discussion / Camera Traps  / 24 September 2021

Turn old smartphone into IA camera trap?

I know that there is several IA camera trap development ongoing from the poachercam to trailguard...ects...

I also know that it is possible to turn an old phone into a security camera or detector camera through several apps:





IA camera trap requires powerful CPU in order to run the IA software and connexion, all of these are present  in a smartphone.

Is it possible to run one of IA software on a smartphone in order to automatically detect a poacher and send an alert (with image)? Or detect elephant to prevent human wildlife conflicts?

And maybe for poor network area could be possible to connect a smartphone via Bluetooth to a satellite transmitters system.

Hi Antoine. 

It's possible to use an old phone to do what you're asking. It would require some Android or iOS programming skills since it may be hard to find something off the shelf that fits all the requirements. There will be some drawbacks though. Aside from the software programming, you'd need to:

  • Protect the phone. You'd need an enclosure that's weatherproof but can maintain a clear window for taking pictures. Acrylic or polycarbonate enclosures may work for this.
  • Have a large power supply. You'd need the phone to be essentially continuously tethered to a power source. Also you'd be continuously running a background AI app and have the camera turned on. The average idle current for a smartphone is about 100 mA which means that a standard 2000 mAh battery allows for around 20 hours of idle (non standby). You may want to assume that having the camera on and running a background app that is constantly using the CPU may double this current consumption. 
  • I'd also recommend to standardize on one particular make/model of smartphone that's commonly available. Otherwise, you'll get caught in the Android trap (assuming an Android phone) where you have to figure out and modify your code for each version of Android on each phone. I'd recommend sticking with the Google Nexus phones which are the most vanilla Android phones to program.

In regards to connecting to a satellite modem via Bluetooth, that's also possible, but adds more complexity and you'd have to figure out how to control, turn on and off, and power the satellite modem as well as the phone. If you can get the cellular version stable and reliable, then I'd recommend moving on to the satellite afterwards.

We actually do a lot of cellular connectivity projects in remote areas so feel free to send me an email if you have more questions on implementation.


Dear Akiba,

Thank you for your reply.

Do you think it's not possible to do it with existing apps for example this project succeed to do a bird monitoring camera trap from a smartphone: 


Maybe some Light IA model could be build using https://www.lobe.ai/ and then export to be running on an android app.

My idea was to use it on a 4G/3G network, regarding the phone protection and power, I think it's the easy part. A solar system with batteries should do the work. If 4G network coverage is available, maybe the IA model could run on a cloud?

The idea was that we consume a lot of smartphones and some could be use for nature conservation and such system could allow, small NGO with limited budget to access to this type of tools and improve their work.

Hi Antoine.

I think if existing apps are around, then it never hurts to give it a try. I was assuming that the software development would be pretty custom. 

Actually you may want to talk to someone from Rainforest Connection. I remember they were trying something similar and could probably give you advice on how to proceed. Here's the link to the Kickstarter they ran awhile back for their project. It's not necessarily a camera trap, but the concept is likely the same and they had to deal with the same issues as power and protection. 



Hi Antione,

It looks like the Steen bird monitoring example you shared was not really detecting birds specifically but detecting motion.  Motion detect could definitely run on the phone itself but powerful classifiers may not be supportable on a phone processor.  It might be good to look a little deeper at the apps you've seen and see if you can tell if they actually run on the phone or send the image out to a remote system that actually runs the classifier.  If they're sending the data out, and getingt triggered by simple motion (lots of false triggers!), that could rack up significant data charges.

Phone are getting more powerful and classifiers getting 'lighter', so maybe this is becoming feasible, though older phones may not have that processing power, or be able to support the newest apps (I recently had to get a new phone bc the one I had was so old my apps were gradually all failing).

It would be great to hear if you find something that could work, though!