a DIY security camera system with object detection, recording and phone notifications – using Docker, Frigate and Home Assistant

Let’s start with the reminder that an easy route to a security camera setup is to buy a kit with cameras and a system box to record events on site – you’ll find plenty of promising 4K POE 8 megapixel sets at Amazon. You might however be interested in something that’s not only awesome and flexible but integrates well with Home Assistant and your other smart devices. Below I explain what a Frigate camera server can do for you and what you’ll need to work it. You can test my project on an old desktop PC box and of course a suitable camera.

what a ‘Frigate’ camera server (NVR) can do for you and what you’ll need to work it

advice on where to start with links to tutorials

some background and why you might have a need for this:

The term ‘webcam’ confuses some people: an IP camera is not what I call a webcam. It’s an always-on camera that’s remotely connected, over the web, to your computer. It is confused with a webcam on your computer which needs the computer always turned-on. This point gives an IP camera uses in 24/7 security although there were times when I’d wanted to know when a delivery vehicle arrived or need to check the cat was eating, or the birds were feeding. I’ve also watched the chickens, the visiting fox, the letterbox, the 3D printer and monitored a roof leak or the refilling frequency of a water tank. An IP camera has a myriad of uses (but do take care re-privacy and permission).

I’ve been experimenting with different IP cameras for a very long time and it’s a key need to be able to see what happened rather than whizz through hours of footage to find the event. That’s where Frigate comes in and on this page I’ve outlined how I set it up. This process is no small journey as it involves a wide gamut of skill with Linux, Docker and networking.

I am using a selection of outdoor cameras (Wansview, Wanscam, Vstarcam and other ONVIF cameras) bought over the years. Some of these use wired ethernet (good); but many of them use wireless ethernet (less good). Until Frigate arrived it’s been a pain to find a single item of video recording software that gave them both the magical power of object detection and worked with all of them. Yes you can install useful software on a Windows PC, but for 24/7 use you’ll need an always-on computer.

Note that Frigate can’t use many of the modern ‘cloud cameras’ which work exclusively with their own apps. I have found some of these (Logi Circle; Blink; Eufy) to work excellently as they are. They may also feature object detection to filter out irrelevant alerts and be a match for what Frigate can do.

object detection here means that the computer identifies particular things – here a bicycle with 82% probability and a person with 54%.

what you get with this Frigate NVR set up:

  • record short clips of events involving people, pets, cars, vehicles, airplanes. Fine tune the detection or ignore events for example when you come home with your car.
  • fast, not laggy access to camera feeds, snapshots, recorded clips via a local URL or from within Home Assistant. The clips (etc) also appear within the Home Assistant media folder already sorted by camera, date, or object type.
  • massively enhance the value of old or disappointing security cameras by connecting them to the very efficient Frigate app. You can continue to access your cameras as you normally do*.
  • no subs or ongoing costs – and no need to replace micro-SD cards that some cameras seem to chew-up to store recordings
  • no privacy concerns due to offsite ‘cloud’ access to your cameras – everything here can be kept local
  • fence-off areas in each camera image where you want to ignore movement or mark areas that you especially want to keep on eye on (‘masks’ and ‘zones’)
  • receive an actionable notification with an thumbnail on your phone (or the TV!) for events you’re interested in
  • create automations in Home Assistant that turn on a light or open a garage when triggered by a camera event
  • record everything all the time – depending on your system’s ability to record multiple camera streams. You can but try and see.
  • have fine-grain control over how long you want to retain the clips recorded by each camera. By default clips are retained for 10 days. My ten days of event storage used 2GB per camera which hardly dents the 4TB drive that I’d made available.
  • *unlikely to work with proprietary ‘consumer’ security cameras that, out-of-the-box, offer to do it all for you (Blink; Ring; Arlo; Logi Circle; Nest; echo show; Eufy. These brands may upload recordings to a paid cloud service or they record on an internal microSD card). You’d need access to the cameras feed and this might be rather well secured. My suggestion: get another camera but continue to use the proprietary camera with its app.
  • works with many semi-professional IP cameras (see next para). The setup below is hard but not impossible to use with a computer webcam, including the Raspberry Pi camera, that’s built-in or connected via USB. In all cases you need to map the device into a Frigate docker container. Remind me to add a link to HomeAutomationGuy’s guide to this process.

what you’ll need to set up a Frigate NVR with Home Assistant:

  • an always-on computer to run the Frigate server. The computer ought consume minimal energy and yet be powerful enough to record multiple camera streams and detect objects and changes. An Intel NUC or a Raspberry Pi4 with a drive for media storage ought to do a basic job. The computer will run ‘headless’ but you’ll need a keyboard and monitor for the boot OS installation.
  • Home Assistant should be already set up and running on (say) a Raspberry Pi 4 computer. If you want to access this when you’re away from home you’d also need to have set up a duckdns.org subdomain (see here for this). Alternatively set up a duckdns.org subdomain and get a router port pointing at Home Assistant via the wireguard add-on. Your Home Assistant will also need the MQTT add-on which in turn will need a new, but dormant user in Home Assistant (eg user: mqttuser password: mqttuser)
  • My Frigate example: I used an old Fujitsu Esprimo desktop box (i7-8700 @3.20GHz with 8GB RAM plus internal storage for the camera recordings). This will be set to boot from the OS on a USB stick (as otherwise it will boot normally into Windows 10). Mine may use more electrical power than yours does but just now I’m happy that it workless silently and was bought inexpensively from ‘Stone Refurb’ in the UK.
  • optionally a coral.ai USB Accelerator which plugs into a USB3 port on the computer. This adds incredible power to the object detection process in Frigate whether you use a big computer or a Raspberry Pi. (See set up below)
  • it will help efficiency if you set the resolution of your camera. Popular resolutions include 4K (9mp or 4096 × 2160); UHD (8mp or 3840 × 2160); FHD/2K (2mp or 1920 x 1080); HD (1mp or 1280 x 720) or SD (0.4mp or 720 × 576) resolution.
  • your cameras (aka IP cameras) must have a rtsp:// H264 stream. Many semi-professional security cameras that mention ‘ONVIF’ in their specs are likely to have this. You’ll need to know the login / password and URL of the camera streams that will begin something like rstp://192.168.x.x. The camera instructions will list different URLs for its high resolution and low resolution streams. To save computer ‘effort’ Frigate uses the low resolution stream to detect objects in the camera image. If the detection process yields a positive result, Frigate records the high resolution stream to disc. Often the camera URL will include the login password such as in rstp://username:password@192.168.x.x/live/channel0
  • your camera URL / IP must never change and there are a couple of ways to fix its IP address:
    • if you have access to the camera’s internal menu or camera app, get the camera to self-assign a never-changing IP address (example below). Also set your broadband router DHCP server to allocate IP addresses over a range that excludes this IP address. For example, if your camera IP is self-assigned to 192.168.1.156, you set the DHCP allocation range to 192.168.1.165 up to 192.168.1.255
    • use settings in your broadband router to reserve an IP address based on the camera’s MAC address. Also, as above, set your broadband router DHCP to allocate IP addresses over a range that excludes this IP address. E.g. as shown here:

how to set up Docker and Frigate:

  • Frigate runs well on Linux and it runs even better with the bloat that a ‘desktop GUI’ adds. My method to get myself a basic Linux setup is to install ‘openmediavault’ on a USB stick which will become the boot drive for the computer. At first glance openmediavault seems like a whole new thing to learn, however it makes light work of setting up drives and services such as Docker and thus it can be recommended.
  • To make this possible we briefly need another USB stick which holds the ‘openmediavault initial installer’ image. We use Balena Etcher to copy the openmediavault installer image to USB, and then boot from this USB installer to get to the blue openmediavault setup screen. Now we can insert another blank USB stick to use as the destination drive and continue with the install. I use Kingston DataTraveler Exodia DTX 32GB or 64GB drives. For a walk-through of which buttons to press see the video by technodadlife – but remember that you want to install from the USB installer drive to another USB stick rather than the internal hard disk. When the installation finishes, remove the installer USB stick so that you boot from the destination USB drive. Openmediavault runs as a ‘headless’ server so you access it via a browser on another machine as e.g. http://192.168.1.157. The login is initially set as ‘admin’ and ‘openmediavault’.
  • Follow the video by technodadlife in full. You want to create two shared folders, accessible by ‘everyone’. The one that stores your docker configurations might be called ‘dockconfig’. The other that stores your Frigate recordings might be called ‘media’. I’ll refer to these names below. You’ll need to note the ‘absolute paths’ of these folders and typically these look like ‘/srv/dev-disk-by-uuid-various_numbers’. Follow the tutorial to install openmediavault-extras as well as Docker and Portainer.
  • Now test your remote access to the computer over SSH. I also set up openmediavault running the FTP service to give me access to files and folders.

install a file editor so that you can edit the Frigate config

Here be the bad news: at the present time Frigate does NOT have an interface where you can enter camera settings and recording requirements. You need a text editor to make changes to the config. If the editor is built-in you’ll be able to tweak the configuration frequently and easily.

