Avoid Awkward Video Conference Situations With PIR And Arduino

Working from home with regular video meetings has its challenges, especially if you add kids to the mix. To help avoid embarrassing situations, [Charitha Jayaweera] created Present!, a USB device to automatically turn of your camera and microphone if you suddenly need to leave your computer to maintain domestic order.

Present consists of just a PIR sensor and Arduino in a 3D printed enclosure to snap onto your monitor. When the PIR sensor no longer detects someone in range, it sends a notification over serial to a python script running on the PC to switch off the camera and microphone on Zoom (or another app). It can optionally turn these back on when you are seated again. The cheap HC-SR501 PIR module’s range can also be adjusted with a trimpot for your specific scenario. It should also be possible to shrink the device to the size of the PIR module, with a small custom PCB or one of the many tiny Arduino compatible dev boards.

For quick manual muting, check out the giant 3D printed mute button. Present was an entry into the Work from Home Challenge, part of the 2021 Hackaday Prize.

10 thoughts on “Avoid Awkward Video Conference Situations With PIR And Arduino

  1. This feels like it has a higher chance of failing to shut off the cam/mic than just setting a hot key on your keyboard and training yourself to hit that key when you walk away. Also feels way too complicated to trust that it won’t fail and subject your coworkers/boss to an embarrassing domestic issue.

    Alternatively you could go the way car maker’s went in detecting people in seats and put a weighted switch under the cushion of your office chair tied wired to a cheap blue tooth keypad. Then when you get up it hits the switch/hot key and toggles the cam off.

    Do they make switches that only make contact in the Middle position, ie only makes contact once and opens again despite being still pressed? That way you don’t have to worry about the key staying pressed the whole time.

    1. “setting a hot key on your keyboard and training yourself to hit that key when you walk away”

      Already done, superkey + L locks my PC when I walk away so it could also mute mics and turn off cameras. Training that reflex is part of clear desk and data security policies.

  2. There are lots of hacks like this recently. However they mostly depend on the keyboard shortcuts and ability of specific application to receive them. This might stop working once the telco app window looses focus. That might lead to even more embarrasment, since the app might be running on background, streaming while your custom hardware switch is ignored.

    I wonder if linux kernel (or pipewire) has solution for this. It should have some general stop feature for multimedia inputs. Similar as rfkill, but for media. I think there is some grub commandline option to globaly disable webcams on linux. But i am not sure if it can be switched once system is booted or even during chat, without crashing the app.

    1. He appears to have thought of that. The python script selects the Zoom window and brings it to the front before executing camera/mic on/off command. His laptop is running Win10. It pays to watch any video, and read the logs before commenting.

      1. That is cool, but not what i meant. What if zoom changes the shortcut in new version? What if your boss tells you to start using google meet or jitsi. You should cutoff the multimedia input at the OS level to be sure and futureproof.

  3. The easiest way to avoid “embarrassing situations” is by not showing off your living room. Point your camera to the wall, not to the door, and use a green screen (cheap synthetic felt will do). This will also save a lot of bandwidth and eliminate that zombie skin color. And put on some pants. ;)

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