How to Make a Cloud-Free Security Camera for $3
A DIY device that won’t hand your data over to Amazon, Google, or anyone else
I like the idea of having a security camera, but there are two drawbacks to most of the options on the market. They either send video to the cloud, meaning you’re not in control of that data and typically have to pay a monthly fee, or they cost more than I want to pay.
Recently I found a fun, DIY solution: the ESP32-CAM. The ESP32 is a microcontroller, which is a small computer usually meant to run a single program. The chip has been licensed and built into tons of configurations, like boards with built-in LCD displays and GPS modules, but in this case, the ESP32 chip has been paired with a two megapixel camera. It weighs about 10 grams and is smaller than my thumb.
The ESP32 chips have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which make them great for small, internet-connected projects. The ESP32-CAM broadcasts to my local network, meaning the video doesn’t get sent outside the confines of my Wi-Fi’s range. And best of all, on AliExpress, these ESP32-CAM boards cost somewhere between $3 and $5 depending on the seller, if you don’t mind waiting a few weeks for them to arrive in the mail.
My use case isn’t extreme — I just want a few cameras to see if a package was delivered or whether my cats are on the counter. Spending $100 and sending a constant stream of video of my home to Amazon servers seems excessive. If you need the redundancy of cloud backups or super-crisp video, then maybe it’s worth shelling out some cash on a commercial product.
I also want to note that I’m not an electrical engineer or programmer. I just like to tinker with electronics projects in my free time. This is a culmination of a bunch of how-tos that I’ve read, plus some personal experience. Ideally you would read this post and use it as a jumping-off point for research and learning. And if there’s a way to do something better, leave a comment and we can all learn.
Let’s get to the project. There are two ways to do this: the easy way and the hard way. The ESP32-CAM doesn’t have built-in USB support, because these boards aren’t necessarily consumer products. That means in order to program it, you have to use a breadboard, jumper wires…