How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

webcam   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PCWhenever my family travels or we’re away from home for any extended period, as I turn to lock and close the front door I always consider how nice it would be to be able to build a WiFi home surveillance system that would immediately alert me if someone has entered my house when there’s nobody there.

This has been a dream of mine for years, but I’ve always avoided the project because of the costs I assumed were involved. However, writing for MakeUseOf often forces me to think a bit outside the box. How would I accomplish a home security system inexpensively or free?

As an automation engineer, I often have to work with machinery or equipment where a central processor needs to read data from a number of distributed sensors. So, for starters I would distribute “sensors” – both wired and wireless web cams – in and around my property. The question still remains, what central processing software could handle all of those webcams and accomplish the “alert” scenario I want? After doing a lot of digging, I finally found a very cool software application called Active Webcam that lets you do just that.

How to Build a WiFi Home Security System

In this article, I’m going to describe how you can set up a system of security webcams that will alert you to even the slightest intrusion into the space the camera is monitoring. Before we get going, I do need to make it clear that the download link above for Active Webcam is to a free trial version of the software. However, the trial version offers all of the features of the full version, except there’s a small “nag window” in the upper left part of each webcam. If you can tolerate the window (I know I can), then the software is the top free choice for what we need to accomplish.

Recently, MakeUseOf covered similar applications for your webcam, such as Mark’s article on two cool motion sensor applications, and a while back I also outlined how you could use webcams from all around the world to go ghost hunting with your browser. However, what I’m going to describe today is a combination of all of those things. We’re going to create a remote surveillance system that could monitor your home, your camp, your apartment – or all of the above, all at the same time. In essence you can create a giant personal surveillance network without limitations. Sound cool? Let’s roll.

When you first install Active Webcam you’re offered an easy wizard that steps you through setting up your first device.

active1   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

As you can see even from this first screen – the software has a lot of capabilities. Not only can you capture input from cameras connected directly to your computer, on your home network, or over the Internet – but you can even generate a web page that you could access from anywhere to watch all of your configured cameras.

active2   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

The next screen of the startup wizard helps you select which type of camera you want to connect to. Keep in mind that if you’ve set up a remote Wi-Fi webcam that has its own IP on your network, you can connect to it directly by selecting “Network IP Camera.”

active3   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

The next screen in the wizard lets you choose from the three standard methods of broadcasting your captured video. You can stream it all to an external web server, you can turn your PC itself into a web server, or you can upload via FTP. In my case, I’m hoping to receive an email with a nice snapshot of the intruders that I can take over to the police station, so on this step I’ll select “None.” Once you’re past the startup wizard and you’ve set up your first device, go to settings and select “Motion Detection.”

motionsetup4   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

This is the place where we can accomplish the magic. A few things to keep in mind here. First, set the sensitivity to what you want to accomplish. For example, in my case my cameras are sitting in an empty house where nothing should be moving. Setting it to 95% will fire off an email at the slightest movement. However, if you have a small cat or dog in the house, you may want to set it for 75% to 80% so that it ignores smaller movements. The last thing you want is a flurry of hundreds of emails because your cat decided to start playing with the webcam!

You’ll also notice that there’s an impressive array of actions you can take when the camera senses motion. Playing a sound or FTP’ing captured images are standard with most of these motion detection applications – but the one feature that is very cool here is that if you want, the application will not only send you an email, but it can also send an SMS message to your cellphone. Now that’s slick. Of course, in my case I want an email with snapshots of the intruder, so I select “Send Email” and then go into the email settings.

emailsetup   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

The email settings are very easy. Just configure your SMTP settings and remember to add which email address to send the alert to. You can add multiple ones by using a comma between them. The interval setting will wait before firing off another email when there’s more motion, and you can choose how many snapshots you want the camera to take. During a test run with my single laptop webcam watching for motion, I received the following email.

emailalert11   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

Okay, so it works – but what about really putting it to good use?

Build a WiFi Internet Surveillance Network

My first thought is a distributed surveillance system where you wire up a webcam at every remote location you want to monitor. This could be your elderly mother’s house, your camp way up north or maybe even your office because you suspect someone’s stealing your favorite multi-colored sticky notes. Whatever the reason, all you need to do is install your webcams with either their own Internet IP, or plugged into an Internet-connected PC running Active Webcam. For my global distributed network test, I visited Opentopia and selected three random webcams from several Universities around the United States.

cams71   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

Now, two of these cameras were obviously monitoring very quiet locations. However, the third webcam on the lower left was a college workshop where students kept walking in and out of the room. So I quickly configured the motion settings as described above, and then waited for one of the three cameras to trigger my alert. Sure enough, within about five minutes, I received my email alert.

emailalert8   How To Build A WiFi Home Surveillance System With Your PC

I captured three snapshots of this student who had just walked into the room and stood at the table. Just imagine if this was your home or business security system. No need to rewind and review security tape – your wifi surveillance system will automatically capture and store the mugshots, and you’ll know about it instantly over email or your phone!

