Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?

Creating A Tiny, Free, Roaming Webcam? 163

vitus979 asks: "Every year there is a big 7 day bicycle ride in Iowa called RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa), and an interesting problem was put in front of me and I'm looking for the best solution: make an extremely lightweight, self-contained webcam system fully independent of a base station, but yet able to upload pics to a file server from nearly any location in the state of Iowa to be shown on a website in realtime."

"I thought it would be cool to mount a webcam on my bike when I go this July. I looked around on the web and the only similar implementations I could find included a bike trailer and 20lbs worth of computer parts. I know that a person can do better than that. I'll be at least 5 miles from a support van at any time so short range solutions (Bluetooth, 2.4ghz wireless LAN) isn't an option unfortunately. What I'm looking into is a small webcam linked to a PDA with a cellular modem. The webcam takes pictures every couple of minutes and the PDA takes the image, calls on the cell modem, uploads the pic, and disconnects the call. This saves me cellular charges and conserves power so that I don't have to carry a bunch of batteries with me.

Basically I've gotten to the point that I need a firm set of hardware and a good wireless implementation to get the information to the servers. Below is what I will need for the system. Any suggestions for each piece, or a full working system that could be purchased would be very helpful.

Webcam: the smaller and more power efficient the better, something all weather, the size and shape of a pen would be optimal since aerodynamics play a part in this piece and I don't want something like a Logitech QuickCam stuck to my helmet.

Computer: PDA sized or smaller if possible. Needs to be able to connect to both a Webcam and a Cellular Modem and be able to do the work explained above. As power efficient as possible, the longest lasting batteries possible. Needs to fit in bicycling jersey pocket (about 4 inches wide and 8 inches deep).

Modem: this is problematic as not all of Iowa is covered for digital cellular service but all of Iowa IS covered for analog at least. Another option may be the recently reinstated Iridium system (I read somewhere they allowed data transfers)."

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Creating A Tiny, Free, Roaming Webcam?

Comments Filter:
  • All your first post belong to us.

  • All you really need to pull this off is a really long piece of Cat-5 (and given that this is going to be in Iowa, you may need to bribe the Cat-5 so it doesn't crimp itself to death out of sheer boredome).
  • ... Check out Axis []. They don't exactly offer tiny cameras, but they *do* meet most of the other criteria. (Not sure how they're powered; I'd guess it's AC...)
  • Before you go to the effort and expense of putting something like this together maybe you should figure out if you are even going to have an audience. I doubt that live pictures will be necessary even for those interested in seeing the pictures. Just capture pictures and save them then upload them toa server later. Just because it can be done doesn't mean it should be done.
  • Sounds like you may want to talk to visor about it. They make the handspring PDA []. They don't have what you speak of, but they may be able to make it for you.
    I'm assuming you have a large budget, btw.

  • Okay, I can't find the information right now, but I know that best buy used to sell a Palm Pilot camera, maybe something like that, on a palm VIIx would provide the solution. As for the aerodynamics of it, I would suggest strapping it to your chest w/ the lens tilted upwards. Now then, for the calling and disconnecting you might need to do a bit of search for software that can do it, or even possibly writing it yourself if you know how. Sorry I can't be more discreptive.
  • The data transfer is the hard part, but you could do it with a small linux PC like some of the posts last week, running off a Nightrider type battery in the Bottle cage. Some of these brick type computers have big harddrives, and you could just spool and forward when you can. has some cool mini cams that can run on USB, and could fit wedged in a helmet vent.

    PS. Don't worry about the drag, just shave your legs or lose 5 pounds ;->
  • Do you know what RAGBRAI is? Have you ever been on it? The idea of getting away from it and unplugging on RAGBRAI is laughable. Over 10,000 people on bikes, plus a few thousand more driving vans, bike store employees, etc. It's on the front page of the Des Moines Register (the "R" in RAGBRAI) every day for a week. This is just one more step in the media coverage of the event.
  • Oh yeah, I forgot to add something (I know, I know, you should always preview first...). Something as simple as a shrinkwrapped plastic could keep it weather proof..
  • by Raptor CK ( 10482 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:36AM (#388915) Journal
    You should look into PC/104 and other miniaturized PC systems for this. All you'll end up needing is USB support for a D-Link camera, and PCMCIA for your modem (only 1 type II if you use the Merlin or Sierra AirCard).

    That's only two modules, perhaps just one. There may be other solutions as well that you can look into. Since you don't seem to need video output as well for this, a serial console would be ideal, and you wouldn't need it to be hooked up all the time anyway.

    Finally, the disconnect for CDPD will only be needed to save battery power. Most service plans are unlimited service, not per kilobyte, unless you're roaming.

    Here's your USB cam:

    With proper mounting (think about shockmounting and using a flash chip for storage, it'll be a lot more durable) on the bike frame, the profile will be fairly small.

    For even more insanity, you can use an ultralight subnote like a Libretto (with a USB card) or a VAIO PictureBook, depending on OS support. This would be easier to get on short notice, of course, but you'd need someone to supply you with batteries.

    Best of luck!
  • Ok, so I'm science stupid, but it my universe this seems like it would be somewhat plausible:

    I've seen bike lights that are powered by the motion of some part of the bike (ie. the wheel, or collecting wind motion maybe) so the light is actually being powered by the person, no batteries required. Of course, a PDA and cell phone are going to require a lot more electricty.

    But what if the telecom/webcam was working off of a rechargeable battery, that while being drained is also being fed by the motion of the bike, and perhaps also solar power (because any energy collected off of the biker's effort will slow them down I guess).

    Realistically, the solar/kinetic battery recharging won't be enough, but it could be enough to keep it running all day until nighttime (or whenever the biker is resting) when it could be plugged into the wall for a complete charge?

    Alternative energy rocks!

  • Try 7 days, with between 3 and 10 stops a day, mileage varying between 50 and 100 miles a day. Your memory appears to have faded a bit since you were a paperboy. ;)
  • That would work. If he planned to bike no more than 100 meters from his server. He would be better off with a strand of fiber.

