Automatic On Air Light Prevents Distractions During Online Meetings

Two "On Air" signs

Remote working has become so normal that even important meetings are now routinely held online. But for those working from home there’s always the risk of pets or flatmates entering the room right when you’re in a heated argument with your boss or presenting your results to an important client. To overcome this problem, [Hans Scharler] designed a system that lights up a big “ON AIR” sign whenever he’s in an online meeting. Although his cat might still disregard it, any human housemates will now know not to disturb him.

The inside of an "On Air" sign with an ESP32 and an LED strip inside[Hans] built a similar device out of spare parts back in 2020, but completely redesigned it to make a more robust version. The basic idea is simple: the sign is illuminated whenever [Hans]’s webcam is enabled, as he is then presumably in a meeting. A few lines of Python code detect the webcam’s state and send the result to ThingSpeak, an IoT service that can be hooked up to various types of gadgets. In this case, the online service sends a signal to an ESP32 hidden inside the sign to turn on an LED string. Those LEDs consume very little power, so they can be driven directly from one of the ESP32’s GPIO ports.

The whole system is powered by a 5V USB power supply and can be placed on a shelf or mounted on a wall, giving your room a bit of a vintage radio studio vibe. Modern IoT services make this kind of project much easier than before: back in 2011, [Matt] probably had to write a lot more code to make a similar Arduino-powered light work.

6 thoughts on “Automatic On Air Light Prevents Distractions During Online Meetings

  1. We used Alexa Dots to control WIFI lamp sockets to control different color “flame” LEDs – Blue for phone and Red for Zoom – placed strategically near AC outlets close to either the home office or the separately set up library (Zoom room). Quick and dirty, off the shelf, and it’s much more effective than the previously used RF controlled multi-color LED pool lights.

  2. This seems a lot classier than my current method of “stick a mitten over my door knob so my parents don’t Fairly OddParents my door down while I’m recording”…

  3. “I need a script that monitors my webcam for activity. This script will then send the status of my webcam to ThingSpeak, a cloud IoT platform”

    Not to be a dick, but why on earth do you need to round-trip a simple status to a “cloud” platform when, presumably, the status you’re reporting is within 50 feet of the light that indicates it?

  4. “Those LEDs consume very little power, so they can be driven directly from one of the ESP32’s GPIO ports.”

    C’mon, if you’re going to make something up after reading the article, make it impressive. Something like “The LEDs retransmit the video from the webcam in NTSC on channel 3”.

    The LEDs are NOT driven directly. The ESP GPIO is driving the data line on the addressable LED strip, as you’d expect.

  5. I have third version of this idea, started years ago. I’ve used the same idea to make the sign working without my attention and now I have all the staff divided into parts: Python code on host (as soon as MacOS doesn’t allow me to read the state, I use its orange dot to detect the state) and a “wireless” point on the wall (made with ESP01S). The spot is orange of voice only and green if video chat enabled (the color code from iOS).

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