Me to INSERT DETAIL: install the Docker container / stack version of Visual Studio Code on the openmediavault server: go to Portainer and install VSCode as directed by linuxserver.io here. Before you create the container you’ll need to adjust the volume shown below for the ‘absolute path’ of a shared folder you created in openmediavault (see technodadlife video). When you create folders, set their permissions to ‘Everyone’ just now.

 ---
version: "2.1"
services:
  code-server:
    image: lscr.io/linuxserver/code-server:latest
    container_name: code-server
    environment:
      - PUID=1000 # look up the ID of the admin user, just enter id in a SSH terminal
      - PGID=1000
      - TZ=Europe/London
    #  - PASSWORD=password #optional
    #  - HASHED_PASSWORD= #optional
    #  - SUDO_PASSWORD=password #optional
    #  - SUDO_PASSWORD_HASH= #optional
    #  - PROXY_DOMAIN=code-server.my.domain #optional
    #  - DEFAULT_WORKSPACE=/config/workspace #optional
    volumes:
      - /srv/dev-disk-by-uuid-03f88bcfa011/dockconfig/vscode/config:/config
      - /srv/dev-disk-by-uuid-03f88bcfa011/dockconfig:/dockconfig
    ports:
      - 8443:8443
    restart: unless-stopped

install the Frigate Docker image

  • Frigate is installed as a Docker container using a sort-of script or text file saying where to save media and where to save the the configuration. I do this via Portainer.
  • Getting this docker-compose.yml right is tricky for your system. Before you create the container you’ll need
    • to change the image type to the one that matches your computer. Mine is a desktop PC hence my image ends ‘amd64’. Yours might be a Raspberry Pi hence the image for yours might end ‘arm7’.
    • to change the devices list to what you have: I have a Coral USB so that line is uncommented. If you have nothing special uncomment (ie activate) the line for intel hwaccel.
    • to change the volumes to the ‘absolute path’ of a shared folder you created in openmediavault (see technodadlife video). Set the permissions on these to ‘Everyone’ just now. Later you may choose to limit access to a user but you’re still pretty safe with ‘everyone’.
    • to create a text file called ‘config.yml’ and put it where you’ll store your camera configurations. In the volumes section below you’ll see that I store mine in the shared folder ‘dockconfig’ under ‘frigate’. You must do this step because Linux is likely to create a folder called ‘config.yml’. If there’s a file there already it won’t do that.
    • A point of failure may be due to permissions. That may require you to know the PUID and PGID of the admin user.
    • See the docs to run the compose file
version: "3.9"
services:
  frigate:
    container_name: frigate
    privileged: true # this may not be necessary for all setups
    restart: unless-stopped
    image: blakeblackshear/frigate:stable-amd64 
    shm_size: "64mb" # update for your cameras based on calculation above

    devices:
      - /dev/bus/usb:/dev/bus/usb # passes the USB Coral, needs to be modified for other versions
#     - /dev/apex_0:/dev/apex_0 # passes a PCIe Coral, follow driver instructions here 
# https://coral.ai/docs/m2/get-started/#2a-on-linux
#     - /dev/dri/renderD128 # for intel hwaccel, needs to be updated for your hardware

    volumes:
      - /etc/localtime:/etc/localtime:ro
      - /srv/dev-disk-by-uuid-03f88bcfa011/dockconfig/frigate/config.yml:/config/config.yml
      - /srv/dev-disk-by-uuid-03f88bcfa011/media/frigate:/media/frigate
      - type: tmpfs # Optional: 1GB of memory, reduces SSD/SD Card wear
        target: /tmp/cache
        tmpfs:
          size: 1000000000
    ports:
      - "5000:5000"
      - "1935:1935" # RTMP feeds
    environment:
      FRIGATE_RTSP_PASSWORD: "password"

watch a video tutorial

I’ve learned this from others who have published video tutorials. You might see Awesome Open Source or see Mostly Chris. Alternatively see Home Automation Guy (Alan) just below. I prefer Alan’s approach. He uses one server computer to run Frigate and Home Assistant side by side. It’s trickier than using two Raspberry Pi’s but if you’re unfazed by making Docker installations it’s a way to go.

install the Coral.ai TPU software if you use a Coral

  • Next install the software for the CORAL.AI USB dongle. By default you have SSH or terminal access to the Debian Linux that runs behind ‘openmediavault’. Open a terminal window and enter ssh admin@192.168.1.x then enter the password you used when setting up openmediavault. The Coral docs are here but I’ve summarised the command lines you must enter:
sudo apt-get update

echo "deb https://packages.cloud.google.com/apt coral-edgetpu-stable main" | sudo tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/coral-edgetpu.list

curl https://packages.cloud.google.com/apt/doc/apt-key.gpg | sudo apt-key add -

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install libedgetpu1-std
NOW attach the coral USB accelerator to a USB3 port on the computer
sudo apt-get install python3-pycoral

edit your Frigate config and restart the Frigate container

Use Visual Studio Code / code server to edit the file dockconfig/frigate/config.yml. You’ll need to change my version below. Save it of course when you’ve finished editing and then restart the Frigate container. Check the log of the Frigate container to see if it has started. If not, don’t despair as many errors are simple ones eg due to indentation or a misconfigured camera.

# yaml-language-server: $schema=http://192.168.1.99:5000/api/config/schema
mqtt:
  host: 192.168.1.42 # address of home assistant plus mqtt user credentials
  user: mqttuser
  password: mqttuser
detectors:
  coral:
    type: edgetpu
    device: usb
ffmpeg:
  hwaccel_args: 
    - -hwaccel
    - vaapi 
    - -hwaccel_device 
    - /dev/dri/renderD128 
    - -hwaccel_output_format 
    - yuv420p
  input_args: -avoid_negative_ts make_zero -fflags +genpts+discardcorrupt -rtsp_transport tcp -stimeout 5000000 -an

#Global Object Settings
objects:
  track:
    - person
    - cat
    - car
  # filters:
  #   person:
  #     min_area: 5000
  #     max_area: 100000
snapshots:
  enabled: true
  timestamp: true
  clean_copy: false 
record:
  enabled: True
detect:
  stationary:
    interval: 0
    threshold: 50  
rtmp:
  enabled: True # <-- RTMP should be disabled if your stream is not H264
timestamp_style:
  # Optional: Position of the timestamp 
  format: "%m/%d/%Y %H:%M:%S"
  # Optional: Color of font
  color:
    # all rgb required when color is specified 
    red: 255
    green: 0
    blue: 0
birdseye:
  # Optional: Enable birdseye view (default: shown below)
  enabled: True
  # Optional: Width of the output resolution (default: shown below)
  width: 1280
  # Optional: Height of the output resolution (default: shown below)
  height: 720
  # Optional: Encoding quality of the mpeg1 feed (default: shown below)
  # 1 is the highest quality, and 31 is the lowest. Lower quality feeds utilize less CPU resources.
  quality: 8
  # Optional: Mode of the view. Available options are: objects, motion, and continuous
  #   objects - cameras are included if they have had a tracked object within the last 30 seconds
  #   motion - cameras are included if motion was detected in the last 30 seconds
  #   continuous - all cameras are included always
  mode: motion
environment_vars:
  FRIGATE_campass: mypassword
# FRIGATE_campass {FRIGATE_campass}

cameras:

  front163: # <------ Name the camera
    ffmpeg:
      inputs:
        - path: rtsp://admin:password@192.168.1.163:554/live/ch1 # <----- low res camera 1280 x 720
          roles:
            - detect
            - rtmp
        - path: rtsp://admin:password@192.168.1.163:554/live/ch0 # <----- high res camera 1920 x 1080
          roles:
            - record

    detect:
      # stationary:
      #   interval: 0
      #   threshold: 50  
      width: 1280 # <---- update for your camera's resolution
      height: 720 # <---- update for your camera's resolution
 #     fps: 15 #<---- known camera fps
    motion:
      mask:
        - 1280,720,1165,720,1134,638,1066,482,1021,342,1034,208,1037,177,1027,118,1027,63,1072,0,1280,0

install the Frigate integration in Home Assistant

When Frigate is running it’s saving clips and events to media/frigate which is a Shared folder you created on the server. You can access these videos using Home Assistant if you install a third-party integration. The process is described here by Home Automation Guy.

install the Frigate automation Blueprint in Home Assistant

It’s time to create an automation which will notify your phone when an event occurs on camera. This is covered in Home Automation Guy Alan’s video above. You can also notify an Android TV to give a pop-up on screen while you’re watching it. The phone needs the Home Assistant app from the app store. The TV needs the Notifications for Android app. When the apps have been installed go to Home Assistant’s integrations list and add the ‘mobile app’ and or the ‘notifications for Android TV/Fire TV’. In so doing Home Assistant acquires two notifiers that you can call. Go to Developer > Services > Notify to test these. BTW the TV notifier also turns on the TV which is a nuisance of sorts.

Here are my settings for this Home Assistant notification. It’s initially fun to receive these messages.

now what?

If you’ve followed the videos hopefully my detail brings the Frigate NVR idea closer to reality. Using Linux and Docker provides a huge gain in capability.

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