CallMaster - take control of your phoneline!

by Joseph Heenan

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Joseph HeenanBy Joseph Heenan
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Joseph HeenanBy Joseph Heenan
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About

Are you fed up of repeated unwanted sales and marketing calls? Automated messages? Or Silent calls? CallMaster can help.

Want to guarantee a peaceful nights' sleep, ensuring only the very most important calls can get through? CallMaster can help.

Do you want to see a record of your most recent callers, how often people called, and get instant notification of who's calling on your PC, Mac or mobile device? CallMaster can help.

With quick and easy installation and setup, and easy management through our simple custom apps for PC, Mac, and mobile devices, CallMaster can help you take full control of your landline telephone.

This isn't even the limit of what CallMaster can do - the protocol and client software will all be open, so we fully expect other people are going to find ever more innovative ways to use CallMaster. Some users have suggested they'd wire it up to pause their Sky+ or WinAmp when the phone rings, to open their customer database at the right entry, or to integrate caller id into their home automation system. We'll be supplying a simple perl script that listens for call notifications, this should allow people to easily turn these kinds of ideas into reality.

So why do we need your pledge? Electronics products are expensive to manufacture unless you do it on a large scale. We have already funded the development R&D, prototype and functional testing ourselves, but we can only produce this at a sensible price by being able to build in quantity. We need your pledge to be able to order up electronics components in quantity, create mould tooling for case injection moulding, and final CE safety approval testing. Your contributions will also allow us to deliver CallMaster to the market as quickly as possible.

Here's a breakdown of how much one unit costs us:

Breakdown of costs based on a 250 unit order
Breakdown of costs based on a 250 unit order

The total cost for one unit is around £71 pounds (all figures include VAT) and the two exploded segments on the pie chart show the big fixed costs - as we sell more units, the per-unit cost of these items go down.

We're thinking about some stretch goals for once we break through our target. FCC certification is something we're considering, it would allow us to supply the device to the US market - it's all ready to go, but just needs the expensive certification paperwork. We'd love to hear any other suggestions you have for stretch goals!

CallMaster will help you take control and get more value from your existing landline. Please help us make it a reality with your pledge to us today, and as a reward you can be one of the first to receive your own CallMaster.

Development Progress

We started around a year ago with a simple seed idea - to display the Caller ID data on your phoneline on devices other than your telephone. Since most people now have a home network for their connected devices, we conceived a simple 'always on' bridge device between the phoneline and the network. We set about understanding the Caller ID protocol, sourcing parts and creating a prototype device. After testing several parts and making several prototypes with increasing success, we had something which roughly resembled the functionality of the device we wanted to create:

Prototype CallMaster
Prototype CallMaster

Now to turn it in to a real product that wasn't a mess of wires! Take the essential parts of our prototype system, add some extras such as a built-in ADSL filter for simplicity, solid-state phone pickup system instead of a mechanical relay, and create a single board solution:

First spin CallMaster circuit layout
First spin CallMaster circuit layout

We have our first boards and all the essential parts of the system work fine first time!

The electronics inside the CallMaster - first version.
The electronics inside the CallMaster - first version.

We had also been considering the physical shape and layout of parts to suit an elegant and simple case that could be injection moulded using the most simple processes.

Case design
Case design

This all comes together to produce the final product:

The final assembly
The final assembly
Photo of the first boards in the first 3D printed enclosure
Photo of the first boards in the first 3D printed enclosure

The case was 3D printed, but this is not a cost efficient way to produce products in bulk, and the quality of the final finish isn't wonderful. This is why we need Kickstarter to be able to move on to create the metal moulds required for plastic injection moulding, and buy electronic components in bulk to create the boards on an assembly line at an acceptable price.

All prototyping, electronics design, case design, firmware, application software and testing is done by us here in Scotland. This means we're able to directly control the development and all other aspects of the product, which is important to achieving a complete solution most efficiently.

