technology, amateur radio, scouting and me

PiDashCam – Raspberry Pi based dashcam – Part One

This is the first in a series of posts about developing a Raspberry Pi based dashboard camera (dashcam) for my own personal use. I’m also using the project to improve my Python coding skills and re-use a whole load of software engineering patterns I used to deploy when I was a software engineer yonks ago.


Like many regular drivers, I see a lot of strange behaviour when I’m out on the roads and I often comment to myself that it would be interesting to have something on video. The lady who zoomed past me on the M25 busily touching up her eye makeup; the van driver who had his morning paper spread out across the steering wheel, the lunatic in the BMW who cut across three lanes on the M1 to avoid missing his exit and precipitated a multi-car shunt: the list goes on.

I have been meaning to buy a dashcam that would allow me to capture these delights on video.
However, rather than just shell out for a commercial dashcam, I decided to make one for myself and to my own specification.


These are the requirements I used to drive the system design

  • Single forward facing camera with option for second rearward facing camera
  • Built using Raspberry Pi and programmed in Python
  • Should continue recording even if power has failed (e.g. in an accident)
  • Record HD MPEG format videos continuously but avoid running out of disk space
  • Simple UI to record a notable event and pause/resume recording
  • Video overlaid with Date, Time, Position, Speed and Direction
  • Automatic transfer of recorded video to home Mac when in range of home Wi-Fi
  • to avoid need to physically access pidashcam to extract videos
  • to save space on pidashcam

System Design

After considering the above, I came up with the following system design

Raspberry Pi Model 3 in the Car

  • Connects automatically to Home WI-Fi network
  • PiModules UPS Pico to provide the battery backup, file-safe shutdown and RTC
  • Forward facing Pi Camera
  • Option for USB connected WebCam for rear facing camera
  • Adafruit Ultimate GPS breakout board to source the positional data
  • Two momentary push buttons for external inputs
  • Two LEDs to indicate system status
  • Custom system daemon written in Python to implement the PiDashCam features
  • Resilio Sync1 to synchronise the local video filesystem with my Mac whenever I am connected to home Wi-Fi

iMac in Home

  • Resilio Sync
  • Hazel to:
  • move new videos to another folder (and thus save space on PiDashCam)
  • convert the videos from h264 format to mpeg
  • fire off a Pushover alert to tell me that there are videos to watch

PiDashCam Use Cases

External power is applied to PiDashCam – e.g. ignition switched on

  • Start to record into 5 min circular buffer with positional data overlaid on video stream
  • Switch on LED 1 to indicate that recording is in progress
  • LED 2 remains off

Button A is pressed – flush the current buffer to disk

  • Save content of circular buffer plus another 5 mins of video to disk
  • Flash LED 1 2Hz 50:50 duty cycle whilst this is going on
  • Resume recording into circular buffer

Button B is pressed – flush and pause

  • if PiDashCam is recording
  • simulate Button A being pressed but then pause recording
  • extinguish LED 1
  • otherwise
  • resume recording

UPS signals it has gone on to battery – e.g. ignition switched off

  • Simulate Button B being pressed
  • If PiDashCam is connected to home Wi-Fi
  • Wait for the Videos folder to become empty
  • Flash LED 2 2Hz 50:50 duty cycle whilst this is going on
  • (Note: if UPS PIco battery runs down, it will shutdown PiDashCam safely)
  • shutdown
  • Otherwise
  • shutdown

More to follow

  1. Resilio Sync is a private P2P networking product from the people who brought us BitTorrent. I used the free Sync Home product. 

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