Build your own baby monitor revisited

(Quite) a while ago I wrote about my attempts to make my own video baby monitor. I had also written about a few other approaches as well, but they were pretty involved and complex and tended to break after a few days.

Wanting to simplify the approach and make it easier to set up, I came up with a slightly more refined solution that works much better. I’ve been using it successfully for about a year and it works with multiple cameras and screens. Now I have a second bundle of terror it has proved very useful.

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel I decided to use products already out there, but ones that aren’t actually designed to monitor babies with and thus don’t have the crazy high price tags. I use an IP webcam, that connects to a WiFi network, this can then be viewed on any laptop or android device you have. It should also work with the iPhone as well, but not being a fan of Apple’s walled garden, I haven’t yet investigated this in any great detail.

The most important part of all this is the camera and I’ve stuck with the same camera I used last time, the IP Night Vision webcam. These can be found all over eBay, or there are also variants available on places like ebuyer.com and dabs.com. It has a WiFi and an ethernet network connection, night vision up to a couple of meters, two-way audio (so you can both listen to and talk to your baby – though I don’t suggest the latter, that is one big brother step too far) and it can be panned and tilted around so you can ensure the baby stays in view even if it moves. Most of these cameras are made by Chinese manufacturers, but some are of better quality than others. Foscam is a really good brand it seems, I have two and they have been running non-stop for the last year with no problems what so ever. The model I have used and would recommend is the Foscam FI8918W.

Foscam FI8918w
Foscam FI8918w

It is relatively simple to set up, you just need to connect it to your wireless network following the instructions included in the box. Once this is done you can then view the camera in many different ways. There is an internal web address that you can use to view it from any laptop connected to your wireless network using a web browser. You can also use the free media software VLC to view the video feed, the advantage being this approach also gives you sound and will work on pretty much all platforms supported by VLC (so Windows, Linux and Mac OS). I have written a number of scripts that can be run on Linux (Ubuntu) and Windows that launches the necessary video feeds and restarts the video every hour, since the audio can sometimes get out of sync with the video.

However, the best way to view the video feed I have found is via an Android app, called IP Cam Viewer. There is a free version which works perfectly for my needs, but if you want to say thanks to the developer, you can get the Pro version which is only a few pounds and gives you a few more features. I run this app on my Android tablet, an Android set top box and my Android phone. It allows me to view the the video feed of the two sleeping terrors on a TV in the kitchen using the Android set top box, anywhere in the house on my Android tablet or whilst out and about pretty much anywhere in the world (with a mobile data connection) on my Android phone. The app allows you to move the camera around if you need to and you can put widgets on your home screen that update as fast as once every second, so you don’t even need to run the app to see what is happening.

IP Cam Viewer in action
IP Cam Viewer in action

There is some technical cleverness that needs to be carried out to allow you to view the web cam outside of your wireless network on your phone, but this is very simple to set up and can be done for free.

All in all, this set-up works really well. So much so that the BBC just interviewed me about it! It is certainly a much cheaper and more flexible approach than the dedicated solutions on the market currently and rather than only being able to view the video feed on one tiny screen, you can view it on pretty much any screen you wish pretty much anywhere you want.

If you want to do this yourself, do get in contact via the Contact page. I might put together some more detailed information into a PDF, maybe with a “Pro” version that contains simple step-by-step instructions for a small fee or something. It seems all the rage these days 😉

UPDATE: Gosh, so the story has got a bit of traction on BBC News and I’ve got quite a few comments and emails to read through. I’ll read and respond to all your comments over the weekend and I am sure I can produce a PDF with instructions.

Glad other people are keen on this idea!

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75 thoughts on “Build your own baby monitor revisited

  1. I do something similar. I have an old laptop and have installed Skype on it and set it to auto answer with video. I call it from my mobile and can see what’s going on. The night vision camera is a great idea.

