A webcam takes a picture when it detects sounds or movements. You can then be notified with an e-mail message or images on a webpage.
What you'll need
You can make your home webcam security system pretty fancy, but you certainly don’t need to. With basic home webcam monitoring, you can keep an eye on things with only a webcam and a computer. I used a single webcam to monitor my home, and that's what I'll describe here.
A computer with Internet connection
You'll need a computer (desktop or mobile PC) with an Internet connection at your home. The webcam that does the surveillance will be connected to this computer. A mobile PC works well because you can easily move it to different locations around the house, depending on what area you want to monitor.
Almost any webcam will work, but not all webcams are created equal. First, as with any camera, quality counts. Some webcams are more specialized for certain conditions or for close-up subjects (such as a video chat). Also, consider a camera that can zoom or has interchangeable lenses. If the area you intend to monitor is really dark, you might want to consider a camera that takes black-and-white or infrared images. The Microsoft Store
website is a good place to start looking.
A longer cable for your webcam
Your webcam will likely have a cable to connect it to your computer. To get it to your front door, the dog kennel, or around back to the trash cans, you’ll probably need an extension.
Webcam surveillance and monitoring software
With surveillance and monitoring software, your webcam can take pictures and notify you about what’s going on. For example, you might be able to choose to have your webcam record only when it detects motion or sound. Then, it can send you an e-mail message or upload the images to a website that you can check from wherever you are.
You can often choose precisely how and when you want to take the images. You might also be able to choose to continuously send still images to a website that you can monitor or have the webcam record and send images to a website in real time. You can also often schedule the time of day when you want the webcam to do its monitoring. Some programs allow you to use more than one camera. Search for webcam surveillance software on the web.
What do you want to monitor?
Go to the area you want to monitor and look at it as if you were a photographer who will be taking a picture of it. If you need to monitor your front door for a package delivery during the day, look around the area to find out where the package will be and where to place the camera to get the best images. You don’t want the webcam pointed directly at the sun, for instance, but you do need enough light. Think about what the images might look like at night, as well. For my trash can detective work, I left the porch light on.
Also consider the quality and capabilities of your webcam. Perhaps it works best for certain locations and light conditions. Check the information that came with your webcam to learn more and perhaps get some tips.
Here, you’ll basically follow the instructions that came with both your webcam and your surveillance software. You might need to install drivers for your webcam and then set up how you want your webcam to record images and notify you. If your software allows, this is where you can select your motion detection area and whether you would like images uploaded to a website or be notified by e-mail.
Who are the trash tippers?
I was ready to find out. When I got everything set up, I turned on the porch light, set my webcam to record to a website, and went to bed. In the morning my trash cans were, indeed, toppled again. A-ha! I logged into the website... It wasn’t a pack of pranksters after all. Rather, I saw the glowing eyes of the neighborhood Procyon lotor, more commonly known as the raccoon.
About the author
Byron Ricks ist Autor im Windows-Team bei Microsoft. In seiner Freizeit schreibt er über Naturgeschichte und Technologie und unternimmt Reisen im Auftrag zahlreicher Zeitschriften und Websites.
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