Thanks again to element14 and Texas Instruments for selecting my idea for the challenge. Excited to finally get started! My company (MobileIgniter) has gotten behind the project and we’re devoting Friday afternoons to a problem solving jam session for all the times I get stuck. Thanks team!

We expect to take things in two concurrent tracks. The first will address the consumer market and the second will address the needs of researchers.

Here’s a recap of our submission, with features split out by track:

Bird Observation Automation

The problems

  1. As a bird enthusiast, one can't watch all the birds that come to my backyard feeders unless one is home and staring at the feeder
  2. As a researcher, information about backyard feeder visits does not get aggregated into the bird tracking databases
  3. As a bird, one does not want to compete at the feeder with uninvited guests

The solutions

  • Consumer
    • Internet-connected, automatically-operated camera to visually capture visits to a feeder
    • Uniquely identify observation points and observers for reporting purposes.
    • Collect additional data with
      • pressure sensors -- get weight info of visitors and report on empty feeders
      • temp -- correlate to visits
      • humidity -- correlate to visits
    • Alert observers of bird visits via text/mobile app
    • Use lo-fi technology to detect visits by non-RFID tagged birds
  • Researcher
    • Potentially submit data to Cornell Ornithology Lab FeederWatch program and the USGS North American Bird Banding program
    • Connect an RFID reader to bird feeder in order to read PIT tags attached to birds by researchers.
  • Bird
    • Add an alarm so that mobile app can be used to scare away unwanted visitors -- I'm looking at you Rocky! (both the racoon and the flying squirrel)


We’re going to eliminate some logistical issues right off the bat so we can get straight to solder and code. First, putting electronic gizmos in a bird feeder faces the issue of power supply. Eventually we envision an ultra low power solution with batteries and solar collection. Second, bird feeders are right out in the elements. Electronic gizmos tend to despise elements. Eventually we will want to weather-proof said gizmos. In both cases, we are going to build a proof of concept that skirts the issue. We will start with a window-mounted feeder. This will allow the majority of the delicate componentry to live indoors while exposing only the essential sensors to the great outdoors. And birds.

We have selected a feeder from manufacturer Droll Yankee called “The Winner Model W-1.” Hopefully a sign of things to come! This unit is made mostly of transparent plastic, giving us a lot of latitude for camera placement. It is mounted to a glass window using suction cups. The best part of this device is the instruction, “Using the facial oil from the side of your nose, rub finger on suction cup surface.” No lie.

Our bird bait is oil sunflower seed. Nothing interesting about that.

Looking forward to getting our care package from element14. Next up, picking out the rest of our hardware so we can get this show on the road!