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Ask Slashdot: What To Do With Old Webcams? 258

An anonymous reader writes "I work as an IT administrator at a school. We have just upgraded our entire webcam inventory (about 45 webcams, model Logitech Quickcam Communicate STX) and have all the old ones sitting around. I would like to know what a neat project would be to make use of all the old ones. I was figuring there would be an open project somewhere that involved mass amounts of webcams."
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Ask Slashdot: What To Do With Old Webcams?

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  • Get permission first (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:21PM (#37718508)
    They're not yours; they belong to the district. Get permission first. I'm sure your school district has policies about disposing of old surplus equipment (if nobody else in the district wants them). Disposing of district equipment WITHOUT permission is just asking for trouble.
    • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

      He never said, or even implied, they would be taken off school property.

      I have had plenty of old unused equipment that is surplus. Plenty of times I have used them in my own little projects at work to try out an idea or something cool. If companies are willing to pay for you to take classes outside of work to increase your skill sets, why would they object to you using equipment not currently allocated to anything to do the same?

      At this moment I have a test VM server on my desk from an used system. Using

    • They're not yours; they belong to the district. Get permission first. I'm sure your school district has policies about disposing of old surplus equipment (if nobody else in the district wants them).

      If he wants them, he will surely get them. When I worked for Yuba College I just talked to the people running the surplus sale and they set everything I wanted aside for me.

  • Multi-touch cabinet (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Deathnerd ( 1734374 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:22PM (#37718522)
    Take out the ir filter, put in a visible light filter and use them for IR based multi-touch surfaces. A little expensive, but a neat project!
    • I did a project a while back for a course using something similar.
      After removing the IR filter and replacing it with a visible light filter (you can just use a piece of fully exposed photographic film) I used some filed down IR LEDs (filed down to distribute the light more evenly in all directions) and used a graphical programming app called vvvv [vvvv.org] to do blob detection on the LEDs (I believe the blob detection plugin itself is open source).
      After you have the locations of the LEDS you can estimate locations in

    • Not expensive! Visit your local theater supply store and buy 1 sheet each of Congo Blue and Medium Red lighting gels... the sheets are like 10"x20" and you cut little squares less than 1/4", stack the two together, and you have an IR pass filter (filters out visible light, just allowing infrared through)

    • I've built these, and as a school project it can be done relatively cheap. A cardboard barrel, a transparent top surface, and a white sheet along with the camera were enough to make a touchpad.

      Here's more info:

      http://sethsandler.com/multitouch/mtmini/ [sethsandler.com]
  • by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:24PM (#37718554) Homepage Journal

    Mount 36 of them in a ball, and then throw them up in the air!

    • Someone just did [slashdot.org] exactly that.

      "Jonas Pfeil, a student from the Technical University of Berlin, has created a rugged, grapefruit-sized ball that has 36 fixed-focus, 2-megapixel digital camera sensors built in

  • Bullet time! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Voxxel ( 147404 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:27PM (#37718590)

    Get some USB hubs and make your own bullet-time setup.

  • Top that German project a few articles ago.

    Hmmm . . . let's take a retrospective on the /. stories on German technology this week . . . a government spyware Trojan . . . wireless controlled bicycle brakes . . . and the throwable panorama ball. Put that all together . . . and you get . . . ?

    I'm not sure yet, but we should keep a sharp eye on this tech coming out of Germany. They are definitely up to something.

  • True RNG (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dr_Harm ( 529148 ) <mdharm.yahoo@com> on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:30PM (#37718634) Homepage

    Cheap CCD + Rad source from smoke detector == true RNG. If nothing else, some of the advanced physics or math classes in the district might be interested in the project.

    • For the record, this is illegal.

      The NRC considers this a "grievous offense" (their words), and people have been raided and had all their playthings confiscated for playing around with smoke detector emitters.

      So... don't tell anyone if you do this.

      • Interestingly, my first reaction also was RNG on the question. Mainly because slashdot featured it as a story a few years ago [slashdot.org]. Obviously, once that happens, the instructions are out there [inventgeek.com]. I always wanted to try it. Smoke detectors are easy to get, webcams are easy to get... I see no problems.
    • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

      Can you tell me what the hell you are talking about? It sounds really cool, but I don't know what search terms to put into Google to start researching it :)

      • Try "Geiger Counter" and "CCD"

        Radioactivity has a tendency to kick electrons around. If a particularly strong particle hits the CCD array, it will be registered on whichever pixel cell it hit. You can see this as a pixel going "white" for a brief moment on the video stream.

