How to set up a webcam security system

Complete with motion detection

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The price of computer hardware might be crashing through the floor, but that doesn't make it any less attractive to your neighbourhood criminal.

No matter what the specs, a shiny looking laptop sat in the front room is still going to look attractive to a would-be thief peeking through the curtains when you're out.

You'll need this…

1. ISPY CONNECT Available for free from here, this is an open source project that was originally designed to capture images of ghosts and UFOs. Yes, really!

2. 24/7 PC SYSTEM You'll need a low-end laptop or server running constantly to monitor the webcams, send alerts and run the recognition software.

3. WEBCAM AND CABLES The main use for iSpy Connect is as a security system that monitors security cameras, so you'll need at least one as well as suitable cables.

Crime on the rise

None of this is helped by the fact that hard times breed an increase in criminality - and we're not just talking about looting and summer riots.

Recessions fuel everything from pick-pocketing on the street to home break-ins. But don't have nightmares - we're here to help protect your loved ones and loved things.

It's not even going to cost much.

How does a personal, fully monitored, house-wide CCTV system sound to you? To give you even more peace of mind, we'll throw in remote internet monitoring and alerts too.

The finished security system can be triggered by motion, face 'detection', number plate recognition, and even sound received via microphones.

Video streams can be recorded, multiple systems can be managed remotely, and recordings can be triggered by motion or on a scheduled basis.

We're not going to stop there, either - this project will tie into any home automation systems you may already use or want to add.

Best of all, the essential software is free (though advanced features like text alerts, mobile access and internet control require a subscription).

All you need to do is add a PC and webcams to create your own bespoke home security system.

The iSpy Connect open source project has been running for many years, and has evolved from a UFOhunting tool into a mature package with a local client and streamlined server packages - and that's not to mention the long list of features it supports.

At first our motivation was to try to emulate a traditional home security system, with separate window, door and motion detectors.

However, a webcam-based system can be designed to include all of these types of detection, because it's simply checking for motion within set zones.

We also contemplated using an X10-based alarm system for this project, but doing so incurs the extra expense of a base PC X10 unit.

Although the cost of these and the individual X10 units has dropped a lot recently, it's still £50 for the base, plus extra for controllers and add-ons.

Instead we're going to build our system around the basic abilities of a webcam system, but it's still possible to extend the iSpy capabilities with X10 automation if you decide to do so later.

Watchmen

You may be wondering why we're relying on cameras for our system. This is because a webcam that can detect motion can double as a door and window sensor, on top of general camera features like recording video and audio.

Moving past these basic features, you can add the complex abilities like face and number plate recognition.

The downside of this is that motion detection is fallible. Pets, moving foliage and bright sun can all trigger false alerts - but a little bit of careful placement should eliminate most of these issues.

Seeing in the dark

As we've seen in the past, even the darkest night can't stop a basic webcam, as the low-cost CMOS sensors inside are sensitive to infrared light (also known as IR).