    Anyway, congratulations on contributing to the discussion. You've at least spent as much time thinking about it as the author of the article did. Here is a guy who says that he has 'gotten as far as' figuring out in his head what the optimal setup would be (even given some thought to an aerodynamic camera). Yet he goes no further than writing an Ask Slashdot.

    Type damn 'wireless camera' into Google for crying out loud.

  • by seanmeister ( 156224 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:37AM (#388919)
    The hardware described at Alison's PantsCam [] looks like a good starting point. You'll still have to deal with wireless connectivity though..

    (Damn, she just took the cam out of her pants!!)


  • But it's nothing like what you can do with a twisted pair.

  • Sure, smaller is better but smaller is also more expensive. Your requirements seem to add up to a rather expensive package. I don't think Ask Slashdot is going to be much help here...
  • Modem: this is problematic as not all of Iowa is covered for digital cellular service but all of Iowa IS covered for analog at least. Another option may be the recently reinstated Iridium system (I read somewhere they allowed data transfers)."

    There's always ham radio... This, of course, requires that you obtain a valid license. But in the ham community, your request wouldn't be at all unusual.

    However, another problem is that if you plan on mass-producing this, you'd need to force everyone who will use it to get a license before they can legally use it.

    Here's another solution. Put a fairly good amount of storage capacity in it. If the cellular modem is out of range, it will save the image, and try again in a couple minutes. It will continue this until it can transmit the saved images. In the event that it runs out of space, it will delete every other one, or something to that effect. (Doing every other image ensures that the timing is consistent between pictures.)

  • I have to admit, it was a LONG time ago. And I never participated...just read about it while I was dropping the papers off.
    Non-meta-modded "Overrated" mods are killing Slashdot
  • Nice to see some constructive comments as usual. I wonder how many posts it takes before you get a useful answer to this guy's perfectly valid question?
  • by trippd6 ( 20793 )
    Have you thougth about using HAM radio and packet modems? I don't know much about the technologies, although I know it will work at ranges up to 50 miles...

  • The Cassio PocketPC comes with a optional flash camera.
    A small GSM cell phone with IR modem (like Nokia 8260) could do the communication and happy coding because I'm not aware of any software that can do the whole thing you are looking for without user input.
    MS Embedded tools (Visual Basic and Visual C) can be downloaded for free from Microsoft.

    P.S.: When you're done coding send me the program :)
  • ThinkGeek [] Has a Web Cam [] with a built in server, meaning you would just need the modem. May need some hacking to make it road worthy but it could be a nice way to simplify things.
  • by Karpe ( 1147 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:40AM (#388928) Homepage
    Why not? put some bikes on the track, take some pictures previously (storing localy), and then, during the event, say that they are live! Don't forget to use small, blury images or else it won't work so nice. It is also wise to say that you use a patented technoloy when asked, to justify the fact that you can't explain the technical aspects :)
  • Hmm... Sounds good.

    What I still want to know is how you're going to be taking the images. I'd tend to think that they would come out blurry unless it took a *very* quick image. Plus, if you were turning, it would be even worse.

    I personally would give this some consideration before proceeding, as I'd hate for you to spend months making a super-cool camera, and then have every single image come out blurry...

  • Try contacting the DM register [] as a sponsor for your cam. They always send out a small army of photographers to cover the event, and I'm sure they'd love to get some exposure through your website, (or put your updates on thier own website, if you're willing)

    As a former Register employee, and knowing the way they're crazy about drumming up RAGBRAI press, I'm sure you might get some interest.

    The Pentium 4 Revealed! []
    Don't click here unless you need Stock photos []

  • Heh. I've ridden the full thing 4 times, and ridden part of the route another 4 years.
  • Okay, granted the iPAQ is a CE device...BUT:
    Compaq iPaq H3600 with PC Card Pack and the Sierra Wireless AirCard 300. This solution offers you everything you need except the camera.
    Now, the iPAQ has a communications port with serial and USB connectivity. I do not know if this would work with a camera but it may...
  • WOW!
    Is this the first pair of pants to be Slashdotted?

  • Didn't you miss the obvious one?
  • You may be "science stupid", but you've got a good idea!

    Now, I'm car stupid, but don't cars charge their battery off of the movement of the axle, or something to that effect? I've seen exercise bikes hooked up to power a 6x6 panel of 100 Watt lightbulbs; I think you should have more than enough power to run a small camera and a cellular modem. I don't know that you would *need* the battery, although it would be foolish not to have one -- suppose you stopped for a minute.

    Now, the one issue is that if you're racing or anything, it may require a little extra effort. (Maybe not)

  • Well, I'm thinking, everyone that I see so far has wanted to put a small computer on your bike.

    But I think it would be more efficient, since like you say, to have just a small wireless camera and leave the PC equipment and the web page uploading and whatnot on your support vehicle.

    A quick web search on wireless cameras turned up this:

    I don't know if this works (its 2.4ghz, I don't know what your problem is with bluelan), but I'm sure that there are similar products out there.

    Just a thought.
  • You've got three resources you need to be carrying with you on the bike: network connectivity, processing (CPU) power and electrical power.

    The network connectivity is the easiest: get a cellular phone with CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) or GSM data service. Most cell phones come equipped with an IR port or a serial port attachment so you can connect the phone to an IrDA or serial-capable device and use it as a wireless modem. GSM phones are probably your best bet, since they're most standardized. Check with different cellular service providers to see if any of them cover the entire state of Iowa. I know AT&T does, but they use TDMA which isn't as good as GSM.

