Raspberry Pi pet monitor

2 minute read

I’ll start by admitting that this is definitely one of those cases in which automating a task is much more work than just doing it. Katie and I have been using an automatic pet feeder, Le Bistro, for a little while now. Despite Serena being able to get her little paws up into the dispenser to steal food, it seems to do a good job dispensing food when we tell it to. She must have a love-hate relationship with it; Katie and I always joke about the reviews it must be recieving on cat-yelp:

Four stars is probably being overly generous.

Despite the fairly dependable track record of Le Bistro when I’m watching, Serena swears it fails everytime I’m not around. And, since I’m usually not watching (or asleep) when it goes off, I thought it would be useful to have some sort of independent verification that the food is in fact dispensing.

Enter the raspberry pi, which I recently picked up with a camera attachment. There are many projects using the raspberry pi as a security camera, so I figured that my application (recording at two specific times of day) would actually be fairly easy.

The steps, as I envisioned them, include:

  1. Synchronizing the raspberri pi and Le Bistro
  2. Recording a video starting just a few moments before the food dispenses, lasting around a minute.
  3. Uploading the video to some sort of online storage.

The last step is actually one I spent most of my time on, since I envisioned this as working as a headless camera. That, and because the internet at my apartment is terrible.

To accomplish these I use a bash script activated via a cron job. Here’s the main recording script:


# Change to the correct directory
cd /home/pi/Serena/

# Remove the video from the previous meal, so the storage doesn't get
# filled with cat videos
rm recording*

# Get the current date and time
DATE=`date +%Y-%m-%d`
HOUR=`date +%H`

# Depending on whether its AM or PM, I assign a variable with the
# correct meal name
if [[ $HOUR > 12 ]]; then

# Record a one-minute video using the camera
raspivid -o recording.h264 -t 60000 -fps 30 -w 640 -h 480 -vf

# Re-encode the video as an mp4 file
MP4Box -fps 30 -add recording.h264 recording.mp4

DESC="An automatic recording to make sure Serena got her $MEAL"

# Upload the video to youtube
youtube-upload --title="$MEAL $DATE" --description=$DESC --location="=" \
	--tags="raspberry pi, cat" --client-secrets=client_secret.json \

The youtube-upload command I use is here, which makes the process relatively easy. Due to the pretty terrible internet speeds we have, I record the video at a fairly low resolution. The raspberry pi camera is capable of a crazy 1080p video, but the post-processing and uploading of a file that size took too long.

Once the raspberry pi was all set up, crontabs at the ready, I mounted it inside a cardboard box and positioned it next door to Le Bistro.


Here’s a still image from the point of view of the camera:

setup ![serena_yelp](https://pstjohn.github.io/assets/images/serena_setup_small.jpg)
Ignore my feet

Could use a bit of color-balancing. And now we wait!