Alexa and Google Home are the most popular options and I touched on some of the other ‘Smart’ technologies you could use in your van, including WiFi cameras and the ability to control 12v lighting circuits using a smartphone, timers or Alexa.
If you have a 4G/5G WiFi system in your motorhome there are a great number of things you could use these cameras for:
Check in on your motorhome whilst parked on a campsite / aire
Security when parked in storage / at home
Allowing you to check in on a pet left in the van while you are out, some cameras also allow two way communication which might be an option.
Check in on children, grandchildren or the other half – with their knowledge and consent of course!
Mount a camera externally to give you piece of mind when wild camping, some cameras will also give an audible alarm when motion triggered.
Use the camera to point at a display, such as a control panel displaying battery voltage or thermometer to show conditions when away from the van.
Since then, I’ve been inundated with messages and e-mails asking me to go into a bit more detail about some of these other options and how they can be used in the motorhome. If you start looking online you will see a mind-boggling number of cameras from names you have heard of such as Nest and Ring, but the majority will likely be from unknown Chinese firms with a huge variation in terms of quality and usability of the apps.
One of the most popular options is usually for a camera that runs from its own internal batteries and does not require external power. Blink make a camera that does just that and has 2AA batteries which it claims will last up to 2 years and provided the camera is never accessed or viewed you might just get that long.
The reality is if the camera is mounted in a high traffic area, or you like to check in on the camera regularly, the battery life will be significantly less. The other issue when used in a motorhome setting is that while the camera might be battery operated, the ‘sync module’ which is required to operate the camera is not and this requires USB power.
The other issue I’ve found when experimenting with these cameras is they are always asleep until woken by a motion trigger; this invariably means the event has passed by the time the camera starts recording, resulting in a lot blank alerts and the unsettled feeling that something has been missed.
The Yi cameras I mentioned in an earlier article are my personal budget choice for cameras. There are a number of different versions, the cheapest and easiest being the ‘Home’ version which can be found on Amazon or YiHome’s own store for as little as £16 delivered when on promotion.
This little 1080p USB camera has a weighted/magnetic base and the camera part itself can be easily removed from the stand and mounted discreetly in a location of your choice and is just thin enough to be mounted between the blind and the window in my van; the lens has night vision and there is a two way audio function also. Powered by 5v Micro USB, I worked out over a week of continuous use that it consumed about 5amp @ 12v per day which in my van is easily replaced by the solar panel, even in winter.
Setting up the camera couldn’t really be any more straightforward. When you turn them on for the first time, the camera will speak ‘Waiting to connect’. You download and open the Yi home app from the relevant Appstore for your smartphone or tablet and once registered simply show the camera a QR code from your screen. This then allows the camera to connect to the local WiFi network you told it to and becomes part of your YiHome ‘cloud’. The camera by default will push you a 6 second clip in the event its motion sensing is triggered. If you install a MicroSD card into the slot on the camera itself, you can increase this clip length to as long as the event lasted and the card can store up to 3 days of either continuous or event video. The other option is to record to a cloud based plan, for about £12/mth you can store all of the motion events from up to 5 cameras on the same account.
Other cameras in the Yi range include two 1080p dome cameras that are motorized and can be rotated 360 degrees using the app and a fully weatherproof outdoor camera which is probably of more use in a home rather than a motorhome setting. The little home camera has various third party accessories that can be purchased to allow it to be mounted outside and while it’s not strictly weatherproof, at £16 it’s not breaking the bank should it succumb to the elements.
There are only two gripes I’ve found – the first is that the cameras can’t be used with an external display, you would need a laptop or mini PC connected to a monitor to show them on a regular TV screen. Alternatively, if you wanted to keep an eye out whilst inside the van, you could perhaps re-purpose an old tablet or phone to do so. Remember, if you’re not on an unlimited data plan or roaming abroad, even if you’re watching the cameras ‘locally’ while sat in the van and using the same WiFi network, you will be consuming data as the traffic is routed via the internet. Do also ensure that you always update the cameras firmware on receipt, which is a prompt on the first time setup.
The other item from the previous article that generated many questions was the ability to control and dim a 12v lighting circuit using a small inexpensive controller.
A small 12v module which has a 5.5×2.1mm connector at both ends means you can either buy a suitable connector for one end and a lamp for the other or in my case simply remove the connectors and wire in line directly to the existing LED light source after the switch. Through the app, this allows you to dim the lights to a desired brightness which will be remembered if you do isolate the light using the switch, as well as allowing the lights to be turned on/off remotely using the app or using a pre-set timer which perhaps might be of interest from a security perspective. One function I won’t be using, however, is the ability to flash the lights in time to the music using the microphone from the controlling device as the novelty wore off in just a few seconds.
There are of course hundreds of similar devices, many of which come with their own LED strips which might be of interest for those looking to run lights alongside an external awning rail or use an RGB strip to be able to remotely control the colour which will be my next project.