  2. I fail to see the news story here. You went out and bought a commercial webcam and installed some software to view it. You didnt exactly re-invent the wheel now did you ? I have been hooking up video cams & webcam’s and streaming video from them for years, maybe I’m missing the point but I thought you actually built something new.

  3. A colleague at my work has been doing exactly this for 2 years – even down to the make of camera, and the software on his Android!

  4. I have the same rig also. One of mine helps me answer the door !
    I would add that a DynDns account helps with viewing when away from home, and point out that using H264WebCam (TimHillOne) software, you add motion-detect&recording to your security system.

  5. heh, I did the same kind of thing, except I wrote some python scripts to kind of emulate a relative movement calibrated in pixels, then popped it on a page with a clickable imagemap over the video stream image so you can click the image to pan to that location feel free to play with it here http://ubingo.libertus.co.uk/cam/ code is here: https://code.launchpad.net/~alanbell/+junk/camcontrol but is a bit hard coded to my scenario (e.g. x and y flipped because mine is mounted inverted) I intend to make it a bit more generic.

  6. Have to agree with Jamie Easterman on this, it’s all readily available open source software and hardware and just a bit of port forwarding on your router to view them outside of your local lan, with maybe a bit dynamic DNS if you’re not on a fixed IP ….I like him thought something innovative had been achieved ….. total non story BBC shame on you !…. you can do it much cheaper with conventional analogue cctv cameras for around £20 (wireless) … Also I fail to see the need to view your children when you’re out of the house because maybe you should have a babysitter or a responsible adult there at the very least ? and if you need to check your children are ok when you have a babysitter there then maybe you should get a babysitter you trust implicitly ?…..

  7. @willrobbo the dcs-932L doesn’t have motorised pan and tilt. There are any number of these foscam clones, most around £35 and with rubbish software (and a minor GPL violation at that) they can be reflashed and hacked, and you can rip apart the HTML interface and poke directly at the CGI files that control it. More for fun than for saving money, it is a nice toy.

  8. No disrespect intended but I’m a little confused. Am I missing something in the detail or is this just lazy journalism on the part of the BBC. As far as I can tell this is not new or innovative. I’ve been monitoring my dogs in their kennel with a Foscam using a very similar setup (TinyCam Monitor Pro on Android – which I find excellent as it allows full remote control of the camera) for a while now. I think I might drop the BBC a line and claim that I discovered penicillin and see if it gets me listed on a quiet news day? 😉

  9. You’ve got the wrong end of the stick mate. The focus isn’t on innovation, it’s on how parents are doing what they can in these tough times to save money and manage using alternative methods as opposed to going out and buying brand new or purpose built products! No disrespect intended, I think you’re taking this personally!

  10. Nothing personal at all. The Foscam IS intended for monitoring and the software IS intended to monitor IP cameras so my point was there’s no real leap of imagination required to use them together to monitor a baby’s room. I have no axe to grind with the author, rather my opinion is directed at the BBC news site for the angle they chose to take. Apologies if I have caused offence. Absolutely not my intention. You cash strapped parents are so touchy.

  11. Is there a way to record video to a server from these cameras? I could get two analogue cameras and a network DVR for around £200 Also, I don’t think you can mount these outside looking at the connections. Although they are “wireless” you still need a power supply, by the time you have done this you could have a wire to a DVR. I can see you are doing this for £50, if there is a way of recording (maybe motion areas?) i would be interested!

  12. Thanks for putting this together.
    I am comfortable tinkering with Windows, IOS & Linux, but your efforts to assemble an off the shelf solution in an effort to save time that new parents simply don’t have is appreciated.
    The very fact that it uses established ideas is a selling point, rather than detrimental.
    I read around for about 20 mins after reading this on the BBC and bought from your link- I hope they at least appreciate the business you’re sending their way.
    Looking forward to any further info you chose to put out.

  13. I was going to go down the Arduino or .Net Gadgeteer route to build a baby monitor as a hobby project. Now that I don’t have too much time on hand I might try this route. What do you think of the Foscam FI8910W as opposed to FI8918W?

