Of Course There Is a Smart Birdhouse

A group of students in France are bringing the Internet of Things to the classic birdhouse design.

Sep 16 2014, 4:58pm

Image: Across Education

Like wifi enabled fridges, the Internet of Things has reached just about every appliance and thing you can think of. And now that includes the "connected birdhouse."

Created by Valentina Chinnici and her fellow students in Arduino co-founder Massimo Banzi's "Internet of Trees" short course at Domaine de Boisbuchet in Lessac, France, the connected birdhouse features two Arduino Yùn micro-controllers, an Adafruit Neopixel strip, an improvised infrared weight sensor, two nests, and remote WiFi.

The London-based Chinnici, an active maker and teacher in the Maker movement, described the project on her Tumblr blog, Across Education. As Chinnici told me over email, she'd worked with Arduino Uno and Leonardo models before, but this was her first time using a Yún, which was a requirement in the "Internet of Trees" course.

"The concept was to create connected devices to bridge nature and humans," Chinnici told me. "The first [few] days were dedicated to the basics of Arduino, and the last days to the development of the connected devices. We (all seven participants) came up with the idea of building a birdhouse, so we split into smaller sub-groups and started to work on our projects collaboratively."

Chinnici said that the students were required to analyze the project's processes under two different perspectives. The first had to do with the design of the physical object, while the second focused on the technologies involved in its execution.

"The idea was to create a traditional object [placed] outdoors connected to a nest/lamp [placed] indoors," wrote Chinnici. "The connected birdhouse was in fact an interactive object able to communicate to the nest/lamp the presence of a bird inside the house; and, accordingly, a color-coded signal [also provided] some information about the size of the bird itself."

While two Taiwanese students spent time crafting the birdhouse's metallic nest (where they embedded the Adafruit Neopixel strip), Chinnici focused more on understanding the technology, prototyping with a Leonardo and then implementing it all on a Yún with Banzi's help.

As Chinnici explained, if a bird alights on the nest, the improvised infrared weight sensor triggers a wifi signal that notifies the Arduino Yùn, which in turn activates the indoor nest/lamp. From there, the Arduino Yùn illuminates an Adafruit Neopixel strip (an LED strip), creating a "rainbow effect." A few seconds later, the light changes to either green, yellow, or red in response to the weight of the bird.

To build the weight sensor, Chinnici and her fellow students had to screw an infrared sensor to the birdhouse base. This sensor detected the distance the birdhouse's bouncing base traveled downward to a second wood base, held up by four cork mini bases placed at the four corners of the house equipped with mounted springs. This essentially allowed the sensor to function as a primitive scale of sorts.

The code Chinnici used to control the Adafruit Neopixel strip came from Philip Burgess's Arduino Library page on the Adafruit website. Apparently it's quite a task to control these Neopixels, but Burgess's how-to simplifies the process with a step-by-step guide.

While the connected birdhouse might seem like more of a fun experiment than anything, it does show the potential for alternative pathways in the Internet of Things. Perhaps this growing network can be more than just a tool for corporate commerce, but a means of making and learning; or, as Chinnici suggested, a technological means of bridging the gap between nature and humanity.