Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-12
End: 2022-10
More projects like this
Operating Systems

video box

Affordable open hardware video-to-network

The goal of the FOSDEM video box project is to develop a cheap, compact, open hardware & free software video-to-network solution. Initial motivation came from scratching our own itch: replacing 60 bulky, costly, not entirely free boxes currently used at the conference. Several other conferences have already used the current setup successfully. We expect this number to grow in the future. The solution being free software and open hardware should make it flexible to adapt to different environments, like education. Being cheap and compact encourages experimental use in areas difficult to foresee. On the hardware side, we use the open hardware Olimex Lime2 board (EU built!) as a base. We plan an open hardware hdmi input daughterboard, iterating on a simplified prototype that helped us verify feasibility. On the software side, the core Allwinner A20 chip has attracted a lot of free and open source development already. That enables us to focus our efforts on optimising video encoding on this platform from a hdmi signal to a compact network stream.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

One of the things people enjoy the most about the internet, is that it enables them to talk to others remotely almost without limit. Internet allows anyone to keep closely connected with friends and family, and help their kids solve a math problem while they are at work. People collaborate with their colleagues from the couch of their living room, the cafe where they enjoy lunch or on their cell phone on the bus to the gym. Businesses can easily service their customers where this is most convenient to them, without having to travel themselves. This is so convenient, that some businesses have already moved entirely online. Internet communication has become the nerve center of whole neighbourhoods, where people watch over the possessions of their neighbours while these are away for work or leisure.

However, users have a hard time to understand how privacy is impacted if they use the wrong technology. Because internet works almost everywhere, the natural privacy protection of the walls of a house, a school or an office is gone. Unlike the traditional phone companies, many of the large technology providers run their business not on delivering an honest service but on secretly eavesdropping on their users and selling information to others. It is mostly not about what you say, so it is relatively easy for providers to allow some form of privacy by encrypting messages. The more interesting parts are who talks to whom, when, and where they are in the real world while they meet on the internet. if you want to be reachable across the internet, you have to constantly let the communication provider follow you wherever you go. This makes the private and professional lives of citizens an open book to companies that with the help of AI and other technologies make billions from selling 'hidden data' normal people are completely unaware of even exists. And of course in societies that are not so democratic, this type of information is critical to bring down opposition and stifle human rights.

These risks of surveillance and profiling also exist for videoconferencing, which can be very useful to reach a worldwide audience, but is not so democratic when that audience is continuously tracked. Especially public institutions like schools, universities and local governments should not rely on proprietary hardware and software for videoconferencing, as they risk having their viewers logged and their videos stored and monetized. Instead public conferencing can be done with publicly developed and transparent devices and tools.

This project aims to develop open videoconferencing hardware and software for FOSDEM, the largest European gathering on free and open source software. In the main campus of the Belgian ULB-university, thousands of developers gather from all over the world to discuss and promote free and open source software. The conference is non-commercial and entrance is free for all. At times over 50 parallel sessions are organized and every talk is recorded and streamed, currently using hardware that is not entirely transparent. This project aims to develop open videoconferencing devices that are not only free, but also less costly and sizable. FOSDEM will then be available for everyone using the same open hardware and open source software promoted at the conference. And other organizations using the FOSDEM-setup will benefit just the same from trustworthy, transparent videoconferencing, built solely to spread ideas and knowledge.

Run by FOSDEM vzw

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This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.