        Put an alpha source next to a CCD array (which is otherwise light-tight) and you will get random white-pixel flashes. These are truly random, not the result of a PRNG.

      • by cffrost ( 885375 )

        Can you tell me what the hell you are talking about? It sounds really cool, but I don't know what search terms to put into Google to start researching it :)

        Try "americium" and "webcam."

    • by mmcuh ( 1088773 )
      Wouldn't just pointing the webcams at the sky and do md5sums of the frames also be a true RNG, but without the radiation?
  • If you have a video class in the district, figure out a way for the students to use them for doing some matrix-style bullet time videos. Or if there is an electronics class, let the students tear them apart to see what they could do with them.
  • Real suggestions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Okian Warrior ( 537106 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:31PM (#37718640) Homepage Journal

    Webcams can be used for all sorts of data acquisition purposes, if you have some spare computers.

    For instance, take a plastic egg-carton and grow 12 plants using different media (ex - a range of PH across the bays). Use a webcam to monitor the plants, and count the green pixels day-by-day to measure the relative growth rates.

    Make a brush pile on school grounds and bury the web cam *within* the pile. Take an image 1/sec, and also monitor temperature. Throw out images which are the same as previous images. Use the data to watch how critters survive within brush piles, and how much insulation being in a brush pile affords.

    Train a camera on the sky and take pictures over time. Count the white/blue ratio to monitor cloudiness/overcast.

    • Find a birds nest somewhere on school grounds in the spring, mount a camera and put the live images up on the net. Allow students to watch as the eggs hatch and the chicks are reared.

      This gets really *really* interesting if you can do this for a raptor nest, such as a hawk.

      Web cams are generally sensitive to IR, so if you can cobble up an IR light source you can take images at night. Are there places on the grounds where critters come out at night (foxes, owls, skunks)? There's open source software to detec

      • On the IR theme, many webcams have an IR blocking filter than can be removed to greatly increase IR sensitivity. You even have extras to practice on!
      • This gets really *really* interesting if you can do this for a raptor nest,

        I'm sure!

        such as a hawk.

        Ah, I see we weren't thinking along the same lines at all. Never mind...

        • It was obvious he was talking about a hawk. For a nest of 'raptors, he'd need 3 cameras - one for the chick in front, and two for the chicks on the side ;-)
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Find a birds nest somewhere on school grounds in the spring, mount a camera and put the live images up on the net. Allow students to watch as the eggs hatch and the chicks are reared.

        This gets really *really* interesting if you can do this for a raptor nest, such as a hawk.

        That's not the kind of "chicks" that school IT admins record.

    • I'm sure school administration will approve to finding hidden cameras in bushes around the playground...

  • Why do you have them in the first place? Is there some educational need for the school to have them, or they being used for security purposes throughout the school?
  • Take the lens off the front and bolt the sensor to a used SLR camera lens. With the 10x or 15x crop factor, that old 50mm SLR lens will turn into a 500-750mm equivalent, and if you use a prime lens, it'll have even better low-light performance than the original wide angle lens. If you put it on a telescope, you can easily get into 5000mm+ territory, although it'll be very difficult to use without an expensive tripod and tracking system.
    • by pruss ( 246395 )

      Actually, for solar system objects you don't need any fancy tracking with a telescope, just avi stacking software, like Avi Stack. You let the object move across the field of view as you film, and the software does the rest.

      You can also put the webcam sensor in place of the eyepiece in a microscope.

  • I remember the old Matrix documentary where they did the Bullet-Time effect by setting up something like the number of cameras you have in an arc and having them all take a picture of the focal point simultaneously. I think they then played the images back in sequence.

    • If you take all the pictures simultaneously, then the subject will be stationary (ie frozen in a pose). If you take them sequentially, then you still get the fly around, but the subject can move as well.
  • Suggestion one: if your school has a football field, try implementing something like XKCD suggests. Who knows, maybe the kids will learn some perspective.

    Suggestion two: convert them to near-infrared imaging, and let the physics teachers and the art club go nuts with them.

  • Use them at door gifts if you setup at any job fairs for local colleges etc. That's what a lot of departments at Penn state do

  • by cowtamer ( 311087 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @05:53PM (#37718906) Journal

    Build a camera array similar to what Stanford has done (see http://graphics.stanford.edu/projects/array/ [stanford.edu] ) for fast imaging, or building a camera array to refocus images after the fact (see http://lightfield.stanford.edu/ [stanford.edu] ).

    Otherwise, you could do your own "bullet-time" live spin-around imaging system by placing them around a circular room.