    Next, you'll need a computer, with webcam, to hook this phone to. Your options here are: buy an iPAQ handheld for $500 (if you can get your hands on one!), or buy a Sony Vaio mini-notebook for $2500 (weighs less than a pound, about the size of a portable CD player)

    If you can get hold of an iPAQ, it should suffice nicely. Your challenge will then be to connect a webcam to the iPAQ. The iPAQ has a USB port, so any USB webcam will do; the problem will be finding Windows CE drivers for the webcam. You can install an experimental version of Linux on your iPAQ, courtesy of the Compaq research team. Under Linux it should be a snap to use one of the Linux video APIs to capture frames from the webcam. Your cell phone's data link will also work under Linux, via the iPAQ's IrDA port. To find out how to install Linux on an iPAQ, check out the howto: le/install.html. The advantages of an iPAQ are that it's small, very light, and has a comparatively long battery life. If you shut the display off, a single battery charge should last you 24 hours.

    The Sony Vaio is an x86 machine AND it has a camera built into the case, so it's a no-brainer to get a webcam working with it, out of the box. The problems with it are its price and its battery life: even with the display off, the battery isn't going to last longer than six hours. If you buy a VAIO, you'll either need to carry along some spare batteries, rig some sort of generator for it, or stop frequently for recharges.

    A final note: a continuous cellular data connection can be pretty durned expensive. Expect $0.15 per minute of use; even if you only connect when you're using the service, you'll be spending at least $5 / day on webcam updates.
  • I did something similar in another life. We needed to digitize 4 still images and send it through an analog cell phone. Make sure you turn off the error correction internal to the modem, then write your own packet driver that accepts packets in any order and acks each one. You are going to get "stored fragment 'o packet" from the cell, so make sure you ignore incomplete packets.

    It's a mess and its slow (1200 to 2400 baud was the best we got)

    You can also try using amateur radio packet, If this option is available, use it! You probably won't get great coverage but it least you get to stay digital and don't have to worry about modem compression and correction.

    Good luck

  • Use a wheel dynamo, and a smallish solar panel while you're at it. It would alleviate the problem of carrying spare or high capacity batteries. Just one set being continually replenished should work just fine. Put the solar panels on your cycling cap!
  • Whaddaya mean it's a CE device?

    Check out! []

    BTW, the iPaq is quite nice... Never actually owned one, but I've played with them quite a bit. (If you need anyone to test one for you, let me know... :-D )

  • by Anonymous Coward
    All you'd need to do is get [] your Amateur Radio License. It's much easier than you might think.

    Then, look at this device [] from Kenwood []. It's a neat little package that includes a camera, the display, and all the computing you need.

    Hook this baby up to your radio [], have a similar setup on the other end, hook it up to a computer on the net and you're all set!

    This is called Slow Scan Television [] (SSTV).

    Another cool thing about this setup.. throw in a cheap GPS reciever [] and you're ready to do APRS []! (report your position, send messages, and lots of other fun stuff)

    Good luck
  • Lots of digital camera manufacturers are adding modem interfaces and TCP/IP support to their cameras. Try Polaroid or Ricoh, or go to Google and search for "digital modem camera".

  • Something like this [] would be cool.
  • Of course, I realize you said without a base station, what I meant to ask was, what is the problem with having a base station, I know having a self contained system would be neat... but it seems inefficient...
  • You know what I'm talkin' 'bout.
  • Most of the wireless solutions available for Palm/Handspring/etc devices utilize CDPD (cellular packet data protocol) for network connectivity. Problem is, Iowa (save for pockets of englightment) doesn't really have much CDPD coverage.

    The serial line to analog cell phone might work (unless you are along a major Interstate in eastern Iowa, or in a major metro area, forget digital coverage). A link for something along this line can be found here [].

    Good luck.
    Only in America will someone order a
    Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Coke.
  • by airship ( 242862 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:56AM (#388947) Homepage
    Pretty easy, really. (1) Handspring Visor. (2) Eyemodule2 digital camera Springboard expansion module for Visor. (3) Visor-compatible cell phone. (4) Cable to connect Visor to cell phone. (5) Mount the works on your handlebars with a couple of homemade clamp-up arrangements. (6) Set the eyemodule software to take pix at the required intervals. (7) Stop every dozen pix or so and upload via the cell phone. Go to and get on the discussion boards for technical help in getting this set up. Good luck! -A fellow Iowan.
  • by NewWazoo ( 2508 ) <> on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:57AM (#388948) Homepage
    I'm working on something vaguely similar to this as part of my Embedded Linux Challenge entry...

    Using a PC-104 device, supplied by ELJ, I'm making use of two radio transceivers... They have a data rate of 56k (though I believe you can purchace higher-data-rate modules) and range of, get this, 40 km, line-of-sight. We're currently doing testing to ascertain the range without line-of-sight in various situations (city, suburbs, woods, etc) so I can't comment on how well they do, though 5 miles should be plenty close to maintain the full data rate...

    They can connect using a "developers'" board that contains an RS-232 chip, and some status LEDs... quite cool, all told. They run on 5-12 VDC, so batteries are certainly an option.

    They're made by World Wireless Communications []. IIRC, they cost us something like $400/piece. Look into 'em.

  • Well they got a crappy web site. So never mind, if a company can't make it easy to show off one of their products then tough noogies to them. Crappy cold fusion site.
  • by vizshun67 ( 69071 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:57AM (#388950)

    First, perhaps instead of making use of the batteries exclusively, you could hook a generator to the bike. The generator could be used to charge the batteries where you have 2 sets and you alternate between charge and use/expend.

    Secondly, I would refer you to all of the embedded linux solutions: check out:

    A lot of manufacturers make PC compatible single board computers (some very small) that will run Linux. The Basic STAMP micro-controllers might not be a bad choice either, they come with a lot of accessories (such as a mini-webserver) and a lot of hobbyist work with them: check out:

    Lastly, I would refer you to Information Unlimited at:

    to get a small, low cost CCD camera, assuming that you didn't want to go with one of the cheapy webcams out there.

    As you might be able to surmise, I have given thought to the kind of project you describe (hobbyist robotics actually). I don't really have THE answer for you, but these are some good places to look. I hope this helps.

