Hacking a Pogoplug into a $20 PBX

The Pogoplug Series 4 is a little network attached device that makes your external drives accessible remotely. Under the hood of this device is an ARM processor running at 800 MHz, which is supported by the Linux kernel. If you’re looking to build your own PBX on the cheap, [Ward] runs us through the process. Since the Pogoplug 4 is currently available for about $20, it’s a cheap way to play with telephony.

Step one is to convert the Pogoplug to Debian, which mostly requires following instructions carefully. After the Pogoplug is booting Debian, the Incredible PBX bundle can be installed. We’ve seen this bundle running on a Raspberry Pi in the past. Incredible PBX’s preconfigured setup based on Asterisk and FreePBX gives a ton of functionality out of the box.

With your $20 PBX running, there’s a lot that can be done. Google’s Voice service allows unlimited free calling to the USA and Canada. With Internet connectivity, you get email notifications for voicemails, and can query WolframAlpha by voice.

First Responder Call-In Using Google Voice

fire

Firefighters and firehouses are not as glamorous as your kindergarten self would lead you to believe. Most firefighters in the US are volunteers, and most firefighters don’t live in the firehouse. Instead of hanging out at the fire house all the time, they use a call-in system that displays a list on a web page saying, ‘Joe is coming to the fire house’ or ‘Jack will meet you at the scene’. It’s highly efficient given the budgets they’re working with, but as [Andy] discovered, this same system can be replicated with Google Voice.

The system relies on a Google Voice account that’s set to have all calls go straight to voicemail. The missed call sends off a voicemail notification to the Gmail inbox, effectively turning the Gmail inbox into a call-in system for free.

In testing, [Andy] noticed the Gmail inbox doesn’t quite refresh fast enough for his purposes, so he whipped up a simple webpage with a little bit of PHP to parse the emails and display everything automatically. The idea being that this webpage could just be displayed on a monitor in the station, waiting for the next call.

Another improvement [Andy] points out could be setting up several numbers, each for different status codes. It’s an astonishing simple system, and now something that can be replicated for free.

Controlling a terminal with Google Voice

sms

For how awesome Google Voice is, we’re surprised we haven’t seen this before. [Steve] is using Google Voice to run commands on just about any Linux box.

Google Voice doesn’t have an official API, and existing unofficial APIs weren’t up to snuff for [Steve]‘s project. He ended up writing his own that checks his unread message inbox every minute and looks for new text messages beginning with the phrase, ‘Cmd’. If a series of checks pass – the text coming from a known phone number and a proper terminal command – the command runs and sends the a text back indicating success or failure.

While [Steve] probably won’t be playing nethack or Zork via SMS anytime soon, we can see this being very useful for a Raspi home automation task. Just send a text message and a properly configured Linux box can open your garage door, turn on the lights, or even start a webcam.

Building a PBX setup around the Raspberry Pi

We’re not sure why this use didn’t immediately come to mind when we got our hands on a Raspberry Pi board, but the hardware is almost perfect as a PBX system. PBX, or Private Branch Exchange, is basically an in-house phone system. This guide which [Ward] put together shows you how to do some interesting things with it.

When talking about PBX setups the most common software package is Asterisk. That’s what’s at work here, rolled up with a bunch of other helpful software in an RPi targeted distro called Incredible PBX. All it takes to get up and running is to partition and burn the image to an SD like any other RPi distro. The configuration ends up being most of the work, starting with changing the default password, and moving on to customizing the environment to match your phone numbers and your needs. As with PBX setups on other embedded Linux devices, Google Voice is your best friend. The service will set you up with a free phone number.

This guide doesn’t delve into hardware connected hand sets. You’ll need to use a SIP phone. But that’s easy enough as there are free apps for most smart phones that will do the trick.

[Thanks Jamie]

Free home phone method uses parts we’re familiar with

[Headsheez] found a way to get his home phone service for free. He’s using a set of tools that we’re familiar with to route service from a typical analog phone system (which involves the extensions wired into your home) through a server to the Internet. On the hardware side of things this starts out with an Analog Telephone Adapter which translates the analog signal for use in a PBX system. He uses a copy of the open source PBX project called Asterisk which we’ve also seen used on devices like routers and the SheevaPlug. The actual telephone number comes from a Google voice account which for now is a free service but there’s no guarantee that it will remain that way in the future.

This should provide seamless service just like you’re used to with a traditional home phone line. There’s even caller ID for the number – but not the name – for incoming calls. The one big feature that is missing from this setup is the ability to call 911 for emergencies.

[via Reddit]

Voice controlled LED sign

120 LEDs and NerdKit, check. Python and appropriate Google Voice module, check. Blend on high for 2 minutes, bake for an hour at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Your soufflé is done, whoops, we mean your voice controlled LED sign is done. Leave a voicemail on Davis’ Google Voice account that starts with “message” and it will be displayed for all to read within a matter of minutes. We think: make it bigger and add a security code before you can leave a message, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for some over sized message fun.

[via Make]

Create a temporary phone number with inumbr

Maybe you don’t want that one person that has barged into your life to know your private phone number? Could be a salesperson or a co-worker who you aren’t that impressed with, but have to get in contact with. Check out inumbr.

inumbr is a free online service that gives US users the ability to set up a unique phone number, have it forwarded to any number within the US and then have it set to expire without a trace when finished with it. The unique inumbr’s are never reused, and can be extended if longer terms are required. Users choose from a list of 22 area codes from major US cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, select an expiry date and set a number that it should be forwarded to. When the term is up, the number is expired from the system, and never used again for any other user. If you wish to use the number at a later date, you can log into the inumbr system and reactivate it.

As we are becoming more and more mobile and security conscious, the desire for these types of services grows. A phone number can now be given out at will, with security and privacy remaining intact. Google Voice is a major player in this arena. A somewhat similar service, they allow for a unique number with voice mail to forward to other numbers at will, creating a masked or unidentified private number that can be used to give out to 3rd parties. inumbr makes this process simpler with the ability to cut off and reactivate numbers as desired.