[Michael Lynch] has been a solo developer for over three years now, and has been carefully cataloguing his attempts at generating revenue for himself ever since making the jump to being self-employed. Success is not just hard work; it is partly knowing when the pull the plug on an idea, and [Micheal] has been very open about his adventures in this area. He shares the good news about a DIY project of his that ended up becoming a successful product, complete with dollar amounts and frank observations.
About a year ago, we covered a project he shared called TinyPilot, which is an effective KVM-over-IP device, accessible over the web, that could be built with about $100 worth of parts. [Micheal] found it to be a fun and useful project, and decided to see if he could sell kits. However, he admits he didn’t have high expectations, and his thoughts are probably pretty familiar to most hardware types:
I questioned whether there was a market for this. Why would anyone buy this device from me? It was just a collection of widely available hardware components.
Well, it turns out that he was onto something, and the demand for his device became immediately clear. He’s since given TinyPilot more features, an attractive case, and even provides a support plan for commercial customers. This is an excellent reminder that sometimes, what is being sold isn’t the collection of parts itself. Sometimes, what’s being sold is a solution to a problem people have, and those people are time-poor and willing to pay for something that just works.
It’s great to see [Michael] find some success as a solo developer, but his yearly wrap-up covers much more than just the success of TinyPilot as a product, so be sure to check it out if you’re at all interested in the journey of working for yourself.
For administering many computers at once, an IP KVM is an invaluable piece of equipment that makes it possible to get the job done over the network without having to haul a keyboard, monitor, and mouse around to each computer. The only downside is that they can get pricey, unless of course you can roll one out based on the Raspberry Pi and the PiKVM image for little more than the cost of the Pi itself.
The video linked below shows how to set all of this up, which involves flashing the image and then setting up the necessary hardware. The build shows an option for using HDMI over USB, but another option using the CSI bus would allow for control over options like video resolution and color that a USB HDMI dongle doesn’t allow for. It also makes it possible to restart the computer and do things like configure BIOS or boot from removable media, which is something that would be impossible with a remote desktop solution like VNC.
Remote access is great, but if the machine stops booting, ceases to connect to the network, or needs low-level interaction like BIOS settings or boot management, remote access is worthless because it’s only available once the host computer is up and running. The usual solution is to drag a keyboard and monitor to the machine in question for physical access.
For most people, swapping cables in this way is an infrequent task at best. But for those who work more closely with managing hardware or developing software, the need to plug and unplug a keyboard and monitor into machines that otherwise run headless can get tiresome. The modern solution is KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) over IP, but commercial options are expensive. [Michael Lynch]’s TinyPilot on the other hand clocks in at roughly $100 of parts, including a Raspberry Pi and USB HDMI capture device. It does have to drop the ‘M’ from KVM (meaning it does not support a mouse yet) but the rest of it hits all the bases, and does it all from a web browser.
What exactly does TinyPilot do? It provides remote access via web browser, but the device is an independent piece of hardware that — from the host computer’s point of view — is no different from a physical keyboard and monitor. That means keyboard and video access works before the host machine even boots, so even changing something like BIOS settings is no problem.
[Michael] demonstrates his design in the video embedded below, but we encourage you to check out the project page for a fascinating exploration of all the challenges that were part of TinyPilot’s development.
The Arduino platform is one of the most versatile microcontroller boards available, coming in a wide variety of shapes and sizes perfect for everything from blinking a few LEDs to robotics to entire home automation systems. One of its more subtle features is the ability to use its serial libraries to handle keyboard and mouse duties. While this can be used for basic HID implementations, [Nathalis] takes it a step further by using a series of Arduinos as a KVM switch; although admittedly without the video and mouse functionality yet.
To start, an Arduino Uno accepts inputs from a keyboard which handles the incoming serial signals from the keyboard. From there, two Arduino Pro Micros are attached in parallel and receive signals from the Uno to send to their respective computers. The scroll lock key, which doesn’t do much of anything in modern times except upset Excel spreadsheeting, is the toggle switch between the two outputs. Everything is standard USB HID, so it should be compatible with pretty much everything out there. All of the source code and schematics are available in the project’s repository for anyone who wants to play along at home.