  • by daniell ( 78495 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @10:58AM (#388951) Homepage
    its surprising how easy the connectivity part is: A samsung sprint pcs modem has a serial port and is a modem; just put a modem where you want to connect to (or use a more costly ISP) and dial up. Then transfer the file and disconnect. The samsung 8500 has a special serial cable just for hooking directly up to a palm V. no costly PDA modem needed. This is also largly true of GSM modems (the omnipoint ones here, like that nokia dual band thing).

    I was told once, and I now think it a lie, that GSM worked by communicating to low orbit satellites and hence was global. I don't know if that's true, but I'd hope that either sprint pcs, or GSM would be widely available over the entirety of your course.

    Don't ask about the camera, I wouldn't really suggest that sony picture book. But the cam for the clie is no longer an option it seems; and things like this [] never seem to be real. Although the visor eye module [] may be what you'd want in that case.

  • Now, I'm car stupid, but don't cars charge their battery off of the movement of the axle, or something to that effect?

    The alternator is run straight off the engine belt that powers the water pump, cooling fan and AC if you have it.

  • Try this one for size []. With a resolution of 330 TV lines and a 9- to 12-volt line drawing 150 milliamps, this one sounds pretty good. Of course, it'll need some sort of battery pack and transmitter. It isn't the one-piece setup he was looking for, but this will do just fine.
  • A car actually has a battery and uses the alternator to recharge that battery. The alternator is connected to the battery, and has a belt running to a fly wheel on the side of the engine. the alternator generates electricty which is passed to the battery, therby recharging it, just FYI for you =)

  • Don't forget the 5 miles of power cord for the camera.
  • Is this the first pair of pants to be Slashdotted?

    If it's not, it's probably the first pair of pants to be slashdotted twice []
  • by seanmeister ( 156224 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @11:05AM (#388957)
    Note to vitus979 - do not attempt to pedal bicycle with camera in pants!!


  • Kenwood makes a webcam-like device called the "Visual Communicator 1" (VC-1) that converts the picture to audio tones which can be sent via a two-way voice radio (like a business band radio). It was really designed for ham radio use, but there's no reason you couldn't use it on a business system if the other users would put up with hearing the warbling audio tone for thirty seconds or so each time a picture was transmitted. The pictures can be decoded and saved as .jpg or whatever using software that runs on a laptop hooked to a radio receiver.

    It's quite small -- it looks like an overgrown hand-held radio microphone and the picture quality is "decent" but not spectacular. It costs somewhere between $200 and $300.

    Depending on the system used the range could be in several ten's of miles (particularly if there's a "repeater" on the radio system).

  • In 1994, I bicycled across most of the US and ended up being just a couple of days ahead of RAGBRAI. I would have loved to have a cam for my trip, it would have been really cool. Now if only I can get a wireless net solution that worked everywhere I went.... -Moondog
  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @11:06AM (#388960) Homepage
    Have you ever thought about using a radio modem to a chase vehicle? When I was working on my school's solar car project in 1995, we had a van loaded with various telemetry equiptment, including a radio modem connection to the car, so that we could get speed, battery consumption, etc.

    I don't know enough about your race, but with a power inverter, a few space car batteries, and someone willing to follow you in a car, this wouldn't be that hard to pull off.

    [If, however, the race route is completely closed off to vehicles, this would be more difficult].

    You might also look into other forms of communication. Check to see if Metricom [] has access in our area, or someone like them. [I haven't had one of their modems since '97, but the modem at that time had a battery which lasted me a good 3-4 hrs of constant use.]

    With the chase vehicle concept, you might also try looking at X10 [] gear, but I don't know what their power consumption is.
  • I don't see why a palm cam with a cell phone modem couldn't be powered by a solar cell. What do you think the energy density of those 4 AAA batteries is, anyway? 'Tain't much. A small generator would also work fine, but those little bastards add a lot of effort to your pedaling. Why not just a D battery adapter for the palm & cell? Have someone give you a new set every 6 or 8 hours. Or run the whole thing off a motorcycle battery (~10lbs for a small one) which should last all damn day.
  • I originally thought of the X10 camera when I read this post. I bought one a few months ago, and I love it. It's a fantastic little device and it has a pretty decent range (approx 100'). Unfortunately, 100 feet is a far cry from 5 miles to the support vehicle, so there's still the problem of how to upload the images to the base station. Obviously there's no point in using the wireless camera if you have to carry the base station with you too. So while the camera's good, we still need to figure out where to keep the base station in order for this to be useful. Otherwise, I'd suggest to get one of those USB devices and plug it into a handheld with a cell modem.
  • this shouldn't be a problem since I work for the Register. :)
  • No, cars charge their batteries via an alternator, which is driven by the engine via a rubber belt.

    As far as using a dynamo on the wheel, it wouldn't work really well because in most cases the voltage fluctuates too much based on the rider's speed, thus requiring additional electrical conditioning equipment and weight, and would in all probability tire the rider out very quickly if he/she intended to keep the whole setup powered throughout the day.

    The best probably power scenario is for a small solar panel (30cm^2 or so) positioned relative to the bike's motion to provide a minimum amount of drag.

  • What about a Palm VII and Palmpix camera? I am sure it wouldn't be difficult to set up a script that will take a picture and dial the modem every couple of minutes. An unlimited cell account for the Palm VII only costs $45. You may have to swap out batteries, but this seems like it would be a light, relatively inexpensive solution, that you could probably convince Staples or somebody to donate the equipment for.
  • I am one of the people interested in seeing these photos.

    I think I remember a similar story from SF's Critical Mass, but IIRC they just uploaded all the pics after it was over.

    There are 2 Sony sub-notebooks with built-in cameras, the Picturebook and the new GT1. The GT1, in particular, seems like it could work if you figured out a good mounting solution. It has a nice cam, 17 hours battery life, full motion video, a type II PCMCIA slot, etc. It's really a camcorder with a PC built in - not the other way around.

    More info, and US purchase, is available here [] : for the timid.

    Also the newest Libretto and another of the japan-market subnotes (a fujitsu I think) have built in cameras. I would have more info, but it seems like Japan Palmtop Direct,, has gone down/out of business. They used to be the best source for JPN market notebooks.

