Monday, August 5, 2013

How to build your in-car surveillance system for under $300

In the past decade or so, our police departments have become rather unruly with their application of the law, and have chosen to abandon the law completely when dealing with people would prefer to not consider themselves subservient to those who wear the magic costumes issued by the state. This occasionally results in beatings, false charges being levied against motorists, and even roadside body cavity searches being perpetrated as a punitive measure for those who choose to assert their rights as free individuals.

Most police cars these days are equipped with onboard recording devices that capture both audio and video of traffic stops, but they are most often only released to the public when the footage benefits the police. In cases where the audio or video shows police officers engaged in immoral and/or illegal activities, the footage is either “lost” or otherwise prevented from open and public disclosure for some reason or another, leaving the victim of such behavior simply hanging in the wind.

Over the past several years, the “smart phone” has gone from a cellular telephone with an attached camera to a full-on computer that happens to be equipped with a telephone...and also has audiovisual recording capabilities. Law enforcement agencies have traditionally stopped the recording of their activities by suggesting that the telephone threatens their personal safety, violates a state wiretap statute, or contains “evidence needed for use in a criminal investigation” so it may be seized and deleted.

Even though cellular telephone apps now exist to provide instant mobile-broadband uploads to secure servers, and our courts have ruled that it is completely legal to record a public official in his public discharge of public duties, resistance of filming the police is still an ongoing issue in this country.

So what's the solution? Build a recording device that will capture footage inside and outside the vehicle stealthily, and record it to an on-board storage device.

For under $300 plus the cost of commonly-found supplies for fabricating enclosures and making electrical connections, you can have a full-function five-camera audiovideo recorder that records to a portable USB hard drive without ever having to utilize a cellular telephone. If you wanna get fancy with it, you can even attach a USB WiFi dongle that will transmit the video via cellular broadband through your smartphone's data connection to a secure server!

How is this possible?

Discover the Raspberry Pi.

Huh? What? The Raspberry Pi is a microcomputer. No, let me rephrase that. It is THE microcomputer. It would be small enough to fit into a standard Altoids tin if the manufacturer had used a circuit board with rounded corners. Yes, it's that small. It contains a processor, ethernet port, a pair of USB ports, half a gigabyte of RAM, an SD card, an RCA analog video output, and a 3.5mm analog audio output.

Oh, and did I mention that it costs less than $50? Yeah, you read that right. Less than $50.

Couple that with five generic webcams, the additional “Pi Face” I/O interface board, a 7-port USB hub, a power supply, a pair of microphones, a 12v hardwire power supply, a portable hard drive, and a pair of momentary switches. The whole shebang can be purchased for less than $300.

BOOOOOOOM! After configuring the software and the I/O interface, you now have a recorder that begins filming the driver door looking outward, passenger door looking outward, front of the vehicle forward, rear looking rearward, and also an interior view mounted in or near your third-brakelight assembly that captures all the action from inside the car. Recording can be started with an easily-accessible pushbutton momentary switch, and stopped with another momentary switch that is typically hidden in the same manner as a standard auto security system's “valet” switch to prevent officers from stopping the recording.

With some skillful installation, the front and rear cameras can easily be mounted into the grille and rear bumper areas. Driver and passenger area cameras can be mounted into the plastic trim around the door sill areas, and the interior-view camera can be mounted into the overhead console. Infrared LED bulbs, invisible to the naked eye, provide light picked up by digital cameras, and are easily installed along with the cameras in a stealthy manner. Disguising the interior cameras as a custom set of stereo “tweeter” speakers makes the installation even easier, and is even more easy if the vehicle came pre-equipped with such tweeters from the factory. Night-time washout will generally only occur from headlights of the patrol car at the rear-facing camera.

If the computer unit and hard drive are installed inside the dashboard, the wires can be ran under existing factory trim pieces in the same manner as a custom stereo unit, and will never be seen unless the car is literally torn apart. Mounting the portable hard drive underneath the factory glove box or center console will keep the unit safe, but allow its retrieval by doing nothing more than removing a few screws.

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