[Radishmouse], despite the handle, is not a mouse guy. Give him a keyboard and he will get around just fine in any OS or program. As it is, he’s got a handful of ThinkPads, each running a different OS. He wanted to be able to switch his nice mechanical keyboard between two laptops without the hassle of unplugging and replugging the thing. His solution: a DIY KVM foot switch.
He’s been learning about electronics and 3D design, and this problem was the perfect opportunity to dig in and get his hands dirty. After learning enough about the USB protocol and switches to figure out what had to happen, he made a prototype from a pâte tub. Though undeniably classy, this vessel would never survive the rigors of foot-stomping in feline territory. Fortunately, [radishmouse] has also been learning about 3D design. After some trial and error, he came up with a sturdy, curvy 3D-printed two-piece enclosure. We particularly like the blocks built into the bottom piece that shore up the USB ports.
An essential tool of many sysadmins is a portable terminal ready to plug into an ailing rack-mounted server to administer first aid. At their simplest, they are simply a monitor and keyboard on a trolley, but more often they will be a laptop pre-loaded with tools for the purpose. Sysadmins will hang on tenaciously to now-ancient laptops for this application because they possess a hardware serial port.
[Frank Adams] has taken a different route with his emergency server crash cart, because while he’s used an old laptop he hasn’t hung onto it for its original hardware. Instead, he’s used a Teensy and an LVDS driver board to replace the motherboards of two old Dell Latitude laptops, one of which is a simple KVM device and the other of which is a laptop in its own right featuring a Raspberry Pi 3. He’s produced a video as well, which we’ve placed below the break.
There was a time when laptop display panels were seen as unhackable, but the advent of cheap driver boards has meant that conversions such as this one have become a relatively well-worn path. The job he’s done here is a particularly well-executed one though, making good use of the generous amount of space to be found in an older business-class laptop. There isn’t a battery because this application doesn’t demand one, however, with the battery compartment intact it does not seem impossible that a suitable charger/monitor board could be included along with a boost converter to provide his 12V supply.
This isn’t the first Pi laptop in a re-used commercial machine’s case we’ve seen, there was also this Sony Vaio.
Sometimes you have a whole bunch of computers that you need to work with, and having a keyboard, monitor, and mouse for each one becomes too much to deal with. There are a multitude of solutions to this problem, but [Fmstrat] went the hacker route, and built their own.
The build is a rather unique way of controlling PCs remotely, but it does the job. A Raspberry Pi 3 is pressed into service as the core of the operation. It’s accessible over IP for remote control. Video is captured from the controlled machines through the combination of an HDMI-to-S-Video adapter and an analog video capture card plugged into the Pi. Keystrokes are sent in a roundabout way, first sent to a Pi Zero over a USB-to-Serial adapter. From there, the Pi acts as an emulated mouse and keyboard to the PC under control.
One caveat of remotely controlling computers over a network is that if things go pearshaped, it can become necessary to power cycle the machine. [Fmstrat] deals with this by fitting a relay board to the Pi 3, which is connected to the reset buttons of the machines under control.
It may not be the quickest, easiest, or industry standard way of controlling remote computers, but it works. [Fmstrat] tells us this build was primarily designed to get around the fact that there aren’t any decent cheap IP-KVM systems, and consumer motherboards don’t support the IPMI standard that would otherwise be useful here.
We particularly like the hard-wired relays for rebooting a machine – great for when a network dropout is stopping Wake-on-LAN packets from achieving their goal. While the conversion of HDMI outputs into analog video for capture is unusual and somewhat costly on a per-machine basis, it’s functional and gives the system the ability to work with any machine capable of outputting a basic analog video signal. With the Pi Zero keyboard emulation and analog video capture, we could see this being used with everything from modern computers to vintage 80s hardware. If you’ve ever needed to control an Amiga 2000 remotely for whatever reason, this could be the way to do it.