    Dynamism has the Libretto, and its' built-in "lipstick camera" is removable, which the sonys are not. But it only has a 3.2 GB Hd.

    Dynamism might actually ship you one of these units for free, if you get your colleagues at the Register's tech department to request it...

    There is a visor cam available, and a palm pilot camera, but the problem is there's not an easy way to hook both a camera and a cellular modem up to a PDA. That, to me, is the biggest prob with the Visor and its Springboard slot - you cannot daisy-chain springboard modules. No way to use wireless, camera and flash memory in one system concurrently.

    Now if there is a camera available for the Palm VII, and there is Mobitex service in the area, that might work. (FYI any device that says it'll work with a III should work with a VII)

    Otherwise, you might be stuck trying to build a single-purpose PC, or you might have to upload pics at intervals when you stop.

  • Hey you stole this, I said it in the chat room in her pants first!!!! Give me some credit!!!
  • I'm a ham radio operator myself, figured I'd explain a bit.

    First, "HAM" doens't have to be in all caps. This is a common misconception, I guess... I don't know any hams who capitalize it "HAM". (A similar phenomonen occurs with people who don't use Linux, and label it as "LINUX") It's not really *wrong*, it's just a pet peeve of mine.

    Anyway, another misconception is that ham radio always goes around the world. It depends on a number of factors, but the fact is that a common ham radio handheld will not go around the world. However, "repeater" sites are very common -- they repeat your signal at a much higher power, from a great location. Thus, a user on a low-powered "HT" (handheld) could still have his voice heard for hundreds of miles.

    I have never actually used packet, but it is possible to achieve great distances with this, also.

    One additional note... You will, of course, need a license to transmit. And you can't use it for commercial purposes.

    Yaesu [] has just come out with nifty new "rig", the FT-817 []. This little radio transmits on the "HF" ('shortwave') bands, and can, theoretically, be heard anywhere in the world.

    Also, PSK31 is extremely popular. I don't know about using it for images; I'm not in a position to comment on it. I don't know if they have an official site, but [] is a very informative site.

    For those interested, here are a few additional ham-radio related links.

    ARRL: excellent resources for those interested in ham radio []

    Kantronics, one of the larger makers of TNCs ['packet modems'] []

    "73" (Ham term for 'best regards')

  • Get an ordinary digital camera that takes pictures onto removable media, such as CF or memory sticks. Get a couple of these media. Every once in a while have your support people drive up and hand you one CF/stick while you hand them back the one you've just filled up with pictures. Let them worry about uploading the pictures to the web.

    This solution means that you no longer have size/weight/power restraints on the computer and communications equipment doing the uploading to the net, which should make things cheaper and easier.

    If you've got the budget for it, you might prefer two cameras to swap back and forth rather than trying to fiddle with CF cards while riding at high speed.
  • Check out the LART (Linux Advanced Radio Terminal) which is intended for these types of applications. []. It's still in the ALPHA stage, but is very powerful and consumes less than 1W!!! The downside is making your own video capture and software to drive it.

    Also look at Ricochet [] wireless modems. They have 28.8 in many places and 128K bps in major cities.

    Both the LART and Ricochet should only weigh a few pounds.

  • Was that you? heheh
    Yeah, he said it in her pants first.

  • Libretto? Naw. There's no battery life to them.
  • I'd first like to thank the slashdot guys for posting this. Here are some of the things I've done since I sent them the original message. Second of all I work for the Register, so if this goes through hopefully I'll be able to ride RAGBRAI and not take vacation time for it. :)

    I actually haven't found a digital camera that'll fit my requirements so I'm looking into an analog camera with an analog-USB adapter.

    I'm looking at the:

    SuperCircuits pc75wr analog camera -->

    and the Belkin analog -> USB converter -->

    I'll admit it and get flamed here, but I haven't looked through the embedded Linux stuff on the web, but from looking at Palms, Handsprings, IPaqs, and Casio's line I haven't been able to find a handheld that will do both a USB connection and a PCMCIA cellular modem connection at the same time. I think I found my computer base unit. It also includes a built in GPS system so if things go right there might be a map beside the picture with a big star that shows where the rider currently is on the route.

    Modem: I recently found out that one of the cell phone companies also helps to sponsor RAGBRAI so I might be able to swing a sponsorship for this portion.

    I talked with a gentleman at MIT in the wearable computer club and the consensus is to be careful and get shock-resistant parts since I'll be on the bike.

    Keep the suggestions coming, the more the better. (I don't want to use up my vacation to go on RAGBRAI!!) :)
  • I doubt that live pictures will be necessary even for those interested in seeing the pictures.

    Come on. Since when have webcams ever been about necessity? Webcams exist because of the "hey, neat" factor. It's not necessary to see live pictures on Jennicam, either, but I doubt it'd get the same audience if the pictures were taken ahead of time and presented in a big lump at the first of every month.

    This is a really cool idea for a webcam, just because it's something different, and in the world of webcams, different means interesting. (I've watched webcams for fifteen minutes straight, amazed that anybody thought someone would sit down and watch them for fifteen minutes straight. I'm pretty sure that's the *POINT* of them.)

  • Ditto. I wouldn't base my purchase on the quality of their site, but it *really* irritates me when I have to go in circles to find what I want.
  • better link: Here []

    Or, if you are timid, AMA=open &ama_hheld=open&radio=VC-H1&selection=Amateur&ID=5 1

  • They use a 12v wall wart :-) but I have heard stories of them running off solar. The only model they make that would be close whould be the Axis 2120. Its smallish fairly rugged but most important uses an auto-iris lens. The 2100 might last outside but bright outdoorlight will cook the CCD. The camera can hook to a modem and can be setup to send pics on a schedual.
  • I would look to paririe inet [] for the internet connection, i would also look to the sony viao notebook for the pc, if i remeber these have a built in camera on the top of them, so you could just make a bracket to mount it to the front of bike. if nothing else, get a bike rack that goes over your back tire and put a notebook on that and run a cam up front.
    BTW RAGBRI rules, gotta check out the partys at night! now thats what you need the cams for =)
  • I don't know why I'm responding to an obvious troll, but I think he was actually complaining about the fact that the store bought solutions he saw were 20 lbs and required attaching a trailer to his bike. This seems like an obvious problem since he's going to be on a long distance bike ride.

