Remote Motion-Activated Web-Based Surveillance with Raspberry Pi

Introduction

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.

_MG_9526

Motion

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.

Installing Motion

Firmware Update
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.

Software Update
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.

Installing Motion
Once the updates are complete, install Motion by issuing the following command:

sudo apt-get install motion

Enabling 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 /etc/default/motion file.

sudo nano /etc/default/motion

Change the ‘start_motion_daemon‘ parameter to ‘yes’.

Enable Daemon

Configuring Motion

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 ‘webcam_localhost off‘.

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 (‘webcam_maxrate 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 113.45.67.88. With this information, I can create a port-forwarding rule in my router, allowing all external HTTP traffic over TCP to 113.45.67.88:3456, 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.

Netgear Port Forwarding

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 113.45.67.88:3456 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.

Motion Example

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.

Hummingbird Feeder Remote Camera

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.

Front Entrance

Capture2

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.

iPhone Scaled

Useful Links

Here are a few links to other useful articles on the use of Motion with the Raspberry Pi:

Raspberry Pi-Powered Dashboard Video Camera Using Motion and FFmpeg

Setup a webcam security system with Ubuntu Linux and Motion

Guest blog #7: Bird table webcam by Francis Agius

Raspberry Pi webcam

motion(1) – Linux man page (good source for understand Motion config)

Linux UVC Supported Devices (a good starting point for buying a webcam)

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  1. #1 by raspibit on January 2, 2013 - 6:52 pm

    Hello Gary,

    I’ve been trying setting up motion properly, but when I try turning up the resolution to 640×480 I get terrible green lines in all my screen and it’s impossible to fix it because only works at the default motion resolution. I’m using a Creative LiveCam Sync HD, UVC and 720p HD resolution.

    Any idea about what I could do?

    Thanks a lot.

    • #2 by Gary A. Stafford on January 2, 2013 - 9:17 pm

      I’ve tried (2) Logitech cameras and (1) Microsoft camera on (2) RaspPi’s and (2) Operating Systems. I have not been able to get an image bigger than 358 x 288 pixels, not matter how much compression I use. It works perfect at a smaller size, but at 640 x 480 pixels, I get similar results to you or no results at all. The cameras are all capable of it.

      Troubleshooting this a little further, I think narrowed it down to the pre_capture buffer. I ran ‘motion’ and looked at the output:
      [1] Resizing pre_capture buffer to 1 items
      [0] Thread 1 – Watchdog timeout, trying to do a graceful restart

      I change to 352×288, and this succeeds:
      [1] Resizing pre_capture buffer to 1 items
      [1] Started stream webcam server in port 2929

      I haven’t found an answer, but this series of posts, discuss some possible solutions. Sounds very common: http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=38&t=17308

      I also noticed some permissions problems I had with the ‘motion.conf’ file and the ‘/tmp/motion’ directory, which I fixed and need to add to my post (see output below).

      pi@garyrasppi ~ $ motion
      [0] Processing thread 0 – config file /etc/motion/motion.conf
      [0] Motion 3.2.12 Started
      [0] ffmpeg LIBAVCODEC_BUILD 3482368 LIBAVFORMAT_BUILD 3478784
      [0] Thread 1 is from /etc/motion/motion.conf
      [0] motion-httpd/3.2.12 running, accepting connections
      [0] motion-httpd: waiting for data on port TCP 8080
      [1] Thread 1 started
      [1] cap.driver: “uvcvideo”
      [1] cap.card: “Microsoft LifeCam”
      [1] cap.bus_info: “usb-bcm2708_usb-1.2″
      [1] cap.capabilities=0x04000001
      [1] – VIDEO_CAPTURE
      [1] – STREAMING
      [1] Test palette YUYV (640×480)

      [1] Resizing pre_capture buffer to 1 items
      [0] Thread 1 – Watchdog timeout, trying to do a graceful restart
      [0] httpd – Finishing
      [0] httpd Closing
      [0] httpd thread exit

      Changed to 352 x 288
      pi@garyrasppi ~ $ motion

      [0] Processing thread 0 – config file /etc/motion/motion.conf
      [0] Motion 3.2.12 Started
      [0] ffmpeg LIBAVCODEC_BUILD 3482368 LIBAVFORMAT_BUILD 3478784
      [0] Thread 1 is from /etc/motion/motion.conf
      [0] motion-httpd/3.2.12 running, accepting connections
      [0] motion-httpd: waiting for data on port TCP 8080
      [1] Thread 1 started
      [1] cap.driver: “uvcvideo”
      [1] cap.card: “Microsoft LifeCam”
      [1] cap.bus_info: “usb-bcm2708_usb-1.2″
      [1] cap.capabilities=0x04000001
      [1] – VIDEO_CAPTURE
      [1] – STREAMING

