Chances are that if you own a webcam, you have probably only used it for video calls on Skype or Hangouts. Or maybe, you might have used it to stream your gameplay on Twitch or YouTube. Apart from the above, there are a bunch of other ways in which you could put your webcam to use. And we aren’t talking only about the fun tools that simply add filters to your face. We are talking about serious (albeit impractical) software and utilities that actually offer additional useful features. The best part about this is that you don’t need an expensive webcam. However, if you want to completely geek out with the tools listed below, you could spend a little extra. It’s time to pull off the tape (if you’re among the paranoid ones) covering your webcam and geek out with the following tools.
HOME SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM
With a webcam at your disposal, you might naturally be inclined to tinker around with a home surveillance system. Although “home” surveillance might sound too much of a stretch, we will use “room” surveillance since we assume that the webcam is in your room. Our choice for a free software is Netcam Studio, offering all the required features to record and remotely access your webcam. You’ll have to setup the server with your preferred configuration or the pre-configured ones installed for network cameras. Along with motion detection, you also get the option to enable audio detection. If you need a powerful surveillance software for free, you should definitely go for this. During our gaming streams, we were trying to looking for a solution to set up a multi-cam setup over the network. We came across Yawcam and this small webcam software makes it super easy to start a stream and access it within the network. If you have more than one webcam at home, you can even add multiple sources to the same Netcam server. This will let you create your own DIY home surveillance system. Yawcam can also be used as a basic remote surveillance system.
Another expected application of your webcam would be to use facial recognition to authenticate access to services. Earlier, you would come across many software that acted as a gatekeeper for your desktop. They gave you access only after recognising your face. But since Windows incorporated Windows Hello by default, those tools became redundant. However, you can still use facial recognition to authenticate your logins on several websites. There are a few Windows desktop apps (downloaded from the Microsoft Store) that support this feature through Windows Hello. But you’d have to individually install those apps. Intel’s True Key is like a password manager but it also supports facial recognition. It works like regular password managers by installing an extension on your browser and making logins secure and super fast. Your facial details are stored on their cloud servers and you can add more than one factor to authenticate access. So, if you’re logging into True Key on a new browser, you can use your facial details, a registered device and a master password, all together to authenticate a single secure login. True Key is supported on mobile devices as well.
FACE AND HEAD TRACKING
Virtual reality is taking over gaming rapidly, however, owning a VR headset is still an expensive ordeal. What if we told you that you could build a complete VR headset for under `1,000? A few years ago, when VR had just entered the market, we set out to find out whether we could build a cheap VR headset that was capable of offering all the functionalities of a mainstream one. We were successful in creating our own “Oculus Thrift”. The entire contraption was made with an accelerometer and LEDs to track our head movement in tandem with the webcam. A face tracking software called Face Track 2.0 was used along with the hardware. This setup allowed us to play a few video games back in 2014. And now, more games have been added.
It’s easier to control the desktop with your mouse and keyboard, but it’s definitely cool to control it with your head. Using Viacam, you can move your head to control the mouse. The software dynamically tracks your face by projecting data points on your face and accordingly moves the mouse based on your head movement. If you want to select something, you allow the mouse to stay over the button or icon for a second. It certainly isn’t a practical solution, no matter how much you calibrate it. Viacam is free to use and requires a good amount of light falling on your face. You can change the acceleration and speed according to your preferences so that you don’t have to move your head too much.
GESTURE CONTROL FOR MUSIC PLAYBACK
Do you still use your mouse or keyboard to pause or skip music? All of the above can be done using hand gestures. An app called Flutter recognises your hand and a set of gestures which can be used to play, pause, and play the previous or next song. There aren’t any settings in the app, all you need to do is turn the camera on through the app to recognise your hand gestures. Placing your palm in front of the camera either plays or pauses the song. In order to play the previous or next song, you need to do a horizontal thumbs-up gesture. Based on the direction your thumb is pointing, the song changes. So, pointing your thumb to the left, causes the previous song to start playing while pointing your thumb to the right skips the current song. In order to recognise your hand gestures, you need to keep your hand at a recommended distance of 1-6 feet. There haven’t been any announcements or updates from the developers since 2013 after they were acquired by Google.
GESTURE CONTROL FOR GAMES
Now, don’t expect to be able to control just about any video game out there with your hands. Camspace recognises objects and lets you use them as controllers in supported games. Although the software claims to support any external game with a virtual controller, we couldn’t get it up and running. However, we were able to play the games within the software such as Air Hockey and Curve Ball. You need a coloured object (bright colour recommended) to be recognised as a controller which has to be moved around to control the game. You also need to ensure that you have suitable lighting for the object. Tracking isn’t perfect but it is definitely fun to play some games using gestures.