    Also, price doesn't seem like too much of a problem for the poster, since his request for advice mentions he wants as small of a webcam as possible, as well as a small computer that can connect to a webcam and a pda AND a cellular modem. None of these items are free, or even cheap. It seems the reason he wants to develop his own solution to his problem is that the current solutions are not good enough.

    You decry this person attempting to create their own solution, rather than throwing money away by purchasing a solution that is not up to their needs. Whatever happened to good ol' fashioned ingenuity? The Do It Yourself ethic? What in the world is wrong with him finding a way to do something on his own? Do you also think it's crazy to work on your own car, rather than overpay a mechanic to work on it for you?

    I don't understand your position. What in the world is wrong with figuring something out for yourself and implementing it, as opposed to paying someone to do it for you? What is wrong with him asking for advice on how to solve his problem?

    I think you are just using this topic as an inappropriate excuse to sound off about one of your pet peeves. It is inappropriate since this post has little to do with Open Source. He has a hardware problem and is trying to solve it in the best way he can. His solution seems to involve quite a bit of non-Open Source hardware (pda's, cell phones, webcams). If his question was "I need to hook two of my computers together, how do I do it?" would you tell him how to plug the cables in, or use that as another excuse to vent?

    Josh Sisk
  • by rwa2 ( 4391 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @11:38AM (#388981) Homepage Journal
    I'm surprised no one mentioned this yet... The eyemodule 2 [] plugs right into the visor and can capture 640x480 color. It should come with software that will allow you to dial up to an ISP and email the pictures off. I use comlink and a cell phone with an IRDA modem to connect to the internet (my Visor is more or less my primary computer now, I can use TGssh to log into my friends' computers and do stuff there). So you would need something like the following:
    • Visor Deluxe or Platinum ($250 / $300, 8MB of memory, runs for about 2-6 weeks off a pair of AA batteries) The Prism would let you look at your pictures in color, but has rechargeable batteries, so probably wouldn't work for you. The greyscale Visors seem to be able to store color pictures, though.
    • Eyemodule2 ($200 , you can download the picture emailer program from [] or [] there's also the greyscale eyemodule1 for cheaper some places)
    • cell phone with a modem (~$170 for my little Nokia phone with IRDA. There are Visorphones ($300) and wireless modules for the Visor, but then you'd have to swap modules all the time. For service, I have Voicestream GSM, but that's limited to 9600baud digital service right now... I think TDMA (AT&T, Verizon []) networks might let you connect up to 14400baud and have more complete analog roaming).
    • if you want to get fancy, you could spend maybe $100 or so on phone-Visor serial cables so you don't have to hold them together to use the lame IRDA link, so you can keep pedalling while you're connected. Then again, it might be cheaper and more convenient to just duct tape both of them to your handlebars so the IRDA links always work... that way you could use the phone's serial port for a handsfree kit so you can talk to people when you aren't dialed in. A pet peeve of mine with the Nokia phone is that the IRDA port is on the wrong side of the phone, so I have to hold it upside down to use my Visor. But you could probably get creative with a mirror.)
    • you might want to program a script (or get someone else to program a script :) ) to automate the picture grabbing/uploading tasks with one button. I don't think I've seen anything like that yet...
    Good luck! Sounds like you're going to have a lot of fun!
  • DOH! when I said nokia, I meant ericsson. s/nokia/ericsson/ specifically the T28 world, or that new palm os one, the 383 world? On another note, having grown up outside the US, I figured that GSM would take over the world considering it was worldwide, but I was quite disappointed to find out that the US millitary was hidering America's integration into thinking globally. Only more recently has there been a concept of the Dual GSM phone which allows communication both inside the restricted wavelengths of the US, and with the standard in the rest of the world.
  • I'm quite confident that Sprint PCS [] or a GSM from Iowa Wireless [] are not going to be appropriate solutions for covering all of Iowa. The "race" in question here goes winding all over rural Iowa and pretty much tends to avoid the interstate system where the national carriers like Sprint provide service. The only carrier I'm aware of that even comes close to providing digital coverage to all of Iowa is TDMA service from US Cellular []. I have a phone from them and they really do a good job of providing digital service to even the most rural areas in the state (except for my apartment, grrrr). I don't think that they offer CDPD service, although I haven't really checked into it since I don't have a laptop.
  • This is a classic case of knowing which problem to solve first, then building a system that doesn't break the solution (to the first problem). What I am getting at is that if you don't consider the camera POV, you might end up with a wonderful system to collect and transmit ultimately worthless pictures in terms of quality. It also almost goes without saying that all of the electronic equipment needs to be suitably protected from bad weather and road dust/muck, etc.

    So here's my specs for a cam setup that could get reasonably interesting pictures:

    1. Vibrational stability. No use getting jittery, blurred pix, right?
    2. Aimability. What if the most interesting pic of the moment isn't directly ahead? This might include lens with a moderate amount of wide angle/zoom capability. This could probably be accomplished with a semi-custom tripod head fitting.
    3. To go with aimability, etc. I would add detachability -- in case the bicyle it is mounted on were damaged, the setup could be moved. Secondarily there are many more interesting pix to be had when the riders aren't actually in motion, and finally
    4. Reasonably high resolution and color depth, because even if you are transmitting images live, how many people can watch the whole seven day race? So back at the web server end, and after the race is finished, you want to have better than average pix as a result of all the effort.
    All of this says that what you probably want on the handlebars is a fairly decent megapixel camera, probably the one that uses an IBM microdrive -- one I have heard of can store 1500 pictures. (Which would be about one a minute for 12 hours), assuming that the cam uses AA batteries, so that a recharger can takes care of the continued power requirements. Nearly all the good digital cams have USB, so you have an easy connection to the device which will be responsible for image collection and transmission.