      [1] Resizing pre_capture buffer to 1 items
      [1] Started stream webcam server in port 2929
      [1] File of type 1 saved to: /tmp/motion/01-20130102204736-00.jpg

      • #3 by raspibit on January 3, 2013 - 3:16 pm

        This is my problem too:

        [1] Resizing pre_capture buffer to 1 items
        [0] Thread 1 – Watchdog timeout, trying to do a graceful restart
        [0] httpd – Finishing
        [0] httpd Closing
        [0] httpd thread exit

  2. #4 by Chris on March 13, 2013 - 5:51 am

    I got the same problem:
    [1] Resizing pre_capture buffer to 1 items

    > Did one of you guys already solve that?

    THX!

  3. #5 by Dan Lake on April 6, 2013 - 2:46 am

    I set this up following your directions on my Raspberry Pi and my Logitech camera. It works great on Chrome over the web from a PC, but on iPhone or other Apple devices it doesn’t refresh. You show your MJPEG stream on your iphone. Do the photos update when you view it on the iphone? My Safari only shows the first image when I enter the URL and then never updates. If I stop the page and reload, I get 1 more image. If I install “CCTV Lite” or another MJPEG stream viewing app, then I can connect to my motion server but not directly from the web browser on the phone like I can on the PC. Any ideas?

  4. #6 by Dan Lake on April 6, 2013 - 10:24 pm

    So I got it working on Safari by making a webpage on my apache server and the only think on the page is an tag with the url to the motion server as the source. Now it works on both Chrome with PC and Safari with iPhone. Still no love from IE on Windows or Chrome for iPhone. I’d be interested in a good cross platform solution that doesn’t require special plugins. There must be a javascript or HTML5 solution.

    • #7 by Gary A. Stafford on April 15, 2013 - 9:20 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. I haven’t had a lot of luck getting enough performance out of the Raspberry Pi with motion to be really useful.

      • #8 by Dan Lake on April 15, 2013 - 10:46 pm

        The resolution definitely needs to be very low. If it goes much about 352 x 288 then it doesn’t display at all and I need to keep the frame rate at 1 or 2 per second. Saving videos has not worked for me at all so I just use it as an IP webcam that I can view online to check in things. Thanks for the nice instructions to get me started with the Pi and Motion.

  5. #9 by Syed on April 27, 2013 - 8:06 pm

    Hi Gary,

    Are you able to drive two webcam from a single Raspberry pi ? For some reason it works fine with single webcam but not with 2 webcams.

    • #10 by Gary A. Stafford on April 27, 2013 - 8:46 pm

      I have not tried. I had such slow results with one webcam, I would be surprised if the RPi could handle both.

      • #11 by Syed on May 22, 2013 - 6:02 pm

        Just an update. I have tried motion with two cameras by connecting through ethernet port for internet connectivity instead of wifi dongle and it works great.

        Syed

  6. #12 by Ayaz Ali Qureshi (@ayazaliqureshi) on May 16, 2013 - 4:11 pm

    Hello Gary,

    I have followed all the installation instructions. Now I want to execute a python program which sends the snapshot to my remote database and save it as a blob. I have written the python script although when user ‘motion’ executes as a daemon some permission issues dont let the python script open the file. But if I manually run the motion software from root user. It works fine. I am looking for a way to automate this, the permissions are the only issue in this.

    Any help is much appreciated.

  7. #13 by AISamurai on May 24, 2013 - 10:24 pm

    Hi, and thanks for the tutorial, could you please explain or write out how to config. multiple cams? I have enabled the additional threads, and the thread.conf files correctly and know all 3 cameras are live and can output. I think the problem is that I cannot get Motion to run more than 1 thread. How do I get the Pi to run all 4 motion threads (3 cameras+motion.conf).Can you help please?

  8. #14 by buminda on June 22, 2013 - 8:38 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I had the same problem when resizing the image.But still managed to work with 640*480. Great tutorial.

  9. #16 by swabedor on July 9, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    has anyone tried using the area_detect option it doesn’t seem to work for me.

    area_detect 456789

  10. #17 by Ed on August 4, 2013 - 10:13 am

    Very nice. Will this setup work with the Raspberry Pi camera board?

  11. #18 by Leif on August 7, 2013 - 11:05 am

    You may want to use a dyndns account to get rid of the problem not to know your dynamic IP address. All in all a good desciption that halped my a lot. Thank you!

