There are a lot of security cameras out there that promise to capture any motion in your home. These systems give you peace of mind whenever you’re away. Well, if you have a USB camera and a computer, you already have everything you need to set up an inexpensive motion detection system, without spending a dime.
The approach we’re going to take in this setup is to attach USB cameras to a computer, centrally located in your home, and configure those to sense any motion. Then, you’ll have the system alert you with an instant email.
What You Need
Almost any webcam software will do, so long as it’s capable of triggering an email whenever any camera senses motion. In this case we’re going to focus on the very popular Webcam Monitor, which we’ve reviewed in the past. The only difference now is that the free version only allows two hours of monitoring time. So, unless you’re savvy enough to create a Windows process to kill and relaunch the application every two hours, your best bet is to just buy the inexpensive premium version.
Here’s what you need for this setup:
- Webcam Monitor software
- One or more USB webcams
- A single laptop or desktop computer with USB ports
- An IFTTT account
Configuring Webcam Monitor
This approach even works on very old PCs. This is because the software is compatible all the way back to Windows Vista. Once you install and launch the software, the right side of the Webcam Monitor dashboard has icons for each connected USB camera.
All you have to do is select the camera you want to use for motion control. Then select When motion is detected under Start Actions, and click the Configure button.
You’ll have the option to configure the sensitivity of the motion control for each camera, individually. The best approach here is to point the camera in the direction you want, and let the blue bar settle. Once you see the level of “static” motion that’s present, just slide the black slider a bit above that level.
It’s a good idea to have someone walk in front of the camera and note how high the blue bar goes. It should pass beyond where you’ve got the black slider set. If you want to avoid cats or dogs setting off the motion, have them move in the frame and see where the blue bar settles. Try to set the black slider above where the pets trigger the blue bar, but below where someone walking in front of the camera does.
Once you’re done setting the camera sensitivity, go back to the main screen on the right side of the dashboard. For each camera you’ll want to make sure the “Email Notification” checkbox is set. Then click the Configure button.
This page is where you’ll need to set up your email server settings. Gmail is an ideal email service to use for this purpose. It offers both POP and IMAP capability, and it’s extremely easy to set up.
With either service, you’re going to need an outgoing server of smtp.gmail.com, and SSL security. To get the exact outgoing server and port settings, look up the email server settings for your specific email service.
If you’ve got multiple USB cameras attached to the PC, remember to click each of them one at a time in Webcam Monitor. Then, go through the same setup screens as described above.
Now you have all of your USB cameras set up to issue email notification alerts to your email inbox. The next step is to configure a system that will log all of the activity from each camera to your Google spreadsheet.
Write Motion Activity to Google Sheets
Before moving on to this stage of the project, it’s important to make sure you’ve set up the email notifications above properly. Specifically, you want to be sure the subject line that you set up for each notification is distinct. This way you’ll know, based on the subject line, which camera the notification is coming from.
For example, in my case I made one camera issue an email with the subject line, “WebCam Monitor Alert Notification #1”. The other one had the subject line, “WebCam Monitor Alert Notification #2”.
The subject line is important. It’ll be the trigger for your IFTTT recipe. The recipe will use this to insert the correct information into your home activity monitoring spreadsheet. You’ll see this below.
In your IFTTT account, search for the “Gmail” trigger, and select New email in inbox from search. This trigger allows you to customize a search specifically for your exact email subject lines, as shown below.
For the next step, choose Google Drive as the trigger channel, and Add row to spreadsheet as the trigger. This trigger lets you define all of the fields that will get passed to the spreadsheet from the email notification. These include information like when the alert was received, and a link to the IFTTT attachment photo of the captured image from the camera.
The final stop is to define the path where you want the home activity monitoring spreadsheet to go. Make this an easy path to remember so that you can access it easily from your phone. This way you can check the activity log from your phone whenever you like!
Once you’ve totally configured your cameras and your IFTTT account to start tracking motion events in your home, you’ll see your spreadsheet start populating with information. The most important field is the link to the actual photos that the camera captures when they detect motion. These are stored in an IFTTT “locker” for you to access later.
This system is one of the cheapest ways to set up a home motion monitoring system. If you already have an old PC or laptop laying around, the only investment may be just a few cheap USB cameras. If you have a few of those lying around, you don’t have to buy anything at all to put this home security system together!
When you’re setting up this inexpensive home motion monitoring setup, keep the following considerations in mind:
- Consider purchasing USB cord extensions so you can place the USB cameras in more ideal locations further away from the computer.
- If you’ve located your computer centrally, point one camera in every direction. These could all monitor the majority of your home’s space.
- Adjusting motion sensitivity is extremely important. If you don’t, you could end up with excessive “false alarms” filling up your spreadsheet with useless information.
- Consider buying a cheap used laptop for this system. Place the laptop in an inconspicuous location (such as up on a high shelf) so you will have more flexibility in where to place the USB cameras.
For a lot of people the idea of setting up a home security system, especially one that can do something as advanced as writing alerts to a cloud-based spreadsheet, seems impossibly complex.
The truth is that the above procedure can be finished in under 30 minutes. You can have an effective home security system up and running in your home, and you could do it yourself without any technology or programming experience at all.
So what are you waiting for? Set up your system, and tell us how it went in the comments section below!