Sousveillance DIY : witness cameras and the future of surveillance

Inverse surveillance is a subset of sousveillance with a particular emphasis on “watchful vigilance from underneath”. The idea is that citizens should be working together to watch society and government to prevent abuse of power and to help detect and defend against terrorists and others who would act against society.

An interesting new development is that there are “do it yourself” DIY instructions on “How to build your own witness camera.” The camera will detect people moving around, it silently starts recording to digital media.

The Witness Camera is a combination of a VGA CMOS camera, a passive-infrared movement sensor, a 1 GB SD-card (or bigger), and an AVR Mega32 microcontroller implementing a solid-state time-lapse recorder. It is a compact, complete, self-contained surveillance system designed with home users in mind. It can be installed in minutes wherever there is a mains plug, and it is affordable because of it is built using an handful of inexpensive parts.

The component prices are less than $100 for the camera part and maybe $150 for a display (you could already own a display system with your own computer.) Commercial systems range from $1000-2000+ and have hard drives and video disk or tape recording.

About $50 for the camera
$14 for the remote
$14 for the Passive IR

You need a out-of-sight place, spacious enough to accommodate the recorder and the video display ($150), because images can only be inspected using the original recorder.

Your mileage can vary, but you should be able to get about 50,000 frames at 320×200 (like the one below), or 25,000 at 640×480, using a 1 GB card (I haven’t tried bigger cards). This corresponds to more than 40 hours of overall recording.Actual time span is much more than that. Likely, the best location for the camera is in the foyer, where people stand just a few minutes per day. In my case; just 20 minutes on average, giving an impressive 120 days of storage capacity.

All fo the pieces should be fabricatable with rapid manufacturing and printable electronics. So this will get even cheaper and more capable.

The state of sousveillance and surveillance will be radically transformed over the next 4-8 years even without full blown nanofactories. Right now there are about 200 million vidphones (about 150+ million activated video cellphones) and camcorders (50+ million) and there are tens of thousands of closed circuit television and other monitoring. There are over one billion camera cellphones.

Power efficiency and power generation will make it easier for always on camcording
MIT and Texas Instruments have designed chips that are ten times more energy efficient and could run off of ambient energy (thus could be always on.) 5 years away from commercialization for the low power TI chips. A few years back in the
lab there has been work that makes digital CMOS cameras 50 times more energy efficient. The recent development of systems to generate (5 watts) power from people walking and taking the power from the breaking part of the step actually makes walking easier.

Superior Lidar, t-rays and better satellite and other remote sensing too.

Progress with computers and software automatically deciphering what is in the digital images. Quantum computers will also help with pattern recognition and faster image database searches.

So within 6 years there will be billions of vidphones/camcorders always on. 10-20 times as much as now.
– serious reel to reel fabrication of printable electronics integrated with upgraded fabbers (see what current 1 million dollar rapid manufacturing systems can make) could enable people to dump out smaller than USB stick versions of the witness camera for less than 5 dollars a piece. Within ten years it could go to less than rice grain sized and be producable for pennies a piece. Once we are past the $5 a piece level then people can wire up every aspect of themselves, their home, their office cubicle, their car etc…

Make magazine is has other ideas that are suitable projects for rapid manufacturing and future fabber machines.


Do-It-Yourself robotic inflatables that navigate autonomously and intelligently. They are light-seeking helium-filled balloons that graze the landscape in search of light and cellphone signals

So you can fab your own witness cameras and mount them in your inflatable flying robots.

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Marco C Bernasconi

Eh eh. Not to detract from the excellent work at PSI, but Karl V Bentz introduced me to the space bubble concept, back in 1978, when I started working under him at Contraves. I did some (desk) research work, then we "scaled down" to concept to that of chemically-rigidized inflatable structures.

In the same time frame, Gilbert Moore (Thiokol & Utah State, IIRC) also proposed the idea.

But, actually, the idea was then at least a dozen years old: I have traced it back to the Astro Research Corp's pioneer, and to a 1965 NASA CR by Odus Burggraf!

I'm very glad to see the concept -- including the metallization --taking real shape. And even more, to see these clever guys also suggest lobed circular solar sails, an idea I've been advocating (at a more modest technological level) for some 15 years.

Way to go!