    Then we have to consider the other end: transmitting the image without a high speed data link. Since high res, high color pix require major bandwidth, the collector has to be able to compress the incoming images, probably resized for web page formatting, and perhaps tagged so that the high res pix from the camera can later be uploaded and replace the lower res image or be available from a thumbnail.

    Probably requires more than a PDA. So my vote goes to the smallest Transmeta-powered device capable of the image processing, equipped with a wireless PC-MIA modem of some type. (Clueless about the best communication option here, fellow /.'ers, help me out!) Finally, I would think that a person would need a small solar panel to keep all of the devices and batteries charged, so the Transmeta device would rest just under the solar panel probably on a cushioned rack above the back wheel.

    Still weighs alot less than 20 lbs, I would think, and positioned properly shouldn't add that much drag. Best I can do but fellow readers, what do you think?

  • You don't have to make them too blurry, though. One cornfield looks much the same as another, at least to me, and what else is there in Iowa?

    Make sure you claim to have patented the tech you use, and charge a large fee to get the details.

  • Wrong Link. You mean Axis.Com [].

    The 2120 [] looks like it's almost what you need. It can talk to a modem for incoming or outgoing calls, it can take a picture based on either time or alarm (push a button to take a picture).

    But its power is 12VAC, 9.6A. You'll have to tinker to give it AC.

  • I own a Dolphin Pencam FastUSB007 [], whick is approximately as long as a ballpoint pen and about as wide as 2 AA batteries side-by-side. It is USB (you might have to duct-tape the USB plug into the side to keep it attached on a bicycle). The cool thing about it is it functions both as a digital camera (when disattached) and as a webcam (when attached to a computer). It takes 2 AAA batteries and is extremely light (it wouldn't be hard to mount on a bike).

    AFAIK, the software only works in Windows, and I had a bit of trouble getting it working. You can use whatever free Webcam software you want (I use ConquerCam I found somewhere - it uploads to a FTP site every 5 seconds or so). The image quality isn't that great - The resolution is very small, in camera mode it needs a substantial amount f light to take the picture, and the videos are rather grainy.

    You should be able to find it for around $80. The site I bought it from no longer sells it, but I'm sure it's available elsewhere.
  • by mahlen ( 6997 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @12:16PM (#388999) Homepage

    My wireless Web setup is:

    This stuff allows me to browse the web wirelessly. I'm not actually sure how you'd upload starting with this setup; I suspect that's a software problem, and I'm hoping it's solved elsewhere in this thread.

    That said, I'll throw out some other notes on systems like this. First, they are flaky, and don't like you moving, so when you get a connection, stop moving. A modem connection seems to be much more fragile when switching between network cells than a phone call is. Second, think redundant. Get multiple paths of connection, because there are so many places where the connection can break down, and you'll go crazy if you absolutely depend on any of them. Lastly, forget about sending up pictures and enjoy the ride. Experiences like that aren't for sharing with other people over the web, they are for experiencing first hand, while it's going on. The 3rd California AIDS Ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles changed my life, but it wouldn't have if I'd been fretting over hardware the whole time.


    See how today's achievement is only tomorrow's confusion; see how possession always cheapens the thing that was precious. --William Dean Howells (1837-1920)

  • Other people might find a use.
    You sound like the IBM guy in the 1950s who
    could figure out why the world would ever
    need more than seven computers.

  • You're right about the coverage:
    voicestream omnipoint [] provides digital in a number of cities, and sprint pcs [] [if the link doesn't work click on learn, coverage, select iowa] don't exactly offer great coverage. However that samsung phone I mentioned does work in analog mode, and I assumed it could still operate as a modem in that mode, although I may be wrong there. The author said that analog was widely available and probably his best bet.

    I'm surprised and the US Cellular claims of PCS coverage in comparison to the Sprint PCS claims. I wonder why companies wouldn't mutally negotiate terms for sharing PCS access. Unless PCS is some general term and TDMA and CDMA in no way like one-another.


    ps, personally I don't think there's going to be a good solution, and he should abandon the "live" idea and just get a good camera with lots of storage, mount it, take slides, and upload them progressivly at the end of each day using a phone modem.

  • Camera? That's easy too:

    here ya go []

    The system integration and telemetry is what's going to suck.

    I reccomend an electric glider [] as a platform. It can stay up all day, they're easy to fly (hell, i can do it), there's an existing technology base, and all you have to do is drive along the bike race path and fly the plane overhead, even without telemetry. The model airplane distance record was set in just such a fashion.

    And never underestimate the piper cub offense []

    good luck.
  • As a Libretto owner, wtf?

    Ok, so it doesn't get the battery life that my old Acer Nuovo did (10 hours... now *that's* power management). The 110CT, the current heavyweight US Libretto can get 4 hours on a single high-capacity battery. It's called APM, dude. Set the drive to spin down, auto-off LCD (the backlight's a real drain), and keep brightness at a minimum. I've been able to play MP3's off of it for 4 hours straight while occasionally logging on via CDPD on a bus. Once I shut down, I still had a good 25% left. That's enough battery life for me. Admittedly, I also bought a spare battery just in case, but I can't remember the last time I actually needed it. It's far from wearable-class battery life, but it's not bad. Granted, I haven't tested a USB cam, but the more you keep from using the hard drive, the better off you'll end up with using a Libretto (especially if you have one).

    Now the PictureBook, I haven't met a single person who got decent batterylife from it. Please, *please* prove me wrong on the non-Crusoe powered model. Built-in cameras are cool :-)

  • by brassrat77 ( 9533 ) on Friday March 02, 2001 @12:48PM (#389011)
    "Ham" (amateur) radio groups provide communications support for the ride. This may include ATV (amateur television) and definietly includes APRS (amatuer position reporting system). ATV can send live NTSC-quality video and audio at least from near cities on the route. APRS has an add-on protocol for sending still images and supports links to internet feeds. The hams have already figured out solutions to power, equipment, safety, and operating procedures.

