At some point or another, many of us have tried to see how much of our digital lives could be accessed from the comfort of a terminal. We’ve tried Alpine for email, W3M for web browsing, and even watched Star Wars via telnet. But, in the increasingly socially-distant world we find ourselves in today, we find ourselves asking: what about video calling?
As you may have guessed, [Andy]’s solution replaces the conventional video stream we’re all used to with realtime animated ASCII art. The system works by capturing a video stream from a webcam, “compressing” each pixel by converting it into an ASCII character, and stuffing the entire frame into a TCP packet. Each client is connected to a server (meeting room?) which coordinates the packets, sending them back and forth appropriately.
As impressive as it is impractical, the only area in which the project lacks is in audio. [Andy] suggests using Discord to solve that, but here’s hoping we see subtitles in version 2! Will AsciiZOOM be replacing our favorite videoconferencing suite any time soon? No. Are we glad it exists? You betcha.
The hack consists of a mirror attached to a clothespeg with a flexible piece of wire. This simple device can then be clipped to the screen of a laptop, and the mirror adjusted to allow the webcam to view the user’s desk. By positioning it correctly, the user can both show their desk and their face together, in split screen. It’s a great way to explain something while giving viewers a clear shot of your face and your hands at the same time.
It’s not exactly complicated, but a nifty hack that could prove useful to anyone trying to teach without having to muck about with complicated digital handwriting setups or multiple webcams. There’s a shortage at the moment, anyway. If you’re looking for a way to chat with your less tech savvy relatives, consider repurposing an old Android tablet. Video after the break.
With social distancing it can be harder to stay in touch with our relatives, especially those who are elderly and not particularly tech-savvy. Looking for a solution to that end for his own grandmother, [Steve] came up with the idea of using an inexpensive used tablet and a mobile data plan in order to mail her a “video phone” that works out of the box.
Since the tablet is configured to use cellular networks rather than WiFi, it requires no setup process at all to the recipient. And with the Android version of Skype, it’s possible to configure it so that calls are automatically picked up and video chat enabled. That way, whoever gets the tablet after it’s prepared doesn’t have to tap a single button on the screen in order to receive a call.
[Steve] has also developed the simple idea into a full-fledged easy-to-follow tutorial so that just about anyone is able to replicate the process for their own loved ones. And if you’re still having any trouble with it, there’s a team of volunteers right on the website who can help you with tech support. Just remember to disinfect whatever device you’re sending, since viruses can typically stick to surfaces like plastic and glass for longer.
Now, if showing up to your relatives as a disembodied video screen doesn’t cut it for you, then you might want to send them something more substantial like this cute little telepresence robot that can drive around on a desk.
[Johnny Chung Lee], having recently moved from Seattle to Mountain View, wanted a way to keep in touch with his fiancé who would not be relocating for several more months. While most of us would likely consider purchasing a pair of web cams to keep in touch, he decided to do things his own way. Using an iRobot Create and a netbook, both about $250 apiece, he constructed a remote-controlled video chat robot that he can steer around his former abode from 1,000 miles away. While $500 might seem expensive at first, [Johnny] reminds us that commercial versions likely run into the thousands of dollars.
The whole setup is controlled using custom software to manage the movement of the robot, which can be used in conjunction with freely available videoconferencing applications, such as Skype. He also modified the iRobot’s charging station to charge both the robot and the netbook simultaneously – a process he explains, but precedes with several disclaimers. Like some of his previous projects we have covered, he has made the C# source used in this project available for download on his site, along with documentation for both the control software and dock modifications.
Check out video of the robot in action after the jump.
[Chris Harrison] and [Scott E. Hudson] have built a novel system for faking a 3D video chat session. Their implementation separates the image of the chat participant from the background. They then dynamically reposition the video based on the movement of the viewers head. Their using the OpenCV library to do facial recognition (just like the Laughing Man demo). The 3D effect is very similar to what you see in [Johnny Lee]’s Wiimote headtracking. A video of the pseudo 3D chat is embedded below.