Dad builds video baby monitor

How being technically savvy can help reduce the cost of bringing up children - and help you keep an eye on them

Video baby monitors are among the latest gadgets offering peace of mind to anxious new parents, but with a price tag of up to £200, they are beyond the reach of many families on a budget.

That's why when his daughter Lily was born, customer relations manager Rupert Plumridge from Bristol decided to use Android devices, a night-vision webcam and open source platforms (free software) to build his own.

Two and a half years later (plus a new addition to the family in the form of five-month-old Dominic) Mr Plumridge, a self-confessed "geek" in his spare time, thinks he has perfected his video monitor system - and he says it cost him just £50.

"It's all free apart from the camera itself," he said.

What is open source?

The creators of open source software allow others to access to their products' code to allow them to examine and modify its contents.

However, they may still exercise intellectual property rights over it - for example forbidding an adapted copy of their work being sold for profit.

As a result some firms which develop open source projects charge for add-on services rather than the software itself.

The California-based Open Source Initiative has published a commonly-accepted definition of the term on its site.

It says software licences should not discriminate against any group or field of endeavour, and should be technology-neutral - in other words not restricting the product to any single computer platform or style of interface.

The best known examples of open source software include Android and other Linux-based operating systems; the Mozilla Firefox browser; the Gimp graphics editor; and the WordPress blog software.

The webcam he chose can be moved via remote control, has night vision and a microphone.

Mr Plumridge has video feeds from both his children's bedrooms which he can view via wi-fi from his Android smartphone, tablet, laptop and kitchen TV.

He used the free version of an app called IP Cam Viewer for the tablet and TV, and a free media player called VLC on the laptop.

"I can view it on my phone anywhere in the world if you have a mobile network connection," he said.

"I was in London a couple of days ago, and I watched my son and daughter going to sleep."

He says that the password-protected wi-fi he has at home is sufficient security to prevent others from tuning in to observe his sleeping infants.

Reassurance

For now his children do not seem to be fazed by the small webcam glowing in their bedrooms at night.

"It looks like a glowing eye," he admitted.

"It could be a bit freaky but Lily doesn't mind. It reassures her, she knows mummy and daddy are looking out for her.

"Some people might think it's a bit 'Big Brothery' but it's more just to know they're OK," said Mr Plumridge.

"If Lily tells us to turn it off, we'll turn it off. It's down to her when we take it away."

Mr Plumridge has rigged up his monitor for friends as a favour and has blogged about how he did it, but he doesn't intend to enter the market.

"I'm a big believer in open-source software, I'm happy to share the knowledge," he said.

"Why charge for something that's free anyway?"

Commercial cameras

Security camera firm Y-Cam is one of the latest entrants to that market after launching BabyPing, a commercially video monitor system for tablet computers and smartphones, six months ago.

Rupert Plumridge with his baby monitor Rupert Plumridge can keep an eye on his children from his kitchen TV.

"We were seeing parents buying our cameras and adapting them to make into baby monitors, and we thought, 'that's a great idea'," said spokesperson James Hunt.

When Y-Cam chief executive Devin Chawda had a baby he did the same thing himself.

"He said 'It's great but it's missing some features' - so he started working with our product team to create this baby monitor," said Mr Hunt.

Mr Hunt says BabyPing's £165 price includes invisible infrared technology so the night vision camera cannot be seen by the baby, and some software they have developed themselves called Smartfilter, which blocks out crackling and feedback noises.

So far it has proved more popular in the US than the UK, said Mr Hunt, and is currently only available for Apple products, although an Android version is due out in 2013.

Cost caution

Anne Longfield, chief executive of national children's charity 4Children, urged caution about investing in costly gadgets in the nursery if money is tight.

"The big example of where technology is developing rapidly is around baby monitors," she told the BBC.

"Traditionally the monitor would tell parents when the baby wakes up. Now you have heartbeat monitors and videos.

"You need to take a judgement on whether it's absolutely essential, is it really going to help your baby?

"If you have a whole bank of technology around you there's a danger you won't be able to relax."

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