Egg Detection using an SVM

With the lizard hatching season underway I’m starting to get some meaningful data from my Incubator Monitor I blogged about earlier in the year.


Strophurus ciliaris geckos hatching hours apart.

To extend the project and to try some machine learning techniques in the “real world” I decided to add a feature where it could keep track of which eggs have hatched and detect a second egg hatching.  Typically the second egg of a clutch hatches hours or a up to a few days later than the first.

To that end, I decided to write a python module to detect the eggs in the image.  They are light coloured ellipses on a dark background so it shouldn’t be too hard.

Features of the eggs in the images:

  • Light eggs on dark background.
  • Elliptical shape
  • Vary in size based on species, time since laying and fish-eye distortion of the camera.
  • Variable orientation (vertical, horizontal, anything in between)

Let’s follow a typical object detection process:

  1. Preprocessing
  2. Feature Extraction
  3. Train a learning algorithm
  4. Label things!

Step 1: Preprocessing

Not much.  The camera is no mounted to the inside of the incubator lid with a constant IR-led lighting so I just read the images as grey scale and leave it at that.  I could add a compensation for the fish-eye and better lighting but this is OK for now.

Step 2: Feature Extraction

To start with I’m using a basic edge-detection to detect features in the image.  More modern algorithms exist but this is an easy to understand place to start.  These edges really give me two important things:

  1. A way to iterate through list of potential features.  Given the eggs vary in : number, location, size, orientation the edges tell me where to look in the image for interesting things.
  2. Features for the learning algorithm.  The edges can for a basis to extract information about any potential eggs (see below).

I decided to use edge detection and then matching the resultant contours (contiguous edges) to an egg shape.  I use the cv2 function fitEllipse to fit an ellipse to each contour.  If the contour looks like an egg, the fitEllipse will match it.

edges = cv2.Canny(self.img, self.edge_low_thresh, self.edge_high_thresh, 5)
im, contours, heir = cv2.findContours(edges,cv2.RETR_TREE,cv2.CHAIN_APPROX_NONE)

fit_ellipse_i = cv2.fitEllipse(contours[i])


I then implement a course filtering on the resultant ellipses.  Only those that meet the basic criteria are kept:

  • length and width in a defined range,
  • The contour and ellipse match well.

This gives me a list of “possible” eggs.

I should note here that I originally though that this might be enough and I could just tune the various parameters to get an accurate list here but the two categories (egg, not_an_egg) were not easily separated using a series of if conditions.

This list of possible eggs provide me with some initial “features” for the machine learning.  The algorithm needs be the fed with a list of features that describe the egg detections in such a way that the algorithm can distinguish real eggs from false detections.

What makes an egg an egg?

  1. Egg shaped
  2. Within the size range of an egg


feature1 : The error between the detected contour an the fit egg shaped ellipse.

feature2 : The ratio between width and length

feature3 : egg width

feature4 : egg length

Step 3: Train a learning algorithm

I have a list of potential eggs and some features describing them.  Now comes the important and tedious part : training the machine learning algorithm with training data. This involved recording a bunch of images with different egg configurations and then classifying each detection manually as an egg or not_an_egg.  I took a number of images with each configuration as each gives slightly different data and then fed them through a program that displayed each candidate and let me enter y/n for each to classify them, remembering for a sequence of images where the eggs and not_an_eggs were to reduce the data entry (laziness is the mother of invention).

From this I found 12878 potential detections, 3318 eggs and 9560 not_an_eggs to use to train and test the algorithm.

I used the svm with the default Radial Basis Function (RBF) kernel provided by the sklearn python module to implement a Support Vector Machine learning algorithm.

sklearn SVM example:

I create a feature vector with 80% of the data to train the SVM:

 # extract 80% as training and 20% as test data
 self.train = [raw[i] for i in range(len(raw)) if i%5]
 self.test = [raw[i] for i in range(len(raw)) if i%5==0]
 print("Train/Test data ", len(self.train), len(self.test))

 #extract feature vectors from the dictionary of classified data
 self.X_train = [[x["error"], x["ellipse"][1][0], x["ellipse"][1][1],
        x["ellipse"][1][1]/x["ellipse"][1][0]] for x in self.train]
 #extract classifications
 Y = [x['classification'] == 'EGG' for x in self.train]
 self.Y_train = np.array(Y).astype(int)

 self.X_test = [[x["error"], x["ellipse"][1][0], x["ellipse"][1][1], 
        x["ellipse"][1][1]/x["ellipse"][1][0]] for x in self.test]
 Y = [x['classification'] == 'EGG' for x in self.test]
 self.Y_test = np.array(Y).astype(int)

 # scale the data with zero mean and std deviation.
 self.scaler = preprocessing.StandardScaler().fit(self.X_train)
 X_scaled = self.scaler.transform(self.X_train)

 #train an svm
 self.clf = svm.SVC(), self.Y_train)

Then running a test with the held back 20%:

X_test = self.scaler.transform(self.X_test)
self.pred = self.clf.predict(X_test)

self.True_test = [i for i in range(len(self.Y_test)) 
                  if self.Y_test[i] > 0]
self.False_test = [i for i in range(len(self.Y_test))
                   if self.Y_test[i] == 0]

print("True positive ", np.mean(self.pred[self.True_test]))
print("False positive ", np.mean(self.pred[self.False_test]))

To get this result:

Train/Test data  10302 2576
True positive  0.927244582043
False positive  0.0321243523316

This is better that I was getting with a sequence of if conditions and not too bad considering the simplicity of features extracted, the noisey background and that I have done no tuning of the SVM (C or gamma).

