Raspberry Pi Camera with Smarts — Cloud or Local?

[Mark West] gave an interesting presentation at last year’s GOTO Copenhagen conference. He shows how he took a simple Raspberry Pi Zero webcam and expanded it with AI. He actually added the intelligent features in two different ways: on in the Amazon cloud and another using the Intel Modvidius NCS USB stick directly connected to the USB. You can see the video below.

Local motion detection uses some open source software. You simply configure it using a text file and it even handles the video streaming. However, at that point, you just have a web camera — not amazing, nor very cost effective. However, you get a lot of false alarms with the motion detection software. A random cat walking past, clouds, trees, or even rain would push [Mark] an email and after 250 alert e-mails a day, [Mark] decided to make something better.

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High-Style Ball Balancing Platform

If IKEA made ball-balancing PID robots, they’d probably look like this one.

This [Johan Link] build isn’t just about style. A look under the hood reveals not the standard, off-the-shelf microcontroller development board you might expect. Instead, [Johan] designed and built his own board with an ATmega32 to run the three servos that control the platform. The entire apparatus is made from a dozen or so 3D-printed parts that interlock to form the base, the platform, and the housing for the USB webcam that’s perched on an aluminum tube. From that vantage point, the camera’s images are analyzed with OpenCV and the center of the ball is located. A PID loop controls the three servos to center the ball on the platform, or razzle-dazzle it a little by moving the ball in a controlled circle. It’s quite a build, and the video below shows it in action.

We’ve seen a few balancing platforms before, but few with such style. This Stewart platform comes close, and this juggling platform gets extra points for closing the control loop with audio feedback. And for juggling, of course.

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Cheap ESP32 Webcam

Looking for a cheap way to keep an eye on something? [Kevin Hester] pointed us to a way to make a WiFi webcam for under $10. This uses one of the many cheap ESP32 dev boards available, along with the Internet of Things platform PlatformIO and a bit of code that creates an RTSP server. This can be accessed by any software that supports this streaming protocol, and a bit of smart routing could put it on the interwebs. [Kevin] claims that the ESP32 camera dev boards he uses can be found for less than $10, but we found that most of them cost about $15. Either way, that’s cheaper than most commercial streaming cameras.

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Open Data Cam Combines Camera, GPU, and Neural Network in an Artisanal DIY Cereal Box

The engineers and product designers at [moovel lab] have created the Open Data Cam – an AI camera platform that can identify and count objects as they move through its field of view – along with an open source guide for making your own.

Step one: get out your ruler and utility knife. In this world of ubiquitous 3D-printers they’ve taken a decidedly low-tech approach to the project’s enclosure: a cut, folded, and zip-tied plastic box, with a cardboard frame inside to hold the electronic bits. It’s “splash proof” and certainly cheap to make, but we’re a little worried about cooling and physical protection for the electronics inside, as they’re not exactly cheap and rugged components.

So what’s inside? An Nvidia Jetson TX2 board, a LiPo battery with some charging circuitry, and a standard webcam. The special sauce, however, is the software, which is available on GitHub. [Moovel lab]’s engineers have put together a nice-looking wifi-accessible mobile UI for marking the areas where you’d like the software to identify and tally objects. The actual object detection and identification tasks are performed by the speedy YOLO neural network, a task the Nvidia board’s GPU is of course well suited for.

As the Open Data Cam’s unblinking glass eye gazes upon our urban environments, it will log its observations in an ancient and mysterious language: CSV. It’s up to you, human, to interpret this information and use it for good.

A summary video and build time lapse are embedded after the break.

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Seeing a Webcam’s PCBs in a Whole Different Light

When it comes to inspection of printed circuits, most of us rely on the Mark I eyeball to see how we did with the soldering iron or reflow oven. And even when we need the help of some kind of microscope, our inspections are still firmly in the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Pushing the frequency up a few orders of magnitude and inspecting PCBs with X-rays is a thing, though, and can reveal so much more than what the eye can see.

