Keep Grandma Company with This Automatic Videoconferencing System

To help alleviate loneliness during quarantine, this hacker set up an always-on Raspberry Pi-based videoconferencing device.

Jeremy S. Cook
3 months agoCommunication / COVID-19

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, people are sheltering in place, isolating themselves from loved ones and the outside world in general. Seniors are an especially at-risk population, so hacker "Rundhall" decided to build his 90-year old grandmother a Raspberry Pi-based videoconferencing unit to stay connected with others, while remaining inside. As grandma generally eschews newer technologies, the device is always-on with no need to turn on/of or start calls herself.

The setup uses a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ and Camera Module, along with a USB sound card, monitor, amplifier, speaker, and old headset as the mic. A rather nice enclosure was printed for the Pi, plus housing for the amp.

With these elements in place, the bulk of the project write-up pertains to configuring Raspbian with WiFi and SSH access, then the router and other connection bits to expose the Pi to the Internet. This includes setting up a domain with noip.com to keep track of the router’s changing IP address, and logging in with RealVNC viewer on a remote PC. Videoconferencing can thus be started remotely, keeping grandma company while still staying at a safe distance.

The project looks like a great way to help others keep in touch, and serves as a good primer for getting your Pi online. The one caveat here is that opening a port at the router this way isn’t the most secure connection method, but Rundhall didn’t know of a safer way. On the other hand, the Pi has a difficult password, contains no sensitive information, and there’s a big red switch to power off if things go awry.

Jeremy S. Cook
Engineer, maker of random contraptions, love learning about tech. Write for various publications, including Hackster!
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