4. Label things!

Here is an interesting example. Note green ellipses are predicted eggs an red ellipses are predicted not_an_egg.

There is one false detection where the bottom of the container and the vermiculite seen through the side of the container create a reasonable sized egg that matches the ellipse pretty well.

Some eggs are missed due to the edge detection failing to separate them from the crud/container next to them – it needs enough separation from the background.  I can use segments of contours but that creates more false positives at the moment.


More potential eggs means more false positives.

It is a good first step with room for a lot of improvement. Stay tuned!

Where to find it

Check out the code here on GitHub: IncubatorMonitor





Computer Vision – Egg hatching detection

The release of Raspberry PI 3 along with simple, low cost cameras makes entry in to camera motion detection simple and cheap.  For me this meant a handy (and cool) project to monitor my lizard egg incubator.

The Project

I have lizard eggs hatching a couple of times a week.  It is good to know when they hatch as I like to leave them in the incubator and then take them out after 24hrs.  Normally I check each day or two and then think, “did that just hatch or did it hatch just after I last checked?”.

I also wanted to trial the OpenCV image processing library as well as brush up on my Python.



I could try to train an algorithm to detect the various species of lizard in the image.  It could be done, and would be interesting, but a more straight forward approach is via motion detection.  The hatching process can take hours from start to finish so image to image at 24fps the changes will be very small, so how could it work?  Easy, take images every minute and compare it to a reference image; Use the difference between the images to judge what has happened.

Check out a timelapse video I created based on the images captured of a gecko hatching from it’s egg : Timelapse video

Part 1. Hardware

I used a Raspberry PI 3 to capture the images and do the processing.  It is perfect for the job : cheap, powerful enough for some processing, and has the libraries and ability to run python to make it all pretty easy.

The camera, I use a wide-angle IR camera with IR LEDs as it need to run day and night and ideally without visible light to disturb the day/night cycle of the lizards.  Make sure you get a wide-angle camera as the camera to object distance is small (~15cm)

Part 2. Image Capture

I won’t go in to detail about how enable the Raspberry PI Camera as there are plenty out there.  This is how I used it.  It can capture live images or run through a list of recorded files.  I record each image to allow for testing and training of the code.

Full code is available on GitHub : IncubatorMonitor code

 import picamera from picamera import PiCamera
 def go_replay(self):

    for f in self.files:
          (path, ext) = os.path.splitext(f)
          if (os.path.isfile(f) and ext == ".jpg"):
             img = self.process_image(f)
             print("reject", f, ext)
             # catch exceptions that might likely specific to 1 file.
       except (AttributeError, ValueError, TypeError, IndexError) as e:
       print("Caught", e, "while processing", f)


 def go_live(self):

    camera = PiCamera()
    high_res = (640, 480)
    camera.resolution = high_res

    while True:
       for i in range(1,10):
          filename = self.output_path + 'Incubator_'+ time.strftime('%m%d_%H%M%S')+ '.jpg'
          img = self.process_image(filename)

          print("Processed ", filename)

          #todo configure interval
          #split sleep to allow quicker interruption

       #write results periodically as it will probably end in tears (i.e. ctrl-C)
       print('Updated results')

Part 3. Basic Motion detection

This is where you go, “Oh, is that it?”.  It is much easier to write motion detection code in python.  The trick is detecting something useful and avoiding false-positives.

I use the Open Source computer vision library  OpenCV.  I’m barely scratching the surface of what can be done with it but if nothing else, it is a handy way to deal with images.

The hardest part is building OpenCV on the Raspberry Pi.  Here are instructions on how to do it.

Basic steps involved:

  1. Convert to grayscale.  Easier to deal with when only looking at a single intensity value per pixel.  Given the IR camera provides little real color detail we aren’t losing anything useful.
  2. Image difference.  Subtract one image from the other to detect differences.  The camera and the background is fixed so any change _should_ be interesting to us.
  3. Threshold the difference. There is some noise so the difference is never 0 for each pixel.  We use a threshold to detect changes of a meaningful level.  For this application a threshold of 15 to 20 is used.
  4. Dilate the thresholded data.  To smooth and merge (gross simplification) areas above the threshold perform a dilation step.  The size and content of the dilution matrix has an impact on how well this works.  I found a 9×9 matric with with MORPH_ELIPSE to work pretty well but could be improved on.
  5. Create polygons with each area above the threshold producing a list of objects to analyse.

