Bubble Cam - How it Works

(Click on links in description to see photos)

The Bubblecam is mounted in a specially constructed house which looks suspiciously like one of those old-time outhouses.  The bubble "outhouse" shelters the camera, the bubble machines and a hefty supply of bubbles.  The photos don't show it well but the house also contains a UPS for power protection as well as lightning protection for the camera's Ethernet cable.  The bubble house is so sturdy that when hurricanes come along, we just empty it out and lay it face down on the ground.

Bubbles are filled from a 7 gallon jug fitted with a "bottling spigot" and picnic tap which are all leftover home brewing supplies from our home brewed beer phase.  This allows us to pre-mix two or three weeks worth of water and bubble solution.  We found we needed to cut the bubble solution with water using two parts bubble solution to one part water.  This keeps the bubble solution from getting too thick due to evaporation on hot summer days.  It also allows us to make a supply of bubble solution last longer.

The camera is a D-Link DCS-1000 Ethernet camera.  This camera contains its own web server responsible for serving up the video stream.  The camera plugs directly into our computer network hub through an Ethernet cable with lightning protection on both ends. We've tried several less expensive camera solutions and you generally get what you pay for.  This camera has been the least trouble and is going on its third year.

The bubble machines are controlled by a custom program Mike wrote.  The software is triggered each time the "Bubbles" button is clicked.  When the program runs, it first looks at the clock on the server to get the current time.  It then computes the sunrise and sunset times based on the date and our exact latitude and longitude.  If the program determines the bubbles button was pressed during nighttime hours, it will tell the user to come back during daylight hours.  If the bubbles button is pressed during daylight hours, the server turns on one of the bubble machines.

The bubble machines are turned on by another custom program Mike wrote using the Smarthome PowerLink computer interface.  The PowerLink product is designed to allow hobbyists to write software for controlling lights and appliances using X10 modules.  The interface broadcasts commands into the house's electrical wiring which are picked up by X10 modules.  The bubble machines are plugged into the X10 modules and when the module supplies power, the garden is filled with bubbles.  The server lets each machine run for 30 seconds before sending an "off" signal to the machine's X10 module.

 The server program alternates between each of the two bubble machines each time the bubble button is pressed.  This has several advantages over a single bubble machine.  First, it allows us to go twice as long between refills.  It also provides some redundancy in the event of a machine failure.  Should we need to do maintenance on one of the machines, we can quickly tell the server to stop alternating and use a specific machine.


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