Networked Solar Birdhouses Deep in the Woods

Hackaday Solar Hacks -

[Oitzu] in Germany wrote in to let us know about a series of short but very informative blog posts in which he describes building a series of solar-powered, networked birdhouses with the purpose of spying on the life that goes on within them. He made just one at first, then expanded to a small network of them. They work wonderfully, and [Oitzu]’s documentation will be a big help to anyone looking to implement any of the same elements – which include a Raspberry Pi in one unit as a main gateway, multiple remote units in other birdhouses taking pictures and sending those to the Pi over an nRF24L01+ based radio network, and having the Pi manage uploading those images using access to the mobile network. All with solar power.

Original nesting box with pi noir cameraOriginal Raspberry Pi based unit with Pi Noir camera

Hardware that needs to keep itself running in the middle of the woods has a different set of problems to solve than hardware that hangs out no further away than your back yard. Happily, [Oitzu] walks us through the whole process. In Part 1 he outlines a plan for multiple networked birdhouses, each able to report on their inhabitants but without needing a Raspberry Pi in each one. Part 2 describes the camera system. Part 3 details the communications between the units, and the overall hardware design. Part 4 covers the PCB (his first one!) and enclosures, and finally Part 5 is all about the results. The boxes have been happily running in the middle of the forest with very few problems. The Raspberry Pi (equipped with a UMTS stick – an economical mobile network data gateway) caches images from the remotes, and uploads them whenever it can obtain a mobile signal – which it can usually do fairly promptly unless there is bad weather.

The birdhouses are currently empty, so there is nothing to do but wait for now. The final blog post has links to the image galleries of each birdhouse for when they become occupied. It’s hoped that Boreal Owls will make an appearance.

Supplying power to hardware that lives headless in the middle of the woods is a problem, and [Oitzu] took an approach similar to this solar-powered, tweeting bird feeder: that is to say, a large solar panel and a hefty rechargeable battery. But with some of the recent projects like this battery backup and power management solution for the Raspberry Pi making progress, maybe options for easier and better control over headless hardware in the woods will grow.

Filed under: solar hacks, wireless hacks

Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

Hackaday Solar Hacks -

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

Thanks for the tip, [Michalis]!

Filed under: lifehacks, solar hacks

Solar FPV Plane Flies Forever

Hackaday Solar Hacks -

We love solar power. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it’s relatively lightweight and involves fragile high technology. Just the sort of thing that we’d want to strap onto the wings of a large model aircraft.

Solar power on a remote-controlled plane would get you unlimited cruising range. Now, a normal land-and-swap-battery process might be good enough for some people, but judging from [Prometreus]’s YouTube channel, he’s a fan of long flights over the Alps, and of pushing long-distance FPV links to the breaking point. For him and his friends, the battery power is definitely the limiting factor in how far / long he can fly.


All of the information we have is in the video, but that’s plenty. [Prometreus] didn’t bother with maximum-power-point tracking, but instead wired up his solar cells to work just about right for the voltage of his batteries and the level of sun that he’s seeing. So it won’t work nearly as well on cloudy days. (Check out this MPPT build that was submitted for the Hackaday Prize.)

He could switch the solar cells in an out remotely, and it’s pretty gratifying to see the consumed current in the battery go down below zero. In the end, he lands with a full battery. How cool is that?

Filed under: solar hacks
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