Unlike most of us, [Tom Anderson] has access to X-ray inspection equipment in the course of his business, so it seemed natural to do an X-ray enhanced teardown and PCB inspection. The victim for this exercise was nothing special – just a cheap WiFi camera of the kind that seems intent on reporting back to China on a regular basis. The guts are pretty much what you’d expect: a processor board, a board for the camera, and an accessory board for a microphone and IR LEDs. In the optical part of the spectrum they look pretty decent, with just some extra flux and a few solder blobs left behind. But under X-ray, the same board showed more serious problems, like vias and through-holes with insufficient solder. Such defects would be difficult to pick up in optical inspection, and it’s fascinating to see the internal structure of both the board and the components, especially the BGA chips.

If you’re stuck doing your inspections the old-fashioned way, fear not – we have tips aplenty for optical inspection. But don’t let that stop you from trying X-ray inspection; start with this tiny DIY X-ray tube and work your way up from there.

Thanks for the tip, [Jarrett].

Printed It: Logitech C270 Conversion

One of the most practical applications for a home 3D printer is the ability to produce replacement parts; why wait a week for somebody to ship you a little plastic widget when you’ve got a machine that can manufacture a facsimile of it in a couple of hours? But what if your skills and passion for the smell of melting PLA push you even farther? You might move on from printing replacement parts to designing and building whole new devices and assemblies. Arguably this could be considered “peak” 3D printing: using a printer to create new devices which would otherwise be difficult or impractical for an individual to manufacture by more traditional means.

A perfect example is this fantastic total conversion for the Logitech C270 webcam designed by Luc Eeckelaert. Officially he calls it a “tripod”, and perhaps that’s how the design started, but the final product is clearly much more than that. It puts the normally monitor-mounted Logitech camera onto an articulated arm, greatly improving the device’s usability. The conversion even includes the ability to manually adjust the focus, a feature the original hardware doesn’t have. It turns the affordable and widely available Logitech C270 into an excellent camera to have on the workbench for documenting projects, or pointing at the bed of your 3D printer.

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Chromebook Trades Camera for WiFi Freedom

There are a number of companies now providing turn-key computers that meet the Free Software Foundation’s criteria for their “Respects Your Freedom” certification. This means, in a general sense, that the computer is guaranteed not to spy on you or otherwise do anything else you didn’t explicitly ask it to. Unfortunately these machines often have a hefty premium tacked on, making it an unpleasant decision between privacy and performance.

Freedom-loving hacker [SolidHal] writes in to tell us about his quest to create a FSF-compliant laptop without breaking the bank. Based on a cheap Asus C201 Chromebook, his custom machine checks off all the appropriate boxes. The operating system was easy enough with an install of Debian, and the bootloader was rid of any Intel Management Engine shenanigans with a healthy dose of Libreboot. But there was one problem: the permanently installed WiFi hardware that required proprietary firmware. To remedy the issue, he decided to install an internal USB Wi-Fi adapter that has the FSF seal of approval.

As the Chromebook obviously doesn’t have an internal USB port, this was easier said than done. But as [SolidHal] is not the kind of guy who would want his laptop taking pictures of him in the first place, he had the idea to take the internal USB connection used by the integrated webcam and use that. He pulled the webcam out, studied the wiring, and determined which wires corresponded to the normal USB pinout.

The FSF approved ThinkPenguin Wi-Fi adapter he chose is exceptionally small, so it was easy enough to tuck it inside some empty space inside of the Chromebook. [SolidHal] just needed to solder it to the old webcam connection, and wrap it up in Kapton tape to prevent any possible shorts. The signal probably isn’t great considering the antenna is stuck inside the machine with all the noisy components, but it’s a trade-off for having a fully free and open source driver. But as already established, sometimes these are the kind of tough choices you have to make when walking in the righteous footsteps of Saint Ignucius.

Internal laptop modifications like this one remind us of the Ye Olden Days of Hackaday, when Eee PC modifications were all the rage and we still ran black and white pictures “taped” to the screen. Ah, the memories.