Frustrated with the poor image quality and/or interfaces of our existing IP cameras, it’s time to search for better alternatives. New trends in IP camera technology include megapixel sensors, h.264 video encoding and, reportedly, open standards. There are several interesting open standards cameras on the market already:
Now we’ve seen that the nice and simple DCS-900 is pretty handy when controlled from Linux with no ActiveX. Time to examine the much more complex DCS-3220g, which should give us MPEG-4 encoded video. It’s another rebadged Vivotek as far as we can tell. This camera has a built-in WiFi radio as well as wired ethernet, has an interchangeable lens and should support a 2-way audio link. It comes with a Windows software package for managing multiple cameras. Continue reading
Since ERA already has some IP cameras from previous years, it’s probably time to dust them off and try them out with the new Asus 901s. We have a pair of D-Link badged items – a DCS-900 wired-only Motion-JPEG camera with a maximum resolution of 640×480 pixels, and a much fancier DCS-3220g which has 802.11g WiFi as well as wired ethernet, full PAL -sized MPEG-4 as well as Motion-JPEG output, sound support via an internal mic and line output socket and an interchangeable CS-mount lens. Continue reading
An early outdoor phone exchange
Could it be that the way to make a telephone call on a geology site would be to use a telephone? Now we seem to have some fairly stable WiFi networking hardware, and are considering that we might ditch the awkward netbooks for our ‘Sherpas’ in the field, perhaps we could use WiFi equipped smartphones for some of our outdoor networking needs?
Since we’re using SIP, we’ll need SIP software for any mobile phones we use, and there are obvious commercial reasons why most mobile service providers aren’t keen on this, but on the up side, bluetooth headsets are designed to be used with mobile phones so this could add another useful feature to the ERA toolkit.
During our field trials, it became clear that the built-in video camera on the Asus EEE 901 (and 701) is in the wrong place for our needs.
Using the Asus Eee PC 701's built in camera to capture geological features. The camera is built in to the top of the screen and is clearly designed for 'video diaries' or online video conferencing rather than capturing views of the landscape.
The 901 camera itself is a pretty good (for a plastic lens webcam) 1.3 megapixel device that’s supported in Ubuntu, but it faces the user, and we want it to face the rest of the world. Additionally, we found when using an external USB webcam, that being able to hold a smaller separate device or mount it on a helmet, rather than trying to point a whole netbook, was both easier and safer when clambering about on the rocks. From our experience and listening to the field geologists, we came up with a wish list of properties for a new video camera… Continue reading
Tutor and students at the ERA base location viewing the video feed and communicating via VoIP with the field geologist. Howick, Friday 07 August 2009
The curse of ERA – bringing sunny weather to field trips – strikes again! Despite packing gaiters, gortex, and waterproof sample bags to protect our kit, it was the sunshine rather than the rain that was the challenging weather for the Durham area field trips.
Jokes aside, we’ve had great weather, mainly sunny with the occasional light smattering of rain. This is actually a significant factor for us when we’re working in the field. The radio signal isn’t affected by rain to any great degree, we’re fairly confident that students will dive for cover before the radio signal deteriorates too far in rainy conditions, but we have to watch out for sun and rain when it comes to using the equipment in the field.
We’re aiming to use off-the-shelf, consumer equipment as much as possible so as to come up with a solution that could be taken up by the greatest number of other educational institutions. There is heavily ruggedised military-specification equipment for most of what we’re doing but the cost and weight factors puts this out of our league and probably would make the ERA system much less likely to be adopted by a broad community of users. Continue reading
Ekiga video call - fullscreen
Today’s visit brought us to the dramatic coastal features of Scremerston, just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed. This is a tough location for Assisted Requirements students as the high, steep cliff face can be quite challenging to negotiate for anyone. The closest practical access is down a gravelled lane (which could be driven up at a push), stopping before the gate to a muddy field full of cows. From there, the beach site (which should be visited on a falling tide) is accessed down a grassy cliff face 300m or so from the gate. From the beach access, the geological study site is quite stretched out along the sea front, with features jutting out from the cliff base into the sea.