Gran Check

New Zealander James Zingel recognised his mother’s concern over his grandmother’s well-being, and decided to do something about it.

Gran Check

For the Bay of Plenty Science Fair, the 14-year-old Bethlehem College student designed and built ‘Gran Check’, a Raspberry Pi-powered monitor that uses a PIR sensor to recognise his gran’s movement as she feeds her dogs, taking a photograph every morning to email back to his mother.

Gran Check

14-year-old James was concerned by the news of the elderly passing away unnoticed

James had researched similar builds on the market, noting their price was unrealistic for those with a lower budget. With the increase in average lifespans, plus upsetting reports of the elderly passing away unnoticed, he was determined to create something affordable and readily available to all, with little to no maintenance requirements.


Gran Check

A knob on the lid allows for the PIR sensitivity to be adjusted

The Gran Check lives within a wooden box, installed beside his grandmother’s dogs’ food. He knew it was the best location, since the dogs would never allow her to go a day without feeding them. For added peace of mind, James built the device to be self-sufficient, ensuring she’d never have to operate it herself.

James noted his grandmother’s independent nature, understanding that constant ‘check in’ calls from the family would be unrealistic. The Gran Check removes all concern for her welfare, without constantly bugging her for updates.

Gran Check

James credits the internet for much of his digital maker education

James was given a Raspberry Pi by his father, though he soon overtook the level of expertise on offer, and turned to YouTube and websites for help. 

James built the Gran Check over four weekends, and has ambitions to improve the build for others:

“I want to make it easy [to build], but also useful in loads of situations; it could also send a text message and attach a photo to it, for example. This would make sure that, for people in different situations, it’s not just one size fits all.”

It’s no surprise that James’s hard work was acknowledged. Not only did he win the award for best junior technology and best exhibit, but the 14-year-old also took home the NIWA Best in Fair Overall Winner.

To see James talking about Gran Check, and his plans for the build, visit the Bay of Plenty Times.

We look forward to seeing what’s next for James and Gran Check.


AndrewS avatar
hoipolloimike avatar

This kid is fantastic! Well done, James. Your future is as bright as your heart.

Ian avatar

like the idea,

A good function to add would be to have some sort of VOIP connectivity to the box + loud speaker, with a talkie style button for Gran to reply back.

Ken MacIver avatar

I had a similar idea; but the sensors would be an ultrasonic flow meter on the water main and a clamp ammeter on the electric main.
The Pi could then learn patterns of use, Loo, kettles, TV etc. and flag any anomolies… With a bluetooth Selfie remote shutter control as a panic button..

Alison avatar

So brilliant and he’s still so young. I look forward to seeing what James creates in the future.

Marty avatar

Brilliant work James. Young person with heart + technology doing something for the elderly. Great heart young man

Jeff avatar

An outstanding young man. At only 14 he is developing useful and relative projects.


Richard avatar

The RasPi system gives a brilliant opportunity to develop life aids for the elderly and any other disadvantaged group that would otherwise be excluded from these useful aids due to lack of finances to pay the cost of commercially available units. An inspired idea:)


Bill avatar

We had a tech come to my place of employment to set up a DVR for our security cameras. We got to talking about Linux (the DVR OS), and I said I have several Pi’s, he did as well. He told me he set one up with an Arduino to check to see if his grandmother’s garage was open after dark, at which time it sent him a text if it was open. RPi are so cool!

MalMan35 avatar

It is really exciting to see other teens close in age doing amazing things with technology. Great job James!

Ameyring avatar

Great job! The PIR sensor is typically a Hi or Lo signal generator so I’m wondering if he avoided false hits by making sure it’s high enough off the ground or using a tube so dogs walking underneath don’t trigger it.

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