Progress with Monkey Detector

So I have been working on the vervet monkey detector idea for a little while now. So far I have had some success with the back end. Here is an update on how it works so far. (tldr I used Google Cloud Vision api and some bash scripts)

  • 1. I take a photo of the monkey (I still need to automate this, with motion detection)
  • 2. Upload to my server using scp
  • 3. Some moving around on the server to make the image public for Google Cloud Vision to see it – using inotifywait and mv
  • 4. Google cloud vision api call with image url using curl
  • 5. To do: parse json response from google to check if a monkey is actually there.
  • 6. Send a signal to wireless valve (switches on the sprinkler and hopefully gives the monkeys a fright) – I have built one already, just need to modify the code slightly for wireless. Thinking of using esp8266 for this, since I have so many lying around, and a 12v battery since the tap valve solenoid runs off of 12v. I have a nice circuit board I built for my wireless poi which incorporates an ESP-01 and a voltage regulator. Add in a relay to switch 12v and it’s done.

So there is much to do. There is also the question of accuracy, obviously I don’t want any false positives wetting any unwary visitors, so I need to test this a lot before using it. The first version will trigger an alarm only, which in itself could be useful as a phone app, for example. We might be able to leave the windows open on occasion, with a monkey detector to alert us when one tries to get in and steal our food (this happened twice in the last week)

At some point I will have to make my own machine learning classifier for monkey images, as Google charges $1.50 currently per 1000 images classified. The first 1000 are free, but they have a habit of changing the pricing on their products without notice.

Security and Monkey Business

Just wanted to mention a couple of projects in the pipeline for 2019.

I recently moved house and it’s a great opportunity to look at home security. In South Africa this is quite an important topic. Most homes here have burglar guards but while these may go some way to delaying an intruder they are by no means fool proof. An alarm provides an added layer of protection, especially if you are asleep, or not at home. The cheapest alarm I could find cost R2000 (around $150) but all it does is blare a siren. For a proper system which will alert you it’s significantly more pricey.

Of course I have so many microcontrollers around so I have started looking at the options of making my own super secure system. A friend has made his using an Arduino Uno connected to magnetic switches on the doors and windows. A GSM module provides connectivity, so both he and his security company receive SMS alerts if an intruder gains access. The whole thing is one long circuit with wires connecting every switch (this is true of many commercial home alarm setups as well) and each “zone” can be bypassed or set by sending an SMS code.

I made him an Android application to send the codes so that he doesn’t have to type them in manually any more but with my system I am hoping to eliminate the wires entirely as well. Not sure yet about the GSM module, SMS cost more and you need a dedicated SIM card (also I don’t have one and would have to order).

So it’s wireless, ESP8266 to be exact. I have been looking at mesh networks (the wifi doesn’t quite extend to every corner of the house) and have settled on painlessMesh as the best one. Each node in the network will consist of one ESP-01 connected to a battery and some sort of spring switch (or possibly a tilt switch) which will be turned on by the opening of a door or window. As soon as it is turned on, the node will send a message, alerting the main (always on) node that something has happened, possibly triggering the alarm (and sending me an SMS, email or some other notification). This way the battery is not draining all day, only when it is needed.

The other problem at my new place is a bit more novel, we have a monkey problem. Situated near a nature reserve the birds and butterflies are prolific but Vervet Monkeys come in and poke through our trash on a daily basis. I found a manual method at https://www.wikihow.com/Repel-Monkeys-from-Residential-Areas – just tie your bin shut with slinky cables but the monkeys are so brazen, they steal our bananas from inside the kitchen as well. Basically as soon as you hear them it’s total lockdown, shut all the doors and windows and with the heat here that’s not great.

Image below: Monkeys on my car. One of them took a dump up there, which was the last straw for me.

My plan is to leverage Google’s Cloud Vision API to assist here. The image recognition works great for monkey detection (try it yourself here: https://cloud.google.com/vision/) – I upload a still from a webcam if motion is detected and then Google will tell me if a monkey is present. If one is, on come the sprinklers. The garden gets watered and the monkey runs away. Vervets hate getting wet, we have water squirters stationed at each entrance.

The only issue is Google’s pricing, it’s $1.50 per 1000 images scanned (after the first 1000 per month free). Ideally I would be creating my own recognizer with Tensorflow and using that but my CPU can’t handle this currently. Not to mention the time it takes. So Google it is. For now.

So.. lots to do, much code to write. Let me know what you think, if you have anything similar to share, or ideas for me to try.