Want to keep an eye on your home or business while you’re away? Maybe observe wildlife close-up without disturbing them? Or, keep an eye on your kids playing in the backyard? Low-end wireless IP cameras start at $50-$75 USD. Higher-end units can run into the hundreds of dollars. Add motion detection and the price raises even further. How about a lower-cost solution? Using a Raspberry Pi with an inexpensive webcam, a wireless WiFi Module, and an optional battery pack, you can have a remote, motion-activated camera solution, at a fraction of the cost. Best of all, you won’t need to write a single line of code or hack any electronics to get started.
There are many posts on the Internet, demonstrating how to build a Raspberry Pi-powered motion-activated camera system. One of the more frequently used off-the-shelf applications for these projects is Motion. According to their website, ‘Motion is a program that monitors the video signal from one or more cameras and is able to detect if a significant part of the picture has changed; in other words, it can detect motion‘. Motion uses a technique known as visual motion detection (VMD) to compare a series of sequential camera frames for differences at a pixel level. A change between a series of sequential frames is an indication of movement.
Motion has the ability to stream images from a webcam and server them from it’s built-in web server, with little or no configuration. In addition, Motion is easily configured to work with streaming video applications like the very popular FFmpeg, and save images to databases like mySQL or PostgreSQL. Motion can also execute external scripts such as python or shell. In this post, we are going to use Motion’s most basic features, motion detection and web-streaming.
Before installing Motion, I recommend ensuring your Raspberry Pi is up-to-date with the latest software and firmware. Updating firmware is not necessary. However, I was recently helping someone with camera issue on their Raspberry Pi. Finding a few suggestions online for similar problems, we updated the firmware on the Raspberry Pi. It fixed the problem. Installing firmware can sound a bit intimidating. However, Liam McLoughlin (hexxeh) has made the process easy with rpi-update. I have used it successfully on multiple Raspberry Pi’s. Three commands is all it takes to update your Raspberry Pi to the latest firmware.
You should also update your Raspberry Pi’s existing software. To update your Raspberry Pi’s software, execute the following apt-get commands:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
If you don’t do this on a regular basis, as recommended, these could take up to several minutes. Watch for errors. If there are any errors, try to run the command again. Sometimes the Raspberry Pi cannot connect to all code repositories for updates.
Once the updates are complete, install Motion by issuing the following command:
sudo apt-get install motion
As the installation completes, you should see a warning in the command shell about Motion being disabled by default.
... Adding user `motion' to group `video' ... Adding user motion to group video Done. [warn] Not starting motion daemon, disabled via /etc/default/motion ... (warning). Setting up ffmpeg (6:0.8.4-1) ... pi@garyrasppi ~ $
To enable Motion (the motion daemon), we need to edit the
sudo nano /etc/default/motion
Change the ‘
start_motion_daemon‘ parameter to ‘yes’.
Motion is easy to customize with loads of parameters you can tweak based on your needs. Motion has no GUI. All configuration is all done through Motion’s configuration file (
/etc/motion/motion.conf). Before editing the configuration file, we need to change the permissions on it, so Motion can get access to it. While we are at it, we will also change permissions on the folder where Motion stores captured images.
sudo chmod -R 777 /etc/motion/motion.conf sudo chmod -R 777 /tmp/motion
After changing the permissions, to configure Motion, open the Motion’s configuration file in a text editor, as root (sudo). I like using Nano. The configuration file can be opened in Nano with the following command:
sudo nano /etc/motion/motion.conf
Motion’s configuration file is lengthy. However, it is broken down into logical sections, making finding the setting you are looking for, easy. First, we need to change the ‘Live Webcam Server’ section of configuration. Below are the default settings:
############################################################ # Live Webcam Server ############################################################ # The mini-http server listens to this port for requests (default: 0 = disabled) webcam_port 8081 # Quality of the jpeg (in percent) images produced (default: 50) webcam_quality 50 # Output frames at 1 fps when no motion is detected and increase to the # rate given by webcam_maxrate when motion is detected (default: off) webcam_motion off # Maximum framerate for webcam streams (default: 1) webcam_maxrate 1 # Restrict webcam connections to localhost only (default: on) webcam_localhost on # Limits the number of images per connection (default: 0 = unlimited) # Number can be defined by multiplying actual webcam rate by desired number of seconds # Actual webcam rate is the smallest of the numbers framerate and webcam_maxrate webcam_limit 0
The first thing you will want to change is Motion’s default setting that restricts image streaming to ‘
localhost‘, only ( ‘
webcam_localhost on‘). This means you can only view images in a web browser on the Raspberry Pi, not remotely over your network. Change that line of code to read ‘
The next setting I recommend changing for security purposes is the default port Motion’s web server uses to stream images, 8081. Security through obscurity is better than no security at all. Change port 8081 to a different arbitrary port, for example, 6789 (‘
webcam_port 6789‘). Just make sure you don’t pick a port already in use by another service or application. Having made this change, if your Raspberry Pi’s local IP address is 192.168.1.9, images from the webcam should be accessible at 192.168.1.9:6789.