    Another approach might be to use a CPDP modem with a laptop. I do not think there is an easy way to do it with a Palm or Visor, although there is a simple httpd server for the palm that works fine with the omnisky modem. Coverage outside of cities may be a problem.

  • I'm surprised and the US Cellular claims of PCS coverage in comparison to the Sprint PCS claims. I wonder why companies wouldn't mutally negotiate terms for sharing PCS access. Unless PCS is some general term and TDMA and CDMA in no way like one-another.

    PCS is actually a general term for any sort of digital cell phone service. The difference between CDMA and TDMA is actually pretty similar to the difference between Ethernet and Token ring. They both get the same job done but they can't talk to each other directly. There's a good description of the differences at this page []. The various phone companies are actually pretty good about sharing their customers as they go roaming about. When I travel to Chicago or Minneapolis there isn't any service from US Cellular, but AT&T picks up my phone transparently to me and it still rings if someone calls. But Sprint is never going to pick up my calls for me because they can't talk to my TDMA phone.

  • Yes, the digital computer was invented in Iowa. See:
  • Gateway once was based in Iowa

    Since when? I thought it's always been in N Sioux City, South Dakota. I mean, why live or base a business that could be anywhere in Sioux City, when you can go a few miles north and not have to pay state income tax & lower property tax? When I was in college, I know that some of Gateway's machines were made in Rapid City, SD because for an EE class, we toured a custom electronics assembly plant in town. We watched them make Gateways and some other stuff.

  • I beleive a visor [] hand held devise, along with the appropriet handspring modules will suffice.
  • Try here [] it looks like the best possible solution for you. just set the equipment for sending the pictures to the web in the support van. Good luck!
  • The simplest solution, imho, assuming money is not a problem: Get a Sony Vaio Picturebook [] (it has a built-in webcam) and a PC-card cell modem. Then download ConquerCam []. Voila, problem solved. You can easily mount the Picturebook on the front of your bike (or anywhere, for that matter) with a bit of duct tape, since it only weighs about 2 pounds. What's more, it's got a Transmeta [] processor, so it has a nice long battery life.


  • Get a hub dynamo. The Schmidt Nabendynamo is considered to be one of the most efficient ones around; I rode a century last year with mine. Granted it was turned off, but the extra friction is about the same on or off. When it's on it gets 3W AC, and can double to 6W by changing the resistance of the load. I've gotten to where I can feel a slight resistance when it's on, but it's on the order of a percent or two of my energy output.

    There are plenty of bike geeks who build electrical devices; the bikecurrent list, which served as a forum for all sorts of bike electronics on, recently died a dot-com death, but you can do a search on that term and find archives, or where it's moved.
  • Actually, I have a NEC Ready, runs on a MediaGx, dinky little 640x480 LCD. One fully charged battery will play mp3s for two hours with the backlight *on* and PCMCIA Ether, without I can get up to six. On the *standard* battery, not the high-cap. I've had a few company issued Librettos, and I haven't been able to get nearly that sort of life out of them. They barely do better than Dells offerings, at least in my experience.
  • I went to their site to see if they had any company history online. It only says that it was started in 1985 and by two guys in an Iowa farm house. I do know that by 87 or 88, they were in N Sioux City, because one of my classmates in college worked there during the summers. I can't remember when they moved the headquarters to San Diego. I believe it was to be closer to Silicon Valley and Waite liked the climate better (wimp!).

    I can believe the state not giving them a tax break. My roommate from college lives in IA City now and when it comes to taxes, hates the IA state income tax.

  • The July 2000 issue of Linux Journal had a story about a prof at the University of Tornoto had created a watch in 1998 running linux that has a video camera. Here's the article: 3.html [].

  • In case you have trouble with that link... go here []
  • I was told once, and I now think it a lie, that GSM worked by communicating to low orbit satellites and hence was global. I don't know if that's true, but I'd hope that either sprint pcs, or GSM would be widely available over the entirety of your course.
    You're confusing GSM with Iridium, the Motorola-backed lowflying satelite constellation that went bust & is now on US Dept. of Defense life support.

    GSM is simply a set of frequencies & protocols. It's a European standard that's been extremely succesful, there's some of it on the NA coasts in dense areas but not much outside them. It's digital, uses towers like everyone else, nothing particularly exotic except for it being common most everywhere else and often using a small card for transferring the users network identity between phones. The only provider I can think of off-hand was Voicestream (who knows what brand they are this week.)

    PCS is slightly more likely to be availaible but not much. Also primarily availiable in metropolitan areas it's a digital format that does oftentimes have provisions for reasonably fast data transmission (depends on the local service provider.) Generally this simply requires an overpriced serial-to-phone cable or in some cases an infrared link.

    The third option would be of course good ole analog cellphone service. This has the widest distribution, the greatest range, and although it's slower then the other options it'll get through more of the time. Here you really are using a modem and it's just like plugging into a landline, albeit a very poor quality one.

    Since most long-distance races take place away from metropolitan areas and since it's unlikely that a racer can stop to transmit when conditions are best it looks like analog is a must. It has the greatest chance of getting through when the racers are having a break and are free to mess about with this sort of stuff.

    Of course there are many dual and tri mode phones so it's not an either/or proposition (my Motorola 7868W is 2 analog / 1 PCS channel.) If you're really interested in doing this then cut a deal with a provider with good local coverage and ask for a phone, airtime, & tech support in return for putting a link to them on the website.

    Finally many companies have mobile relays for deployment at events like fairs, sports events, etc. where there will be lots of customers but only intermittantly and not worth a permanent relay. You may well be able to get the provider to shadow the race with their mobile realy truck providing service to all of the riders & support folks.

  • Tape a camcorder onto one handlebar, and hang a bang of blank video tapes on the other. When the film runs out, remove the video tape and toss it over your shoulder. Have a friend collect them.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.