Here is a snippet of the relevant code.  Again, full code is available here : IncubatorMonitor code

 se = cv2.getStructuringElement(cv2.MORPH_ELLIPSE, (9, 9))

 def __init__(self, blah):
 r = cv2.imread(self.path)
 self.raw = imutils.resize(r, width=500)
 blur = cv2.GaussianBlur(self.raw, (9,9), 0)
 self.processed = cv2.cvtColor(blur, cv2.COLOR_BGR2GRAY)

 def compareToReference(self, ref_obj, threshold):

    assert(len(self.processed) == len(ref_obj.processed))

    #compare to reference image = cv2.absdiff(self.processed, ref_obj.processed)
    # Check against threshold to find meaningful changes
    self.thresh = cv2.threshold(, threshold, 255, cv2.THRESH_BINARY)[1]

    # Run dilation to smooth and join nearby detections.
    self.dilate = cv2.dilate(self.thresh,, iterations=4)

    #extract a list of separate detections.
    (_, self.contours, _) = cv2.findContours(self.dilate.copy(), cv2.RETR_EXTERNAL,
    self.output = self.raw

    # Create a box for each found movement.
    for c in self.contours:
       (x, y, w, h) = cv2.boundingRect(c)

       _ = cv2.rectangle(self.output, (x,y), (x+w, y+h), (0,200,0), 2)

    self.ref = ref_obj

From this we end up with a set of images showing the difference between the reference image and the image being analysed.

The Image:


  1. The raw difference between the image and reference.


2. The difference threshold


Dilation expands and merges the smaller detections.


Look, we found it!



Part 4. Image Classification

In a perfect world, we can just say each of these detections above the threshold are hatching events.  In practice, there are other things that can happen to trigger a difference between the images: removing the lid which has the camera on it, the light in the room going on and shining through the incubator window, moving the camera, moving the tubs inside, schrodinger’s lizard etc.

In this case the easiest thing to do for some of these is to control the environment:

  • Fix the camera to the inside of the incubator.
  • Cover the viewing ports on the incubator to avoid stray light.

To make things more interesting, I decided not to, to make the the software “smart” enough to tell the difference.

It needs to classify each image in to 1 of 4 categories

  • No detection
  • Found hatching
  • Detected temporary disruption
  • Environment changed, reset reference image.

This is a typical “classification” problem in machine learning terminology.

Start with something simple, some basic logic to separate these cases.  What features can we extract to judge between these categories?

  • No detection
    • Very little difference to the reference image
  • Found hatching
    • There is a noticeable change in 1 specific location.
  • Detected temporary disruption
    • There is a broad change between the image and the reference or a large number of localised differences.
  • Environment changed, reset reference image.
    • The images are very different.

So, how well does it work?

In short, pretty well.  It never misses a hatching and always detects a big reference change.  The problem, as to be expected, is false positives of hatching detection that should be classified as a temporary disruption.  This happens once or twice a week.

The solutions:

  1. Keep manually “tuning” (tinkering) the parameters to tune them out.  Probably would work but doesn’t address the underlying fragility.
  2. Put in some memory.  Temporary changes are temporary and hatching is forever so if we have an awareness of what has happened in the past then we can separate these 2 situations.  I’ve done this and it works but it offends me slightly.
  3. Use machine learning techniques to make a smarter assessment.  This sounds like more fun so it is what I will do next.  Logistic Regression or SVG? Neural Network?  We’ll see…

Part 5. Notification

For fun, I decided to tweet the notifications to my twitter account.  This is really straight-forward in python.  It can either send my a DM or post an update.

import tweepy
import json

class IncNotify():

def __init__(self):
# twitter_auth.json File Format
# "consumer_key" : "blah",
# "consumer_secret" : "blah",
# "access_token" : "blah",
# "access_secret" : "blah"

   twitter_auth = json.loads(open('twitter_auth.json').read())
   # Configure auth for twitter
   auth = tweepy.OAuthHandler(twitter_auth['consumer_key'], twitter_auth['consumer_secret'])
   auth.set_access_token(twitter_auth['access_token'], twitter_auth['access_secret'])

   self.api = tweepy.API(auth)

   ## TODO handle failure
   print ("Twitter output enabled")

def notify(self, img, level):

   # TODO img is correct format.
   if self.api is None or img is None or level == 0:
      return None

   msg = "The incubator monitor has detected a gecko hatching. Did I get it right?"

   if level <= 1:
      self.api.send_direct_message(user="namezmud", text=msg)
      path = img.output_path
      if not path:
         path = img.path
      self.api.update_with_media(path, msg)

   print("SEND!!!! " + img.getShortname())

Conclusion (so far)

There are still plenty of TODOs in the code and extensions that could be made but it works for now and I’ll set it up live for next breeding season.  Plenty to work on in what spare time I have.

If you are interested in giving it a go, feel free.  All the code is on github here for public consumption. IncubatorMonitor

The aftermath

Within the space of a week I had my PC stolen in a burglary and snapped in half the micro SD card in the raspberry PI.  These were where the images and backup for most of the hatching season were stored so I lost all my unit tests and most of my training data.  We’ll have to see if I have enough data left to train a machine learning model of if I have to wait until the end of the year to collect more data.  If there is anyone in the northern hemisphere breeding this summer and are interested in setting up a camera, please get in touch!