I’ve been quite quiet on the blog front lately, mostly because my Wifey is pregnant and we’ve only got one month to go! Being a through-and-through geek, I am always looking for ways to make my life easier or to do something cheaper through a clever technical hack and I plan to make my, my Wife’s and my baby’s lives as easy as possible through the power of the geek!
One thing I planned to do was to make my own baby monitor, rather than dropping up to £150 on some pre-built device. I wanted to be able to see as well as hear my baby when it is asleep upstairs, but those devices are very expensive. I thus thought I would try to make my own device using things lying around the house already. It actually wasn’t too difficult in the end, but I was lucky that I had the right equipment lying around. The first and most important piece of equipment is a Webcam. There are loads of options out there, but I wanted to use one that didn’t need to be connected to a PC to use. I had a Dlink DCS-2120 IP Webcam, that can connect to a Wireless network and doesn’t need a PC to run, it perfectly suited my needs.
The DCS-2120 includes some built-in features that are very useful, but I’ll mention that later. You can use other Webcams, even just simple USB versions, but you’ll need something to handle the video feed. If you don’t want to run a PC all the time, you could use something smaller, like a Fonera 2.0 router, that allows you to plug a USB Webcam.
So, next, you need a wireless network. Now, I didn’t want to carry around a huge router just to get this system up and running, because after all, this system should be portable enough to take to other people’s houses when we go travelling with the baby, so I chose to use the smallest WiFi router I could get my hands on. Luckily, I had one of the smallest routers already, a La Fonera. I already had another La Fonera installed and connected to the excellent free WiFi-sharing FON network, so I didn’t mind using this router for my own devices. Since the firmware (the software that runs on the router) that comes pre-installed on the router isn’t suitable for use as a normal router, I had to install (called flashing) some alternative Firmware. I chose to use DD-WRT, since it is fully supported on the Fonera and is very flexible. I used the guide from here that had some very detailed instructions on how to install DD-WRT on the Fonera. I shall summarise it here:
- Enable SSH access to the Fonera using a special web page hack.
- Enable the Redboot boot loader (allowing you load alternative firmware on the Fonera).
- Copy over the DD-WRT firmware and flash it on the Fonera.
It isn’t that simple, there are lots of steps involved, but the guide is very clear and easy to follow. Once I had DD-WRT installed, I now had a cool mini router, that I could then set-up to use with my IP Webcam.
Finally, I had to figure out how to actually view the feed. I wanted both a portable and a static solution. The Webcam I was using provides a feed using the rtsp protocol, so I needed a video player that could handle the rtsp stream. For my portable solution, I decided to use my Nokia N82 mobile phone, that has built in WiFi and can run the Core Media Player, that supports rtsp streams. For my static solution, I decided to use my laptop, running VLC on Ubuntu Karmic. In fact, because the Webcam just sends out the stream, any client that can access the wireless network and can play an rtsp stream will work. So, I can view the stream on my Windows Desktop upstairs, using VLC, whilst my wife can view the same stream on her Ubuntu Karmic netttop downstairs (yes Jobsworth, nettops can be useful).
I set-up the Fonera router, so that it provided a WiFi network with the same name (SSID) and security credentials as my main WiFi network at home. Thus, the Webcam automatically connects to my WiFi network when at home and my phone connects to it automatically also. Then, if I take the baby elsewhere, the Fonera replicates the WiFi network, so as far as the Webcam and phone is concerned, it is connected to the same network (this is very useful, because, the only way to change the wireless connection on the Webcam is through a wired interface, which is a bit of a complicated pain).
The real advantage of using this set-up is that you can have as many clients connected as you want to the video feed. The Webcam features a powerful microphone, so you can hear as well as see that the baby is ok and finally, the DCS-2120 includes some handy additional features, including the ability to take a photo at set intervals and upload them to an FTP server. Thus, I will be able to create one of those cool time-lapse movies of my baby as it sleeps and grows over time. I also chose the Fonera, because you can connect alternative aerials to it, most noticeably the La Fontenna, so this set-up should even work in my parent’s old house that has 12″ thick solid stone walls.
Since this whole system is meant to allow me to check up on our baby whilst it sleeps, I wanted to make sure it doesn’t look quite so scary and also allow it to be quite versatile. I thus bought a little teddypig, put the Webcam inside and used a Gorillapod camera stand to keep the Webcam in place (and also so I could attach it to pretty much anything).
It might look a little freaky, but I think it looks much less scary than the Webcam on its own.
Finally, here is a quick movie of the WebPig in action, alongside my laptop and mobile phone, showing it all working. The Core Media Player isn’t the best app in the world, so the video feed on the phone occasionally breaks up, as the video shows, but in general, it works very well.