Uncover your garden’s wildlife secrets with DIY tech
Design researchers have developed a DIY wildlife camera that anybody can make at home from everyday items and simple technology.
The team from the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Design Products at the Royal College of Art designed the devices, which cost less than £30, to encourage people to find out more about the animals in their neighbourhood.
The My Naturewatch cameras use computer vision to sense motion and capture images of wildlife, much like the sophisticated camera traps used by conservationists and filmmakers. They automatically capture images when they ‘see’ animals such as birds, foxes, squirrels and mice. People can view the images and control the camera from the comfort of their homes by connecting to a Wi-Fi network set up by the cameras.
Easy-to-follow instructions for making the My Naturewatch cameras are available on the project website, www.mynaturewatch.net, along with free software and tips on housing the cameras in food storage containers, old plastic bottles or other household items. After testing the website and cameras at a number of nature reserves and schools, the team is confident people around the UK will find the cameras easy to make and fun to use.
The project is also trialling a system for tracking small garden birds using DIY RFID bird-feeders (‘freaders’). The freaders read IDs from tiny chips embedded in special versions of the rings commonly used to identify birds.
A number of robins on the Goldsmiths campus have already been tagged with electronic bird rings and the team are tracking the birds’ movements through the site. The plan is to eventually encourage enough people to build the freaders so that small garden birds can be tracked all over Britain – which the researchers expect to be engaging for the public as well as an invaluable source of information for scientists.
The freaders are simple, battery-powered devices that are easy to make from standard components housed in waterproof containers that can be attached to existing bird feeders. The freaders connect to people’s home Wi-Fi networks and automatically record identification numbers from birds that have been professionally tagged by licenced bird ringers. Once trials are complete step-by-step instructions for making the freaders will be released on www.mynaturewatch.net
Professor Bill Gaver, My Naturewatch team member and co-director of the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, said: “We’ve had a lot of fun using the cameras in our own backyards. We’ve had pictures of birds, deer – some pretty scary rats in my garden – badgers, foxes and field mice. Now we’re excited to help everybody make their own.”
Andy Boucher, My Naturewatch team member and co-director of the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, said: “We hope that MyNaturewatch will inspire people of all ages to engage with the wildlife around them by building these devices – which also help people learn about technology – and look forward to seeing the images and clips people share with the community."
Rob Phillips, My Naturewatch team member and senior tutor Design Products at the Royal College of Art, said “We’ve run workshops at wildlife centres, schools and youth groups to try out the cameras, and the participants liked them so much they didn’t want to give them back. This is a great way to get people engaged with the wildlife around them, the environment more broadly and share findings with others.”
The project featured on an episode of BBC Springwatch broadcast on 11 June 2018. Professor Gaver also wrote a post about My Naturewatch for the Springwatch blog.
My Naturewatch is a collaborative design research project between the Interaction Research Studio at Goldsmiths, University of London and the Design Products Programme at the Royal College of Art, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.