    • by ka9dgx ( 72702 )

      When I saw the camera array focus through the bushes behind their subject... I was hooked. However I didn't have the budget, so I started experimenting with 1 camera and many shots from a small area... if you have stationary subjects, you can do the refocusing with a single camera and a lot of time....

      Here are some photos of Chicago in synthetic focus [flickr.com] as an example.

      I would love to be able to build a portable 64 camera array.

  • by pz ( 113803 )

    This requires lots of work---

    1. design a mount so that all 45 of the cameras can be pointed in exactly the same direction in a fixed array, say, 9 x 5, with exactly the same distance between each.

    2. design a means to trigger and capture images simultaneously from all 45 cameras.

    3. design a means to stitch together all 45 images that takes advantage of overlapping areas to increase resolution

    So does this one ----

    1. lay the 45 cameras out in a line, all pointing in the same direction, slightly upward

    2. arrang

  • I can think of several things to do. These would make great starters for science fair projects or in-class studies. You could hook one up to a microscope, or telescope. There are several projects on the web about making spectrophotometers. Use them for time-lapse studies of plants or young animals (frog's eggs developing). Use them for motion studies/kinematics. Have you asked the students for creative ideas? I bet there are several art projects that could use them.
  • (Yes, I know this is Slashdot).
    The cameras in question are USB 2.0 based devices, so that defines what's practical here by the USB standard. For example, if the project is worth about $29 US per camera, then cameras can each be located about 100-150 feet away from a PC, using CAT 5 based extensions to USB. If you can't raise about that much money for the project, it's out - for example mounting cameras near raptor's nests that may be 50-80 feet off the ground is probably only going to be feasible even with

  • Hmmm... If you're artistic, how about a budget version of David Hockney's latest experimentation [technologyreview.com].

  • by NReitzel ( 77941 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:41PM (#37719504) Homepage

    Put them around 5 gallons of dry cleaning solvent, and make a Cerenkov neutrino detector.

  • Contest (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jadin ( 65295 ) on Friday October 14, 2011 @06:44PM (#37719558) Homepage


    Have all the students submit ideas, then let them vote on which project to do.

    I'm guessing 50 school kids can come up with some pretty unique ideas.

  • Have the students use them to build a robotic rover. These will hook up to a Basic Stamp or a Raspberry Pi. Add a few motors, and voila!
  • 1.) set up cameras in this year's halloween haunted house (assuming your school does that). Get some of the kids to splice recordings from Oct 31 into a montage of "funny memories".

    2.) Make "observation boxes" for who ever can come up with a reason to use them. Figure 5-6 cameras a box, with decent lighting. It might be useful for some biology/chemistry experiments...or just an ant farm.

    3.) Place cameras up outside near where the kids are picked up/dropped off. Basically, when ever a kid leaves the campus y

  • How about you get with one of the science teachers and whoever else is necessary to set up a nesting box for a falcon or eagle or something on the roof of the school or elsewhere appropriate.

    Set it up so that there are a couple webcams with external views, and maybe even one peaking into the box so if you get lucky the students can see it roosting.

    My university (UMass Lowell) did this recently with and it was pretty cool to see the Peregrine Falcons up close.
  • Put all of them up on some old shelving, and serve cake [g4tv.com].

  • But do those old webcams work on Windows 7? Cause my XP webcams don't.
  • Send them to me, I'll figure something out.

  • Donate them to a school? Put them on an RC car? There are endless hobbyist uses for them. I did read an article on the net somewhere about turning a Logitech brand cam into a ultraviolet camera. Was pretty cool. Google it. You could also just throw them out or eBay them.
  • There are a lot of other fun things you can do - like recording a sports game from "all possible" angles and then use the videos as a raw data for a film with the best moments.

    Record the game, then let a few groups of students come up with one video each of five minutes each from what they think was the best video moments and then see how different the videos are.

    You are of course not limited to sports events, you can actually use other kinds of events too.

    And making a stereoscopic video (3D-video) would a

  • Zoneminder [zoneminder.com] works well... warning though, you'll need something with lots of cores and lots of RAM. Oh, almost forgot to mention, it's free (as in beer) and open source.

  • That's a serious question, why you replace 45 perfectly good working cameras with new cameras? If they were broken, then you wouldn't ask what do to with them. It's not like the quality of web-cameras matters, or that the cameras get worse with time. That's like you decide to throw away 2000$ for no reason at all.

  • You can create a pretty cool random number generator with a webcam and a smoke detector:

    http://slashdot.org/story/06/08/13/1311238/diy-random-number-generator [slashdot.org]

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel