Adding a Security Camera To Your Off Grid Helium Hotspot
“Do you worry about your off grid hotspot getting stolen?” I get that question a lot. My short answer is “No”. In general, I follow what I consider a few security best practices:
- Make it hard to find.
- Make it hard to get to.
- Don’t leave your valuables unprotected.
In the world of Helium off grids, however, you can’t always meet those criteria. For one, you’ve got to assert your location. Anyone in the world can get pretty darn close to where you should be. So, hiding your valuable thing, in this case a Helium Hotspot, is hard.
For my off grids, a love of the mountains and hard work combine naturally to make my installs hard to get to. They’re not impossible; I mean, I’m not the only person on the planet who can carry a giant backpack 6 miles one way. TJ Ferrara, for one, does that much better than I do. Still, for most people, the juice is not worth the squeeze.
That brings us to an interesting aspect of a Helium miner: They’re not really worth anything to a thief. Once the hotspot is attached to your wallet, it will faithfully deposit HNT into your wallet, no matter who has physical control over it.
Still, an off grid isn’t just a miner. It’s the antenna, and the solar panel, and the battery, and a long list of accessories you need for the whole thing to work. I’ve heard of thieves taking everything BUT the miners. In fact, they left the miners double bagged. Yeah, weird.
In that particular instance, the thieves did something incredibly stupid which led the original owner to find his stolen off grids and recover them, but you don’t always get that lucky.
One of the obvious deterrents is a camera, so I started looking around for one I could use. I wanted a camera that was rugged enough to be outside, would communicate over LTE so I wouldn’t have to hike out to check it, and would keep a running “memory” that it uploaded to the cloud, so if someone did get their grubby little dickbeaters on my gear, I’d be able to download their picture without having access to the memory card. I also wanted the thing to give me more than just one view; I wanted some of that pan & tilt action.
Trail cams are the obvious fit here. Surprisingly, a bunch of ’em are missing some critical element. Either they don’t have connection to solar so the batteries run out, or no ability to upload to the cloud, or no ability to move around and give me a wider view and scope.
I settled on a ReoLink Go PT. It met my criteria, although I made a few modifications when it arrived.
First, I painted it tan. The thing arrives in a blinding white, and just on general principle I wanted it to blend in at least a little bit.
Second, I replaced the fabric strap for pole (or tree) mounting with a hose clamp. Way more stable, and I’m guessing will last far longer.
Third, I mounted the solar panel arm with a bolt and a zip tie. It ain’t the prettiest install you’ve ever seen, but the folks at ReoLink seem to only account for people mounting this thing to flat surfaces, and the pole diameter I had wasn’t enough to get all 3 recommended screws in.
With my prep work done, it was out to one of my favorite places to test this out on an off grid Helium Hotspot install.
Now, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “How do you get permission to put it out there?” It’s pretty simple; you just ask. For the record, yes, I have permission to put this hotspot here. This is the result of a multi-year relationship that has involved spending blood and treasure on all sides. We flew a helicopter out here for the initial install of a weather station years ago where we custom fabricated the pole, drilled and mounted it to the rock, and have maintained the site for years now. There’s no real secret to it: Find the owners of the property, figure out what (if anything) they want, and provide it to them.
With that out of the way, there’s only one question left: Does the camera work to stop thieves?
I think of it this way. A security camera is like a reserve parachute: You hope they’re a complete waste of money and you never need to use ’em, but if you do, they’re worth every penny.
As far as the mounting & use of it, it’s dead simple. If you can put together an Ikea kitchen sink, you’re about 4 intelligence levels above what it takes to get this camera to work. Plug in, sign up, and play.
With that said, I have had a few instances where the camera doesn’t immediately connect when I pull up the app. So far, just quitting the app and re-loading it seems to work.
The big downside is the monthly data cost for the cloud imagery. Still, it’s less than running a miner; I bought a 10 GB/month plan for $35 on Mint. Mint is super easy, and for the price of 30 rolled tacos and a few high priced coffees every month I’ll get high def pictures of someone’s bald spot as they’re stealing my hotspot setup. Worth it.
That brings me to the last high point of the ReoLink PT: you can pan and tilt the thing. If I want to catch a rad sunset out there, or see my buddies paragliding while I hammer away on the keyboard, or even watch as the coyotes howl up at a gibbous moon on a summer’s eve, I can dial in and check ’em out. That, my friends, is worth every penny.