For a long time now, I’ve been wanting to find a way to monitor the house, or at least the entrances, while we’re away on vacation or visiting family. I’ve been hoping to find a good deal on a pre-canned wifi webcam, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened. To put things into perspective, I was looking for a few webcams that could be had for $75 or less. Last I checked, such a thing didn’t exist at this price point, and if it did, it probably didn’t support WPA/WPA2 authentication (much more stable and secure than WEP), didn’t have resolution above 640×480, and may not be easily relocatable/reusable.
Needless to say, I never could bring myself to pay $100+ on a suitable webcam as I wanted at least 3 of these things to use outside of the house. A year or two went by, and then I discovered that Marvell came out with this new line of CPUs based on the ARM architecture, called Kirkwood. These are low-power, low-heat, fast processors. Marvell designed a teeny-tiny development system around this CPU and called it the SheevaPlug. The best part is this thing is cheap: $100 for a 1.2GHz CPU, 256MB of RAM, 512MB of NAND, SDHC card slot, 4 USB ports, and gigabit ethernet. The Kirkwood also supports PCI-Express and a single SATA port, but unfortunately the designer/manufacturer of the SheevaPlug didn’t bring either of these interfaces out. Regardless, this system is really cool as it’s the size of a sorta large wall-wart. I’ve wanted one ever since it came out, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay $100 for something I’d just want to mess around with.
So another year or so went by and I stumbled on this device that Seagate used to make called the Dockstar. This little box enables you to plop a hard drive or USB stick int any of the 4 USB ports and share the contents on the drive(s) on the internet using the PogoPlug service. The whole sharing my files across the internet using some company’s service doesn’t really make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but the hackability of this thing is very good. Essentially the Dockstar is a mildly stripped down version of the SheevaPlug. It only has 128MB of RAM and 256MB of NAND flash, but other features like the gigabit ethernet, 1.2GHz CPU…etc were retained. It is also missing a SD card slot and the RTC parts (oscillator, backup power source).
Now the best part of the dockstar is that they were easily had for $25 and there’s lots of people hacking the things to put a full-blown linux system on them. I sprung on one initially (I now have 4) to play around with.
Long story short, the Dockstar ended up opening up the possibility to build my own custom wifi webcam that can also do way more than just be a wifi webcam if needed.