Can you think of other creative ways to use Active Webcam? Do you know of any other applications that would accomplish the same thing? Share your insight in the comments section below.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

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32 Comments -

0 votes

djangelic

THIS IS AWESOME!! ive been using yawcam, but it doesnt allow multicamera monitoring, just allows you to view a single one, but i want to be able to monitor the outside of my home as well (to capture vehicle info if someone breaks into my home, and i want to set up security lights that are motion activated (you can get a cheap kit for $20 at at home depot) and rig them together, so at night, when an intruder comes by, not only will the light turn on, but you’ll be able to see who it is cause the email will have lighted photos… :) just an idea i want to try at my home

0 votes

The Chilibuddy

I’ve been thinking about setting up a surveillance security system for my apartment. I re-did an apartment in bit of a ghetto area and I live on the lowest floor so its easily reached by intruders if they wanted.

I thought of getting the professional system but I couldn’t afford it. This sounds like a great alternative but I have a few questions; do you have any suggestions for what webcam to use and alternative software to use on macs?

0 votes

Ryan Dube

Hey Chilibuddy – thanks for the comment. All I can find for Mac at the moment is Security Spy, although it’s not free. And the cost of the perfect webcams are tough. For example, the *perfect* cam is this one, an awesome wi-fi network cam that has it’s own IP, but it’s over $200 new. There’s also this indoor/outdoor one.

In all honest, just starting out I’d probably hook up my old PC I’ve got sitting in the basement nearby and then string an inexpensive wired webcam to a high location overlooking the place I want to monitor. You can run this software on that PC (and any others) and then view those cams from your “control” computer. Just depends on how much you’re willing to spend on the hardware! Good luck with your project.

0 votes

The Chilibuddy

Okay, so after so long I have finally completed the home project. I got the LinkSys WVC54GCA which works pretty well for day-time (although now I am beginning to regret not getting night-vision. The one that I tried with night-vision had red IRs lights that would defeat the purposes of being out of sight)

I set the camera to work with my wifi network up with a little bit of difficulty on a Airport Extreme Router and MBP and I purchased EvoCam which is very user-friendly.

My next question, which almost seems to stupid to ask, is does the software you are running Active Webcam need to be always running for this surveillance system to work? Does that mean I should be constantly running this application?

0 votes

Jon

freeverse.com/mac/product/?id=7002

This program called periscope can work for a mac and is free. Don’t believe it can setup multiple camera’s but it is nice as it has an option for remote storing of the secuity pictures. This works well on a laptop if someone nabs it!

Alternatively you could use it with dropbox for remote backup of images.

0 votes

The Chilibuddy

I just checked it out – they don’t make it free anymore…. bummer… I got myself a wifi IP camera now I’ve got to decide which app to use. Anyone knows what are the features I should be looking out for cause they all seem to do the same thing.

0 votes

Maryland locksmith

This is good info for DIY. Any recommendations for good security cam?

0 votes

Maryland locksmith

This is good info for DIY. Any recommendations for good security cam?
Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

0 votes

Jason

I travel a lot and I hate that if I leave my hotel room for more than a couple of minutes I need to shut down my computer and lock up all my gear in the safe. I travel with a webcam to say goodnight to my kids, this would be an awesome addition. Simply turn the webcam toward the hotel room door and put up large text onscreen that says images are being broadcast automatically to the guest’s cell phone. Leave out the Do Not Disturb sign and now any hotel staff that might “accidentally” enter your room would see that their picture has already been recorded and sent somewhere. An audio message accompanying it would be great as well. I love this!

0 votes
0 votes

Elizabeth Chandler

I own a home up in the woods & this will enable me to set up a security system for remote monitoring. I think I might also try it to monitor my dad, who has Alzheimer’s.

Thanks for a great post!
8-)

0 votes

Brian Lang

So all you really need then (in addition to the software) are some wi-fi web cams? Hm. Got any models you recommend?