  14. The beeb picked up on it as part of a piece on cutting the cost of parenting. The slant they put on it about me building my own video monitor was their choice. I never claimed to be re-inventing the wheel here. If you read the first post about this from a couple of years back, you’ll see I did everything via scripts and the command line. But, if there are already apps and hardware out there that do it better than I can, why not make use of them?

  15. The video feature about this that the BBC did does give the story more context. The focus isn’t on “man builds video cam” but is on “how to save money as a parent”.
    The need to view the kids when out of the house is purely a re-assurance thing. Obviously there is someone there in the house when I am away to look after the kids. I just like to check up on them to make sure they are safely tucked up in bed at night if I didn’t get the chance to help tuck them up myself due to a late meeting or whatever. I love my kids and miss them when I am not around, so it’s just nice to see em from time to time.

  16. As I have said to others, the context of this story given in the video version makes more sense, the web article puts more or a slant on what I am doing, whereas the video puts it in the context of how to save money (i.e. here is one guy who saved money by making his own baby video monitor, rather than buying one).
    At the end of the day though, I guess I was just lucky that my blog popped up in a google by one of the researchers, that’s all.

  17. The IP Cam Viewer app has a built in function to record the stream, though how long it can record the stream I am not sure. If you are a linux user, all you have to do is a “wget” to the videofeed and it will save a file of the what that camera sees until you cancel the wget, which is probobly the best approach.

    There are also variants of the camera I have used that is designed to be used outdoors, but I hear the power cord is uses is really short though – not that I have tried these cameras.

    If you are interested in just recording when there is movement, these cameras have a built in feature to record video when there is movement and to upload the recorded file to a server, so this might meed your needs perfectly.

  18. I guess I should have been cunning and got some deal going with Foscam 😉 but oh well.
    I’ll be writing up some instructions in the next week, with a more detailed step-by-step version for a small fee at a later date. To be honest though, as many people point out, the majority of this is pretty simple so the first set of free instructions will be pretty much all anyone would need.

  19. Not really, it hasn’t got pan and tilt, essential if you have a wriggly baby. Also, you can only access it on one device. The set-up I describe allows you to access it on multiple devices with, crucially, much larger screens so you can actually see if your child’s eyes are open or not. Finally, if one or other of the Motorola devices broke, that’s it, you’d have to buy a whole new set-up. With my solution, you can easily replace or update either the camera of whatever device you are using to view it with.

  20. I’ve not used the FI8910W, a quick Google seems to show that the main change is the IR cut out, so you get more realistic daytime colours which isn’t that much of a big deal for me, the colours always seemed fine on the FI8918W. Looks like IP Web Cam supports that FI8910W though, so it should work fine.
    If you read my other posts on this, you’ll see I tried using an old thin-client PC and a webcam with FFmpeg and motion. It just wasn’t reliable enough, crashing after a week and the audio going horribly out of sync. I’ve had one of the Foscam’s running for over three months with no re-boot and the video and audio was still in sync and near real-time.

  21. Like lots of others I set up a similar config some time ago to monitor our (then) newborn.Unlike others, me included, you took the time and effort to help others save lots of money, so good on you. Ignore the knockers.

    I have a Foscam FI8910W accessible on two iPads, iPhone, Android phone, PIP on two TVs and to two Macbooks. I’ve also granted access to Grandma so she can check on her grandson from 10,000 miles away.

    One piece of freeware which may help Jimmy Whoo (above) is Vitamin D which adds rule based recording. So yes – motion detection.

    Again good on you for sharing and although a few see the BBC report as none-news anything that helps others save money in these tough times has to be good news. Not too much of that around is there?

