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A Smart Wildlife Camera

Great images of animals in the wild don't just happen by chance. They're usually the result of long waits for nature photographers looking for the perfect shot. A team of electrical engineering undergraduates at the Jacobs School is hoping to help them by developing a “camera trap” through Engineers for Exploration, a collaboration between Calit2 at UC San Diego and National Geographic.

Camera Test
Rikey Yeakle and fellow ECE students Perry Naughton, Kyle Johnson and Chris Ward developed a smart camera for animal photography. Here the team tests the camera with a dog in the engineering courtyard.

Their new, improved device uses low-power piezoelectric vibration sensors placed around the turret holding a camera. The piezoelectric sensors convert ground movement into voltage, so if an animal comes close enough to trip a sensor, the turret automatically swings around to face in that direction.

A processor also begins to run a computer-vision algorithm looking for groups of similarly colored pixels. The camera can lock on to the pixel grouping and begin tracking it. The resulting system has 360-degree coverage, so the digital SLR camera in the turret can track and record an animal walking around it.

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