0 votes

Brian Lang

Oops. Forgot to subscribe to comments…

0 votes

Evocam

There is also this software for a mac. I can’t vouch for it as I have never used it:

http://www.evological.com/evocam.html

0 votes

Joel

This looks like a great program. I’ve looked into using an Arduino to interface with door sensors. Could be integrated somehow with webcams…. When a door sensor is triggered, a webcam fires up and takes a snapshot/movie of it.

0 votes

David

Two things I’d really like to see to added to this excellent primer:

1) Some suggestions for IP cams (wired and wireless).

2) The next step: connecting this whole thing to a sounding alarm so you can alert the neighborhood upon a breach.

0 votes

Ryan Dube

Great advice for a future article – thanks David.

0 votes

Shawn

What camera’s do you recommend to use for the wireless features? I was looking at the Linksys cameras.

0 votes

Mark

Also interested in camera recommendations: outdoor, indoor, wireless, wired. Anyone have any experience with this?

0 votes

Don G.

I have used Eyecopia for several years and it works great. I use wireless cameras on the home wi-fi and install a remote app on various computers around the house that pops up a window when motion is detected. Although older and not free it has worked very well and very reliably for me. It allows email, text and web site notifications.

0 votes

wptidbits

What if bird or cat passed by in front of the camera? Then i guess you will get emailed all the time they pass. Anyway, i understand this is budget constraint project so its not that intelligent to differ between intruder and cat or bird. Whatever it is, it is a very useful post.

0 votes

Ryan Dube

That’s actually a really good question – and I had the same thought when I was testing the software (I have both a small cat and a small dog). The answer is – you need to significantly reduce the sensitivity of the motion detection. In my case, cutting it down to 70 to 80% ignored the animals, but if a larger person walked past the camera, enough of the image changed to trigger an email.

0 votes

safuan

Thanks for sharing. I think this is GREAT Science school project of mine.
I will try soon!

0 votes

Ron

Since 2002, we’ve used Digi-Watcher (http://www.digi-watcher.com/), and we’ve really liked it. We mounted an inexpensive webcam on our kitchen PC, which has a view to the major traffic area of our house. We also use a separate X.10 system (http://www.x10.com/homepage.htm) to monitor doors, windows, and other areas with its own motion sensors. (Digi-watcher sends us e-mails. X.10 sounds an audible alarm and calls our cell phones.) With several pets roaming the house during the day, occasional false alarms are a given, but we have found that the ability to cross-check the independent systems gives us peace of mind.

0 votes

Jeroen

Have a look also at zoneminder.com.

This is a linux based system (free kind of), which has even cooler functionality. You can analyse the pictures and even get alerts on action.

You can even say only alert if there is something happening in this part of the webcam shot. So half of the room and not the window with the floating blinds because of wind.

The picture analysing thing is very cool, look at the screenshots on the web site.

(yes it is linux :-)

0 votes

Jose

zoneminder.com/

This is a very neat program for CCTV surveillance. It’s free and has good support from the community. The only drawback is that it runs only on Linux. If you want to experiment as a DIY project, you might want to give it a try.

Hope it helps someone!

0 votes

JD

I’ve looked into doing this in the past (have a spare laptop and some webcams to hook up). I want to just monitor my home office area when I’m out for the day, have had a break in before.

My question is, how do you disable the system, say right before you get home. Meaning, you really don’t want the thing to take the snapshot/pics everytime when YOU actually walk in the room. Is this an option on any of these programs? Sort of like a security alarm for your home, it works when you are not there but when you get home you can quickly enter the code on the keypad to disarm. Anyone get what I’m saying?

0 votes

steppedup

@JD…

I’d keep an email client running…then just email yourself with “home” in the subject line.

Have macro/script run based on any message received from your cell phone with “home” in the subject line to run the security camera program with command line arguments to turn off monitoring.

If you were feeling tricky, you could pick up an X10 remote to send it to the Home Command program to also run program line arguments – and turn off the software with the ease of pushing a button.

0 votes

The Chilibuddy

I have the same question as JD – although I know some cams and software are able to set a scheduling system… still, there are the days when I come back home unexpectedly then what do I do?

Sorry, @steppedup, I didn’t really understand your solution… not quite geek enough to comprehend. Do you suggest my phone call into the computer or something to turn it off? How would you do it?

0 votes

home security

The next screen of the startup wizard helps you select which type of camera you want to connect to. Keep in mind that if you’ve set up a remote Wi-Fi webcam that has its own IP on your network.

0 votes

theGMan

What if someone steals your PC?

0 votes

itsashirt T shirts

I will install your system in my appartment in china, so I can check things out in The Netherlands :)