  22. This seems like a popular pass-time for geek dads – I have also done something similar although I took a slightly different approach – I documented it at http://hackingthetrendnet312w.blogspot.co.uk/

    I use re-purposed O2 Jogglers running Ubuntu to display a live feed in the kitchen and lounge and modified the firmware on the camera to provide visual meters showing the noise in the room. Using zoneminder I was then able to monitor these meters to automate recording whenever there is a noise in the room – this allows us to review whether the baby had a disturbed nights sleep. I am in the process of implementing MQTT in the camera to send activity and noise related information back to a server where other aspects of the house are also controlled (lighting, heating, alarm, irrigation etc).

    Another benefit of using zoneminder is it can be configured to be a lot more secure then simply exposing the IP camera directly onto the internet for remote viewing.

    We are able to view the baby on a wide range of devices including the iPad, laptop, PS3 and pretty much anything else which can handle streaming media from wherever we choose. As a dad who frequently has to travel for work this allows me to check in on the little one after mum has popped him to bed.

  23. Great Stuff!!

    I just found your article on the BBC and immediately showed my partner… She was in total disbelief that there are two of us out there!!

    I did exactly the same thing as you with two Foscam & Tenvis IP cameras earlier this year. My son Jack is now 10 months old. These IP cameras are very cheap yet still very effective. The cheapest being the Tenvis which was about £30 from Ebay and had done the trick, being very similar firmware to the Foscam.
    Neither are the best quality image but well worth it. The IP CAM Viewer free on Android Market didn’t support audio too well on the Tenvis, but the pro version works just fine.
    I’m good with web development (PHP etc) but I’ve never developed an app for any market place… It would be great if someone out there could develop an app especially for the purpose of baby monitoring, with alerts when ‘high or low’ sound monitoring etc.
    The tenvis/foscam cameras are great in themselves but let’s be honest are tricky to set-up for a novice, especially with port forwarding etc, ddns or static IP for external viewing.
    Disguising a camera as a toy or teddy wouldn’t be too much of a problem to ‘baby-fi’ the camera, a pre-configured multi-purpose Andriod tablet/viewer would be beneficial too.

    I’d love to now how you get on!

  24. As a CCTV engineer and specialist in infra red illumination technologies there is no way I would point Infra Red LED lights at my children. Should they decide to glare into the camera for any lenghth of time this will have an adverse effect on their retina. google up Nominal Occular Hazard Distance.
    Would you glare into a bright pulsating white light torch for any period of time? May as well peer at the sun for a while…

  25. Hi Jason
    Given that the camera is primarily used when they are asleep (i.e. eyes closed), the dangers are much reduced. If they are awake and their eyes are open, we tend to get them up fairly quickly. I would imagine them staring at the TV for hours on end is much more damaging to their eye sight long term (not that we allow them to do this either, but they will as they get older I guess). Thanks for alerting me to this, however.

  26. Jason – with all due respect, you’re showing a lack of knowledge rather than sharing your extensive CCTV experience. It’s fine to question things openly or have an opinion, but if you give pseudo science with a “knowledgeable attitude” it will mislead others.

    Whilst admittedly the effects of infra red light on childrens eyes lacks research, much has been studied about the effect of infra red on a human eye at much higher orders of intensity than this.

    If you did the research you’d find that you’re comparing apples and pears. White light is not infra red light any more than gamma radiation is.

    For the record, from my own research I concluded that It’s generally considered safe, obviously there’s a minimum distance, you should always have the camera a good distance away from the eye, as far as possible. And of course turn it off when you dont need it. You can get a good idea of the amount of power the LEDs are using by the power rating on the camera. It’s pretty low with these foscams. An outdoor camera would be higher.

    The reader should look into the studies done and decide for themselves, There’s plenty documented on google on the topic.

  27. @Joe I’ve never bothered to check. It isn’t fabulous with the Android app. If you access the feed directly with vlc it is acceptable. But probably not above 15 fps. I’ll check tonight with FFmpeg.

