Usually the expression “phone it in” refers to an uninspired, dreary performance, but with the introduction of Nokia?s new Observation Camera, the phrase takes on a new meaning suggesting superb design and understated excellence.

During the July/Aug ?04 timeframe, I worked with the State of WA to improve the reliability of a wildlife camera?s connectivity. The camera was monitoring a colony of seals several hundred yards distant. The imagery was very good indeed, but the POTS line and 38K modem left a lot to be desired.

The connection frequently died and usually refused to come back up on its own, and being a remote site, it was very difficult (and expensive) for a team of two or three to visit the site and restore the connection. Thus was born the idea of using an ordinary cell phone to transmit the images. I cobbled together a system comprising the existing camera and AXIS 2401+ video server, a Motorola V66 cellphone, an external antenna, and a laptop running Windows XP Pro.

As before, the camera fed the video to the AXIS server. The server digitized the video and periodically initiated an FTP upload of the image to a waiting website.

However, in this new configuration I instructed the server to upload images using a network connection rather than the modem connection, and connected the server to the laptop?s network connector. The server was now talking to the laptop?s network software.

I then attached the Moto V66 cellphone to the laptop?s serial connector and fired up t-mobile?s software to establish an internet connection over the cellphone.

And finally, I configured a network bridge in the laptop software, instructing the laptop to share its internet connection with an external computer (in this case, the AXIS 2401+ video server).

Surprisingly, this configuration worked very well indeed. Although the V66 cellphone functioned as a lowly 19K modem, there was no problem uploading the images.

Nokia, however, took the idea one step further by placing the camera, video server, networking, and cellphone functionality all in one small package, and threw in IR LEDs, motion detection, and a thermometer as well. Neat little package for the right application.

Now, at this point, I don?t have much experience with the camera but I can tell you that the camera, LEDs, and software work just fine. I haven?t yet tried the motion detector or thermometer in a real-world environment, but I?m confident they would perform equally well though they?ll probably never be used in this client?s application.

The camera itself is not a terribly powerful instrument; we probably won?t be using this camera to view seals several hundred meters away, but it is quite well suited to an application in a home or office, boat, or any application where the distance to the subject is relatively short.

Once this camera is in place and cellphone service has been arranged, one may view images directly by email or MMS/SMS messaging to your cellphone. The camera may also be instructed to upload (email or MMS) images upon motion detection or when the ambient temperature moves out of a designated range.

You can even HEAR what?s happening at the site ? after all, this is a phone!

Nokia says the camera can handle up to 20 users concurrently, of which one is designated as ?superuser? and can configure the camera over the phone. Other users are restricted to aural and visual inputs.

The camera comes with a mount suitable for desk or wall, power adaptor, software CD, user?s manual, and a data cable for connection to a laptop/PC.

Outdoor applications require the purchase of an environmental housing and suitable mount, and an external antenna with associated antenna mount. The antenna should be at least dual-frequency, covering both 900MHz and 1800MHz. While there are many suppliers of antennas, we prefer TESSCO.

And, if you?re going to purchase an external antenna, you will need an external antenna adaptor cable, Nokia?s XRM-1 adaptor.

Now, may I share a little time-saving and labor saving advice with you? DO NOT attempt to buy the XRM-1 from Nokia. You will truly come to regret your action if you do. I spent over three hours with Nokia representatives ? not one, NOT ONE of them knew what I was talking about. Worse, when I tried to show them what I was talking about by giving them the URL of the descriptive page, they couldn?t see the page. Rightly or wrongly, I attributed that to my using the internet while they used an intranet.

Anyway, you can purchase the camera and the XRM-1 external antenna adaptor, if required, from Avnet Applied Computing (877) 275-2863 x8712 – Toll Free.

However, there is some bad news if you are ordering the XRM-1 ? you need to place a minimum order of ten cables ? they come ten to a bag. That?ll set you back something like $260. The camera lists for approximately $450, but don?t forget that it?s really a bargain ? you don?t need to buy a server. All you do is configure your camera, place it where you need it, and come in over your cellphone or check your email to see your images.

When Nokia begins to think about migrating to version 1.1 of the camera, my only suggestion would be to add an FTP client enabling the camera to post images directly to a designated website. But as it is, for the right application, the Nokia Observation Camera is really a neat device.

It eliminates a lot of technical issues which are painful to some, and makes it easy for one to look in on the home, office, driveway, or other location from half-way ?round the world.

May we configure a system for you?
ThermoSight, Inc.