Rusty Divine

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Case Study - Car Webcam

Have you ever said to yourself, "Wow, if I only had a webcam in my car..."? No? Me neither, but it might be a fun exercise to explore anyway. We'll leave it to the marketers to figure out how to sell it, right?

What this project is going to need:

  • One car
  • One laptop
  • One webcam
  • One mobile Internet connection

One Car
I like my car's in SUV form - it will put you up high enough so that your webcam view isn't obstructed by other autos. Be sure to get the biggest SUV; either a Hummer, or an RV. Oh, and it will need at least one cigarette lighter for a power station.

One Laptop
Our laptop doesn't need to be anything special, it mainly just needs a PC Card Slot II that will be used for the mobile Internet card and an RJ45 Ethernet port to plug the camera into. You can get some great deals on eBay - I like Dell's personally. For this study, get one that can run Windows.

The laptop will likely only last two hours tops, so you'll want to invest in a power inverter to convert the car's DC into AC (if you will only be using the equip while the car is on), or an external laptop battery with a 7 hour life, or a power unit that can both run the equipment and jump start the car if you drain your battery, or a combination of those three.

I recommend getting the power unit to run the camera, and the external battery to run the laptop - that combination will yield at least 12 hours of power for the system without being recharged.

The power unit can be recharged in 4 hours using a DC supply (while no appliances are plugged into it), and for some reason it takes 36 hours to charge on AC. So, if you plan to do AC charging overnight from home, then pick up a DC converter ($99) and kit ($9) for a quick charge from home.

One Webcam
You can scrimp on the cam, but you'll be sorry. What is needed is a good security-type cam that has decent quality at a distance. The camera should be an Ethernet camera (USB cam quality is fine for video chatting, but not good at distance imagery), and have its own internal web server.

I recommend the Panasonic WV-NP244 ($592) and the enclosure ($228) available on the accessories page. With this camera, you'll be able to mount it to the roof of your car and not worry about rain, or sleet - but watch out for flying rocks.

To give your friends a static webcam link, create an account at No-IP's dynamic IP address resolver. The account is free, and includes a free utility that is installed on the laptop. The utility check's your IP address (assigned dynamically by your ISP), and updates No-IP's servers when it charges. No-IP then lets you select a free domain like CarCam.no-ip.org, or pay to register a custom domain.

One Mobile Internet Connection
For mobile Internet, there's really only one choice - Sprint's Mobile Broadband - it's the fastest around, and is the only one I found that didn't prohibit streaming media on it's unlimited bandwidth connection! At $80/month, it's a good deal ($70/month if you have a cell phone with them), and even better, they throw in a mobile Internet PC card modem for free when you sign up.

Be sure to check the coverage map for your area though; this will only work in metro areas most likely. If you live outside of the metro area covered, consider getting a satellite hookup like RVs use (I don't know if you can use these while driving down the road).

Conclusion
While it is possible to setup a webcam in your car, I'm still not sure why you insist on doing so. Oh well, just go waste your money then. Make sure your insurance is paid up - I'm sure running a webcam while driving will be the next big accident causer after cell-phones.

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