Setting up a Spycam

You can make your own hidden or camouflaged Gotya camera (aka spycam)  to capture pictures of people snooping around stuff they shouldn’t be, or to take pictures of what people are doing in a certain area, without them knowing. A classic way to do this is to use a box with a small hole cut out to enable the camera lens to see out.

If you suspect somebody is up to no good, Gotya plus your own creativity in the form of a DIY spycam enables you to satisfy your curiosity about what they’re really doing.

In the two pictures below, I’ve shown my office desk with a camouflaged Gotya camera. It’s the light blue Nokia Lumia 900 in the darker blue beer cozy on the left hand side. Somebody coming into my office would in all likelihood not give a second thought to the beer cozy with a phone in it. To them, it just looks like a spare phone stored there, especially with the other two phones stacked up in front of it.

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The setup – camouflaged Gotya cam in beer cozy on office desk shelf

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The setup – Gotya spycam (Lumia 900) camouflaged in blue beer cozy (closer up shot)

The sequence of pictures captured by Gotya is shown below, taken when somebody who wasn’t supposed to be there comes into my office and takes my stapler! My Gotya spycam captured it all!

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Oh, and by the way – even if the culprit had taken the Lumia 900 that I was using  as my Gotya spycam,  all of the pictures are auto-saved to the Gotya cloud for evidence, so I would still know what happened.

Let us know in the comments if you have set up your own Gotya spycam.

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DIY Smartphone Stands

In order to use your smartphone as a Gotya motion detection surveillance camera, you’ll need a smartphone stand to mount it in a stable and fixed position, aimed at the area that you want to monitor.

There are thee types of smartphone stands that you can choose from:

1) Commercial Smartphone Stands

The two manufacturers we use and can recommend are JOBY Griptight ($30-$35) and WOXOM SlingShot ($20). Both of these are a combination of tripod+mount (=stand) that can be detached from each other. JOBY also has the Mpod Mini which is a small integrated stand ($15). The GripTight product line has different tripod sizes and features like flexible/bendable tripod legs, magnetic tripod feet, and detachable mounts, which gives you more ways that you can set up your camera. For example, you can wrap these around poles or posts, or attach to a magnetic surface.

As noted above, the GripTight and SlingShot mounts can be detached from the tripod, so that you can use the mount with any standard camera tripod (see 2) below).

2) Smartphone mounts for standard camera tripods

If you already have a camera tripod with a standard 1/4-20 UNC screw thread, you can purchase a smartphone mount from JOBY, WOXOM, or iStabilizer. The JOBY GripTight Mount is $20.

3) Do it Yourself (DIY) stands that you can make from everyday things

There is an amazing range of ways to use everyday items to make a simple and inexpensive (free) stand for your surveillance camera. The ones we’ve seen range from a Pringles potato chip can to binder clips and paper coffee cup sleeves to Lego.

We also made a few of our own:

Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone

PVC Pipe Smartphone Stand

Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone stand

Paper towel roll (with binder clip stabilizers)

Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone stand

3-Prong to 3-Prong Electrical Adapter

Did you make your own smartphone stand? Let us know in the comments.

Using Gotya for Ad Hoc Photo Surveillance – The DishTV Installer

A great example of an ad hoc photo surveillance use case is when contractors or other service personnel come to your home to perform a home maintenance or repair task such as plumbing, electrical, or appliance repair;  lawn, garden, or pool maintenance; or home improvement projects like a renovation or addition to your house.

In such cases you want a way to quickly set up a photo surveillance camera in the area where the work will take place, so that you can monitor the person or people doing the work to be comfortable that nothing unwanted is going on and can monitor activity and progress.

I recently had a Dish TV technician come to my house to install a new satellite dish. I wanted to be able to see what he was up to and monitor the job progress, without having to be right where he was working, looking over his shoulder. I also wanted to know if he wandered off, away from the work area, particularly toward my back yard, where he had no business being.  With Gotya, all motion would be detected and pictures taken, plus I could take an instant snapshot whenever I wondered what he was up to. I monitored his progress from my PC Web browser in my office, using the Gotya Web Controller, while I worked.

