BeagleBone Black project spotlight:
By Tara Stratton
The holidays are around the corner, and with them come the fun and excitement of big family gatherings. However, a lot of families are spread across the country and not able to get together for the holidays. That’s why Charles Hamilton developed GrannyCam, a safe, durable videophone that his kids can use to stay in touch with their grandparents, not only during the holiday season but throughout the year. In September, the device received great response and an Editor’s Choice Blue Ribbon from Make Magazine at Maker Faire New York.
GrannyCam is a wireless, portable, one-touch videophone designed to be extremely simple and friendly to operate so seniors and their young grandchildren can video chat anytime. “The project grew from observing my mother and two-year-old son, who struggled with the typical tools—smartphones, computers, tablets —available for speaking to one another. For my mom, now in her 70s, the tools currently available are an enormous challenge: too feature-laden, too complex. For my son, the tools are also challenging, but for slightly different reasons: too easily broken or disconnected, too expensive to handle unsupervised, too fraught with concerns over privacy,” said Charles. GrannyCam enabled Charles’s little boy to speak to his grandma without help so that they can more easily keep in touch. “GrannyCam provides a quick and easy way to share the latest progress in our son’s development and provides an opportunity for increased socialization and improvements in our toddler’s speech.”
GrannyCam’s external design is friendly for both grandmas and toddlers. The hardware is covered in a soft, crocheted shell. A physical button includes an oversized “arcade-style” button for both initiating and accepting a chat session. The button also flashes to alert an end user that they have an incoming call.
The current GrannyCam prototype is built around the Sitara-processor-based BeagleBone Black open-source computer, which connects to an LCD screen, a webcam and a sound card. Devices communicate with each other over Wi-Fi (dongled) via open-source VoIP/SIP software. No cellular connection is planned as part of the design roadmap. Power supply is currently AC, though one of Charles’s next goals is to upgrade to rechargeable DC. Configuration of the devices is done remotely via command line or browser.
Charles says he chose the BeagleBone Black to power GrannyCam because its high performance enables delivery of simultaneous voice and video for chat sessions, and its truly open source design provides significant advantages for the long-term design criteria of the device. After trying out Ångström and Debian distributions, Charles finally settled on Ubuntu 12.04 as it is the most stable in handling the video chat client software. Charles said he is currently also investigating a port of Tizen onto BeagleBone Black with a port of a SIP client package as well. He is hoping these options may lead to a better solution with higher data throughput, viz., smoother video and better audio quality.
Charles was able to rapidly prototype GrannyCam and is now generating user feedback and gauging interest in the device as a potential product. His long-term vision for GrannyCam is to create a product that is scalably manufactured and leverages open-source hardware and software. The product path includes a design for a modular platform that can add sensors to make the device a more integrated part of the home monitoring landscape for seniors.
For more information about GrannyCam, visit http://hudsonwerks.com/current-projects/grannycam/. You can also check out Charles’s blogs on DIY electronics and hardware products as well as tech trends in health and wellness.