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Museum Tech: Fun with Webcams « MAD Blog
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Museum Tech: Fun with Webcams

The Museum Tech series offers insight and instruction on making technology work for museums. This project has a difficulty rating of: no problem.

Last Saturday, Jessica in the Education Department arranged for Second Lives artist Long-Bin Chento work in our sixth floor artist studios. The problem: Long-Bin carves phone books with a band saw, sanders and rotary tools, which produces more than a little bit of dust. The solution: three remotely-controlled web cameras driving two displays and a projector allowed the many visitors to see Long-Bin’s work close-up without having to wear the latest in desert fashion.

Long-Bin Chen at work in the MAD studios

Long-Bin Chen at work in the MAD studios

This is a great project for a museum: it really can improve the visitor experience for certain types of projects, it looks really fancy, and it’s not that difficult to set up.

Making it all work: quick overview

  1. Set up each camera on a flat surface or tripod. Plug it into our network with a standard network cable. Plug it into the wall for power.
  2. Give the camera an address on the network.
  3. Turn on the computer driving your monitor or projector. Open a web browser, and type in the IP address of your camera.
    • If you want to get fancy, use RDP on Windows or VNC on Mac to remotely control your display computer so you don’t have to actually touch it during the presentation. This isn’t covered below, so leave a comment if you want more details on how that can be done.
  4. Bask in your technical prowess. Don’t diminish others’ opinion of you with too many Star Wars references.

The Cameras
For those who don’t know, a webcam (or network camera) is really defined by two things. First, there generally isn’t any local storage (tape, disc, etc.) attached to the camera. Second, the camera is plugged into a network, and then it is controlled via a computer attached to that same network. These types of cameras are most commonly used as security cameras, but they work great for this kind of application, too.

these aren't the droids you're looking for

these aren

We have three Sony IPELA cameras. They aren’t the newest model available, but they work for us. These cameras get plugged into our local network with a regular network cable and plugged into the wall for power.

The networking stuff
In order to be able to access and control the camera from a computer, the camera has to be given a network address. Many networks are set up to automatically grant an address any time a device or computer plugs in. This doesn’t work so well for these cameras, because there is no way to know what address has been automatically assigned, and so you don’t know where to connect in order to access your camera. So, a little bit of extra work is required. First, ask your network admin for a couple of available addresses and write them down. For me, John the IT master lets me use 10.1.5.200. Next, turn your camera over and look for the MAC address, which is printed on the bottom – my camera is 00-01-fA-2F-c4-25. Write that down, too. Next, on a windows machine, open up a command window by clicking ‘start,’ then ‘run,’ and then typing ‘cmd’ and hitting enter. The black window that opens up has a very 1994 MS-DOS kind of feel – don’t be afraid. Type:

arp -s [AN.AVAILABLE.IP.ADDRESS] [THE-MAC-ADDRESS-OF-YOUR-CAMERA]

For instance, I type:

arp -s 10.1.5.200 00-01-41-2F-C4-25

The arp command forces the network to reassign an address from whatever was automatically assigned to whatever you specified. To make sure that it worked, type:

ping -t YOUR_IP_ADDRESS

The ping command is used to locate a device on a network – you’ll see it run a couple of time without a response, and then you’ll see a flurry of responses as the camera begins to communicate over the network. Close the command window, and you are ready to go. Just open a web browser, type in the IP address that you assigned, and you should see the camera’s blue home page. Congratulations – your camera is now online.

The Displays
Each of the web cameras actually contains a little web server. You can view the feed and control the cameras by navigating to a web page hosted by that server in your computer’s web browser (unfortunately, these cameras play best with Internet Explorer, but Firefox and Safari do work). Here’s what the interface looks like:

the gentleman is wearing an ensemble from the 'Autumn in New York' collection

here the gentleman is wearing an ensemble from the

To control the camera, you can click on any point on the image to center the view on that point. Zooming is achieved by clicking and dragging on the image to select a zoom area. The camera has a really nice 10x optical zoom which works great for closeups.

The fact that the camera can be controlled and viewed in any web browser makes piping the feed to one or multiple displays very easy. In our setup, two Mac minis (old ones work fine) were attached to two monitors, and a laptop was plugged into the built-in projector in our public program room. Each computer was pointed at the web page generated by one of the 3 cameras we had set up, and we had a near instant, three-camera remote display setup.

Mac and monitor displaying a live feed

Mac and monitor displaying a live feed

Museum visitors watch the demonstration in a dust-free environment

Museum visitors watch the demonstration in a dust-free environment

As usual, feel free to ask any questions about our setup, your setup, or where I buy my sweaters in the comments.

 

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  • Might your instructions for this type of time lapse/video setup apply to a digital camera that is not a web-cam?

    Where DO you buy your sweaters?

  • Kiximadomma

    Спасибо за пост! Добавил блог в RSS-ридер, теперь читать буду регулярно..

  • This setup works great for time-lapse, as long as you don’t mind less-than-fantastic image quality. The camera produces jpegs at 640 x 480, but the optics are probably not as good as we have come to expect with most digital cameras.
    One thing – make sure you are working in jpeg mode, not mpeg mode. You can do time-lapse in mpeg mode, but the stills produced are in a proprietary format that only can be converted by a piece of software on the camera. Not a fun task if you have 6000 images to produce.
    At some point, I’ll post some time lapse to youtube, and link here.

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