  28. Hey I do exactly the same for monitoring my new puppy. I have the same cam and software and monitor her sleeping. Means I can keep an eye on her and still get work done in my home office upstairs – knowing I can get some more work down if she sleeps more than expected. Also has helped with getting confidence in leaving her alone whilst we go out – can use 3G or a WiFi hotspot to check-in on her 🙂

  29. This is really helpful, thank you. If there is a PDF available that would be brilliant.

    Re some of the comments made, I think the target audience needs to be considered here. The majority of readers of the Bbc article are unlikely to be confident enough of their tech and it skills to set this up, however they will own one or more of the devices it can be used on, and with a small amount of cash and direction they can set it up.

    My view I’d it’s a great little idea. Thanks again

  30. Hi

    Like many commenters above I have the same setup – Foscam camera, VLC and IP cam viewer on my Android.

    I’ll admit to being slightly miffed that someone should get on BBC for doing the same thing, but I’m over that now.

    One extra piece of information you don’t have and might find useful is this little driver for Windows: http://ip-webcam.appspot.com/
    Basically it allows you to use that remote camera as if it were connected to your local PC. I use it to show our little one sleeping when on Skype with the Grandmothers and they just love that.

    Congrats on your coverage, ignore the moaners.

    Aidan

  31. It is great for me to visit the blog. I think it’s a wonderful thing to observe for a baby child. The explanation with which you have just drawn up is really good and I would like to have it constructed in my home too. Expenses will be cheaper or higher have to answer this too, and working on a laptop it can be worked as you have explained, and it works on the battery or on the electricity.

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  34. Looking to do something similar myself, but as one of the main purposes of a baby monitor is real time monitoring, how do you know if baby cries and you can’t hear them?. Without a dedicated monitor that’s always on (like an off the shelf baby monitor, which as far as I can see, none use WiFi), how would you know via the camera? Is this the push notifications mentioned? My concern is we have just completed a recent house renovation and from the new kitchen you can’t hear toddler number one occassionaly crying out in the evening. Baby number two, due in a couple months, is obviously more likely to be crying in the evening, do its a deal breaker. I suppose I could buy a cheap Chinese import type android tablet, just to use as a dedicated monitor, but that kinda defeats the object of keeping cost down…

  35. We partnered a Foscam with a standard Angelcare baby monitor.

    I still think it’s a cheaper and better option than the baby monitors with cameras, but I would caution anyone doing this to take some simple steps to ensure security.

    There were some reports of sick people hurling abuse at babies over webcams they’d broken into: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-23693460

    Change the admin username, set a strong password and change the port it’s accessed externally from.

  36. For the earlier comment about not being able to hear a crying baby. I use a laptop (running Ubuntu, but any Linux variant will do) and I run a script that reloads hourly. All it does is access the video feed from two separate Foscam cameras via VLC. The video feed has audio and video and VLC will happily play both. Thus the two audio feeds from our two cameras (one per kid) are merged and easy to hear. If it helps, I can post the script here – it also can fairly easily be done via a batch script in Windows if you needed to (I think). Audio quality via VLC is way better than the IP Cam monitor app I mentioned using,

  37. And in relation to the security issue, yup, I had come across that article. Foscam released a firmware update to try to fix some of the security issues, but, if you are going to expose an internal network device to the web, I’d really hope you are using non-default usernames and passwords! Good point though, strong passwords and non-default ports are the best solution here.

  38. Many thanks. Gives me an idea of using an old smartphone as a dedicated screen, which could be always on. Even a cheapie tablet will do the trick. Does your script work over the network to restart the camera or just on the laptop to start the feed?
    Great idea, thanks..

  39. Hiya
    It doesn’t restart the camera, just the video app playing the stream, since otherwise a noticeable audio delay occurs. With a smartphone or tablet, there is no app that I am aware that can play two audio streams simultaneously – hence I went down the laptop route. You can probably pick up an old laptop for £50 / $50 from eBay that you can pop Ubuntu on and then use my script on.

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