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Setup a webcam security system with Ubuntu Linux and Motion

May 17
Snap from Office Security Cam

Snap from Office Security Cam

So, now that I’m in Morgantown – my home is too small to comfortably work on side gigs and personal projects – especially now that my family is getting bigger with the baby!  I’ve been using the office space I leased out more and more.  While exploring video conferencing with Matt last week, I had the thought “wouldn’t it be cool to have a security camera in the office?”.  So I did just that, and it’s actually quite easy for Ubuntu linux users.

What you need:
  • Ubuntu Linux ( I was using 8.04.1 at the time of installation )
  • one or more USB web cameras
What you can do:
  • Motion detection – record video/and or frames if there is motion.
  • Snapshot intervals – take time interval snapshots regardless of motion detection.
  • Live video IP stream in mjpeg format.
  • Specify recorded video to be saved in your choice mpeg, avi, flv, swf format.
  • When motion exists, have frames and videos draw a box around the specific motion for more obvious recognition of subtle movements ( this actually shows the shadow of the janitor near the door around 6 a.m. every morning – I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise! )
  • Easily send all data to a backup server in a variety of ways – I keep it simple by saving data to my Dropbox directory, a wonderful cross-platform data syncronization and sharing utility.

1.  Plugin your webcam.
For me, the Logitech QuickCam® Pro 9000 worked right out of the box, and was only 105$.

2.  Install Motion – software motion detector, and turn it on.

sudo apt-get install motion
sudo motion

3. Configure Motion

Everything really works out of the box with this – but isn’t quite organized to my liking, and probably not yours either. Global configuration is located inside /etc/motion.conf ( You’ll notice there are multiple threadN.conf files in this directory – which can be used for custom configured individual cameras if you are setting up more than one ).

Note: Be sure to restart the Motion server everytime you make a configuration change.

sudo /etc/init.d/motion restart

Take a look at the files, they are well documented. Below are a few helpful configurations to get your data organized quicker:


# Locate and draw a box around the moving object.
locate on

# Draws the timestamp using same options as C function strftime(3)
text_right %Y-%m-%dn%T-%q

# Text is placed in lower left corner
text_left SECURITY CAMERA %t - Office

Organize the filesytem to save data by date, instead of all in one directory.

# File path for snapshots (jpeg or ppm) relative to target_dir
snapshot_filename %Y%m%d/camera-%t/snapshots/hour-%H/camera-%t-%v-%Y%m%d%H%M%S-snapshot

# File path for motion triggered images (jpeg or ppm) relative to target_dir
jpeg_filename %Y%m%d/camera-%t/motions/hour-%H/camera-%t-%v-%Y%m%d%H%M%S-%q-motion

# File path for motion triggered ffmpeg films (mpeg) relative to target_dir
movie_filename %Y%m%d/camera-%t/movies/hour-%H/camera-%t-%v-%Y%m%d%H%M%S-movie

# File path for timelapse mpegs relative to target_dir
timelapse_filename %Y%m%d/camera-%t/timelapses/hour-%H/camera-%t-%Y%m%d-timelapse

4.  (Optional)  Setup a backup solution

a. Easy solution, get and install Dropbox — instructions on the Dropbox site.  Then update your motion.conf to save to your Dropbox directory:

target_dir /path/to/dropbox/security_camera

b. A more granular solution is to take advantage of hooks configurable in motion.conf. Using these, you can create bash scripts to do anything your heart desires ( like trigger a silent alarm on motion detection outside business hours ). Available hooks: on_event_start, on_event_end, on_picture_save, on_motion_detected, on_movie_start, on_movie_end.

If you have wput installed, you can easily upload files to a remote backup server with these hooks:

on_picture_save wput ftp://user@pass@server %f

However, this solution is somewhat less secure, as it uses FTP. In a future post I will detail how to secure this up using encrypted transfer and phrase free keys. ( Stay tuned! )

5. Live feed

This comes working out of the box with Motion. Check out your live stream in your web browser by navigating to: http://localhost:8081

That’s it! Webcam security made easy 🙂