So I set up a Gotya motion detection and photo surveillance camera looking down on the work area.  I used a Nokia Lumia 820 Windows Phone mounted on a JOBY GripTight GorillaPod Stand. It took me about 3 minutes to set it up, and about 1 minute to take it down after the job was done. I used the remote calibration feature on the Gotya Remote Controller to get the right aim/positioning of the camera to capture the action that I wanted.

A sample sequence of twenty one pictures that Gotya captured of the DishTV installation are on the Gotya Instagram feed. (Turns out the Dish TV guy did a great job).

Here’s another example of a temporary ad hoc outdoor Gotya camera setup, this time using a JOBY GorillaPod Magnetic and a Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone 7.

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I used this one to monitor anyone coming and going from the side entrance.

If you’re going to use Gotya for outdoor surveillance like these two examples, make sure it’s not raining or if it is that the camera is sheltered, as smartphones don’t take kindly to moisture.

Let me know if you’ve used or are planning on using Gotya for some ad hoc photo surveillance of your own.

Happy Surveying.

What Price Surveillance?

Disclaimer: This post isn’t about government surveillance and all that entails. It’s about private/personal/consumer surveillance products and services.

Consumers have never had more choice when it comes to home monitoring and surveillance solutions. For years there have been the usual alarm companies with 24/7 monitoring with video cameras and motion detectors. Companies like ADT and Bay Alarm. These require professional installation, proprietary hardware, up front hardware costs, and long-term (typicaly 3 year) monthly service/monitoring contracts. We’re talking hundreds of dollars up front and $30-$40/month for three years commitment. And of course these are fixed (stationary/non-mobile) solutions that monitor a pre-determined fixed location (your hoouse).

Next we had the advent of smartphone-based monitoring solutions so that consumers could break free from the alarm panel and monitor cameras at their house or property and get alerts via a smartphone app like ADT Pulse or AT&T Digital Life. But still, these are costly (while being feature rich) solutions and have long-term contracts attached.

Now we’re seeing “Over the Top” (OTT) video surveillance, motion detection, carbon monoxide, and temperature sensing solutions like Dropcam and Canary. These are self-monitoring solutions and 100% smartphone based. No alarm panels to deal with. However, they are still expensive (Dropcam starts at $149, Foscam at $79, HomeMonitor at $179) requiring dedicated cameras, and are fixed solutions. What do I mean by fixed? I mean they’re stationary and are difficult or cumbersome to move to another location and are not at all suited for “ad hoc” or temporary surveillance use cases where you might want to watch a particular location for just an hour or two, pick up, and move on. They also require WiFi, and don’t work over mobile data networks like 3G/4G so for remote locations with no broadband connectivity, won’t work at all.

Now, having said all of that, these are great solutions for a particular range of use cases and budgets. Some have have 720p video, night vision, wide angle lens, digital zoom, 2-way audio, so they do pack some pretty cool features.

So the price points have come down and the flexibility/autonomy of the consumer to set up and monitor their own independent surveillance system has increased massively. That’s all good.

But there’s still something that until recently has been missing. There are millions of smartphone cameras out there that now have high quality cameras on them and operating systems and hardware sophisticated enough to run high-performance motion detection apps. And the best part is, they’re always with their owner. This has opened up a new opportunity that we like to call “casual surveillance”.

Casual surveillance is surveillance that isn’t necessarily mission-critical, but rather is a super low cost way to leverage hardware (smartphones) that you already have to deliver a motion detection and photo surveillance solution for both fixed or on-the-go mobile locations. A great example is if you’re visiting a shared workspace and have to leave your backpack in a place that could put it at risk of theft. Using a self-made “stand” out of a coffee cup or making a hidden camera inside a small cardboard box (like a cellphone box or tissue box) , you can monitor that backpack for a short period of time, then take it down when you leave. All motion (including the smartphone itself being used as the motion detection camera) is immediately detected, pictures captured, in some cases auto-uploaded to the cloud, and the user alerted immediately so that they can stop the theft or at least, capture pictures of the thief.

There are several motion detection camera apps out there now that are filling out the spectrum of surveillance solutions for consumers at the low (casual) end of the price/feature spectrum. Go and check them out at your app store of choice. You’d be surprised at what you can do with your smartphone these days, whether it’s the one you use on a daily basis, or an old one that’s sitting in a drawer somewhere. And this type of casual surveillance solution costs next to nothing compared with the previously mentioned solutions.

Happy surveying.

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