“Is the conference room available?” That’s a question we hear a lot. Any member can reserve the conference room and see the current schedule online but sometimes the room is empty and they want to know if it’s been reserved. Or the door is shut and they want to know how much longer it will be occupied. Going to the online schedule can be a hassle and so the question gets asked.
We tried printing out a daily schedule and posting it next to the conference room door but sometimes the schedule changes during the day and, frankly, it was a chore to remember to do it every morning.
Technology to the rescue
We now have a fancy flat panel screen that displays the current conference room schedule, a weather forecast and pretty rotating background images. Here’s how it all went together.
Our calendars are hosted by a service called TeamUp. Each member gets a unique URL to the conference room calendar, allowing them to add, edit and delete their own events, but no one else’s. An administrator gets an email notification each time the calendar is modified, just to keep an eye on things.
To get the calendar into a nice format, along with the weather info and background images, we used another online service, DAKBoard. This service can synchronize calendar entries from a variety of online calendars, including TeamUp. It also provides a selection of screen layouts. We chose a vertical orientation, to display a full month at once.
To display DAKBoard, the monitor needs to be connected to a computer running a web browser. For this, we went with the smallest, lightest, most efficient device we could find, the Raspberry Pi Zero. This single-board computer includes a 1GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, WiFi, USB and HDMI ports. It runs a version of the Linux operating system from a Micro SD card, so it needs no external storage. Best of all, a full kit cost only $24.99 from Amazon.
A 20″ wide format monitor was generously provided to us by Larry Cope at the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority. There was already a nice chunk of plywood attached to the wall for our networking equipment, where we could hang the monitor on an articulated arm.
Linux always takes a bit of tinkering to make it work, but all that we really needed was to run a web browser in kiosk mode, to display our DAKBoard. By following these instructions on the DAKBoard blog, things went together fairly easily (note: the Pi Zero is so small, we didn’t need to modify the monitor as described in the post).
Letting our geek flag fly
Visitors and members alike have been impressed with this fun bit of technology serving a practical need. And it’s a kick showing them the computer that powers it all. We look forward to finding other projects that can make use of the small but mighty Raspberry Pi.