The other two settings in this section you can play with are the webcam quality and maximum frame-rate. You will have to adjust this based on your network speed and the processing power of your Raspberry Pi. The default settings are a good place to start. I changed my quality from the default of 50 to 80 (‘
webcam_quality 80‘), and changed my max frame-rate to 2 (‘
Speaking of quality, the other two settings you may want to change are the width and height of the image being captured by Motion. The ‘Capture device options’ section is where we change these settings. As the configuration’s comments suggest, these settings are dependent on your camera. Check the camera’s available image sizes; you will need to use one of those size combinations. I have mine set to an average size of 352 x 288. This is a good size for those of us with a slower network, or when streaming video over the Internet to mobile web browser. Conversely, a larger image is better for viewing over your local network.
Image size, like compression quality, and frame-rate are dependent on processing power of your Raspberry Pi and it’s OS (Raspbian, Debian, Arch, etc.). You may need to play with these settings to get the desired results. I couldn’t stream images larger than 352 x 288 over the Internet, with my Raspberry Pi, even though my webcam could capture up to 640 x 480 pixels.
# Image width (pixels). Valid range: Camera dependent, default: 352 width 352 # Image height (pixels). Valid range: Camera dependent, default: 288 height 288
It’s important to remember, each time you make changes to Motion’s configuration file, you must restart Motion, using the following command.
sudo /etc/init.d/motion restart
Viewing Your Webcam Remotely
To view your webcam’s output from another device on your local network, point your web browser to the IP address of your Raspberry Pi, and add the port you assigned in Motion’s configuration file. Motion may take up to 15-20 seconds to start responding in the browser. If it takes longer, you probably have your image size, frame-rate, and compression settings to high for your Raspberry Pi.
Over the Internet
Enabling your webcam’s output over the Internet is relatively easy with the average home router and Internet service provider. Suppose the IP address of my Raspberry Pi, on my local network, is 192.168.1.9. Suppose I assigned port 6789 to Motion’s web server. Lastly, suppose my router’s external Internet IP address is 188.8.131.52. With this information, I can create a port-forwarding rule in my router, allowing all external HTTP traffic over TCP to 184.108.40.206:3456, to be automatically forwarded internally to 192.168.1.9:6789. The external port, 3456, is totally arbitrary, just make sure you don’t pick a port already in use.
IMPORTANT SECURITY NOTE: There are no passwords or other network protection used with this method. Make sure to keep the external IP address and port combination private, and always stop Motion, or better yet your Raspberry Pi, when not in use. Otherwise, someone could potentially be watching you!
Down at the local coffee shop, I decide to check if the mailman has delivered my new Raspberry Pi to the front porch. Having set-up port-forwarding, I enter 220.127.116.11:3456 in my smartphone’s web browser. My Internet provider routes the HTTP request to my Internet router. My router receives the request and forwards it over my local network to 192.168.1.9:6789, where Motion’s built-in web server on my Raspberry Pi is running. Motion’s web server responds by streaming still images back to my phone at the coffee shop when it detects motion. Still no sign of the mailman or my Raspberry Pi…
Static IP Addresses
I recommend using a static IP address for your Raspberry Pi, versus DHCP, if possible. Else, you will have to change your router’s port-forwarding rules each time your Raspberry Pi’s DHCP lease is renewed and its local IP address changes. There are some ways to prevent addressed from changing frequently with DHCP, if your router supports it. Look for configurable lease times or reservations options in your router’s configuration; these may be able to be extended.
Locating Your External Internet IP Address
What is your router’s external Internet IP address? To find mine, I looked in Netgear’s Router Status window. You can also use a ‘tracert’ from the command line, if you know what to look for in the output.
Since I do not pay my Internet-provider for a static external Internet IP address, the address my provider assigns to my router is dynamic. It can and will change, sometimes almost never, or sometimes daily. The frequency of change depends on your provider. To view your webcam’s images, you will need to know your router’s current external Internet IP address.
Here are some example from a Microsoft LifeCam VX-500 and Logitech Webcam C210 webcams. The highest quality I could consistently stream over the Internet, from my Raspberry Pi 512Mb Model B, with both Soft-float Debian “wheezy” and Raspbian “wheezy”, was 352 x 288 at 80% compression and 2 fsp max. Locally on my LAN, I could reach a frame size of 640 x 480 pixels.
In the first example, I’ve placed the Raspberry Pi in a plastic container to protect it, and mounted the webcam in a flower box. Viewing the feed over my local network, we are able to watch the hummingbirds without scaring them.
In the next two images, I’ve turned on Motion’s ‘locate box’ option, which tracks the exact area within the image that is moving. As the person come into view of the camera mounted near the front door, Motion detects and outlines the area of the images where it detects movement.
In the next video, you see the view from a Google Nexus 7 tablet. My wife and I use the Raspberry Pi surveillance system to watch our backyard when our kids are outside (the camera is no substitute for adult supervision when the kids are in the pool).
This last image is from my iPhone, while shopping at the local grocery store. My wife was impressed with my port-forwarding knowledge. OK, not really, but she did enjoy showing off the Christmas tree to friends, remotely, even if it wasn’t in motion.
Here are a few links to other useful articles on the use of Motion with the Raspberry Pi:
motion(1) – Linux man page (good source for understand Motion config)
Linux UVC Supported Devices (a good starting point for buying a webcam)