  12. #20 by Julien on August 25, 2013 - 5:02 am

    hello Gary,
    I have a problem. Being a total French beginer, and do not understanding every english Word, my Raspi displays:
    chmod: cannot access ‘ /tmp/motion’ : No such file or directory

    It will be kind of you to help me.
    thanks

  13. #21 by john on October 25, 2013 - 6:10 am

    Hi Gary. Amazing article, thanks for this.

    I’m wondering though.. When I view my cam – it seems to be constantly streaming new JPEGs (I see the timer changing every second on the camera feed), even when no motion is detected. Is this normal?

    • #22 by Gary A. Stafford on October 26, 2013 - 7:23 am

      I believe that is right, but only the motion images (frames) are saved to disk. Look at the Live Webcam Server section of the configuration.

  14. #23 by Arvin on October 25, 2013 - 7:49 am

    Hi Gary,

    Where does the images saved once they are captured? is it on the Memory card itself? If so is there a way to have them saved on a USB Drive or a NAS Drive please?

  15. #25 by Bogdan Craciun on November 17, 2013 - 2:16 pm

    Would it be possible to have the RPi in an “idle” state and turn back “on” when it detects motion by a PIR motion detector, then start capturing some frames and upload them to a database? in this way you could run it out of batteries for months

    • #26 by Gary A. Stafford on November 17, 2013 - 11:38 pm

      Good question. I don’t think so. The camera needs Motion running to detect. Motion needs the OS running. The camera needs power all the time, which it gets from the RPi. Imaging is pretty processor intensive.

      • #27 by Bogdan Craciun on November 17, 2013 - 11:55 pm

        what I was thinking about is having a Passive Infrared Motion detector attached to the RPi, triggering the video recording, instead of using the Motion software. But I guess your right, this would involve being possible to configure different power states for the RPi. Btw, I couldn’t found anything on this (idle, sleep, hibernate mode) for the RPi. I am looking to build a device similar to this: http://www.cambridgeconsultants.com/news/pr/release/140/en, but instead of using satellite communication I am thinking of a 3G dongle, SLA batteries, RPi and video cameras. If I want to make it fully or almoust fully automous (a couple of months on a single charge), I guess I would definetely need to digg into the power management

      • #28 by Gary A. Stafford on November 18, 2013 - 12:03 am

        Funny I was thinking the same thing – a PIR sensor, but figured it would also require power from the pi. If you could find a sensor with its own source of power supply Maybe?

      • #29 by Bogdan Craciun on November 18, 2013 - 12:25 am

        ok, my bad. I thought that by “motion running to detect” you mean that the motion software and ofcourse the video camera needs to be running in order to detect motion :). which I understand, is exactly like in your tutorial. (congrats on the detailed tutorial)
        however a PIR sensor with its own power supply would be a good idea for a battery operated solution, if the wake time of the Pi would be short enough to (video) capture the moving target.

  16. #30 by Winko on November 24, 2013 - 6:14 am

    Hi Gary,

    I loved your article!

    You asked: So what is the external address of my network?

    I configured xmail on my Raspberry Pi and used a script named ipaddrcheck.sh which runs every hour. It sends me an email whenever the ip-address changed.

    Regards,

    Winko

    ipaddrcheck.sh:

    !/bin/bash

    curl -o ~/newip ifconfig.me

    cmp ~/newip ~/oldip >/dev/null || {
    mv ~/newip ~/oldip
    mailx -s “I – SqueezePlug IP changed” winko@x.x < ~/oldip
    }

  17. #32 by Lukas on January 27, 2014 - 3:55 am

    I can’t view livestream,dosen’t work on port 8080 and 8081 :-(
    Any sugesion, why ?

  18. #34 by William Norris on February 13, 2014 - 9:08 pm

    Hey Gary, I have been trying to set up motion with a mysql database running on the raspberry pi with no luck. Any guides I have seen online make reference to the configure file which I cannot find. I have added the mysql database details to the motion.conf file but it has not made any difference. I was wondering if you have managed to get this working?

  19. #36 by Gerardo on March 20, 2014 - 2:12 am

    Hi Gary!,
    I’m working in a webcam surveillance with the Raspberry Pi and I’ve had some problems running the webcam on the internet. I can see the webcam on the internet but only for a couple of seconds and then I lost image.
    What would you recommend me?
    Thank you.

  20. #38 by sifiso on May 2, 2014 - 10:03 am

    Hi, how would one edit the web page that it streams on. add some extra features if possible

  21. #40 by Roger on May 13, 2014 - 9:05 am

    Thanks a lot on helping to solve a motion issues in the monitoring, its working very effectively in my monitors.

  22. #41 by mounika on August 23, 2014 - 2:36 am

    hai please say about to save pir sensor captured images in server
    please replay me soon

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