Client software

CallMaster works autonomously, requiring nothing other than a connection to your phoneline and power to perform duties such as blocking unwanted callers or stopping all calls during "Do not Disturb" times, but when connected to your home network (just one cable to your existing modem / router), then you can receive the network notifications and manage the phonebook and block list on the device, and see who's been calling. We've created software for Windows PCs, Linux, Apple OSX Macs, Apple iOS and Android. A selection of screenshots below are taken from the development versions of the software as we start Kickstarter:

Apple Mac notification display
Apple Mac notification display
Windows 7 PC desktop notification display
Windows 7 PC desktop notification display
Windows 8 'Toast' notification
Windows 8 'Toast' notification
Android phone display of recent callers - note the blocked call!
Android phone display of recent callers - note the blocked call!
iOS display of recent calls
iOS display of recent calls

UK Only - for now

At the present time, the CallMaster hardware is validated only for use in the UK and will ship to UK backers only. At a technical level, the hardware should work just fine with many telephone operators in the USA and some other countries, but this is not tested or supported, and we will not be submitting the CallMaster for the requried international electronics certification at this time. We do hope to launch CallMaster in the USA next, subject to the required FCC certification, and should we reach our first UK target quickly, we may consider a USA variant as a stretch goal.

Do I need to pay a subscription?

No! Some older and less-capable devices required the payment of a regular subscription fee, even to simply allow you to manage the product! We think that's crazy. There are no fees payable to us after buying CallMaster - it's yours, under your full control. The only fee that may be payable is to your telephone line provider (BT/Virgin/Sky etc) to enable the CallerID feature on your phoneline.

How does call blocking work?

If you've had a call from a number you don't want to see again, one click in the app will prevent them bugging you ever again. It's that easy. This works for all UK based numbers, and on VirginMedia, even for International numbers. You can also choose to block all International numbers, Withheld numbers, or calls where no number is provided. As an extra feature, you can ensure a peaceful nights sleep without annoyance from anyone by easily setting a "Do not disturb" period - only callers you've marked as VIP will be able to get through. You can store over 2000 numbers in the device.

We are even working on a way to receive "crowd sourced" lists of blocked numbers, so you won't even hear from the worst callers even once, but that's not something we expect to have available on launch day.

On the technical side, the caller id signal arrives about 200ms before the phone actually starts to ring - this gives the callmaster long enough to check against the block list and pretend to "pick up" the phone preventing you from hearing it ring.

What device do I need as a client?

Remember that once set up, CallMaster does not need any client device continually connected/present to perform its duties. To add new numbers to the phonebook (for VIPs, and to block callers), and to see who's called, set the "Do not disturb" time and so forth, we will provide clients for the following systems at launch:

  • Microsoft Windows 7, 8 (including Metro UI notification).
  • Apple OSX 10.8 and above (Lion and Mavericks)
  • Apple iOS 7 (no background notifications possible) 
  • Android JellyBean and KitKat phones and Tablets (Android 4.1 and up; background notification is available but has an impact on power usage)
  • Linux (Perl sample notification code)

For developers, we'll also provide client application examples and details of the network protocols used - integrate CallMaster features directly in to your own projects.

Latest iteration of 3D printed prototype
Latest iteration of 3D printed prototype

Production Timeline

March 2014: Start formal CE testing. Place orders for long lead time components (currently the longest lead item is the CPU, quoted at 16 weeks).

April 2014: CE testing should be complete. If necessary, respin the PCB, and order more prototypes.

May 2014: PCB respin complete & final CE test passed (if respin was necessary). Order PCBs & remaining components.

June 2014: Complete any final tweaks to case design, order cases (~4 weeks lead time).

July 2014: Long lead time components arrive, and PCBs and all other components already available. PCB assembly commences; 4-6 weeks lead time.

September 2014: Production units arrive; final testing / packaging commences.

October 2014: Ship first batch to backers

We're tried to make this as realistic a schedule as we can. We currently expect some of these steps to complete faster than shown, and have padded out the schedule to have some buffer space in case anything goes wrong.

Risks and challenges

Availability of electronics components : As a small electronics developer unable to buy in mass quantity, there's a known risk of component supply availability, or even components becoming unavailable requiring design change. We will monitor the supply constantly and purchase components for the first production batch as early as possible to reduce any possible delay due to supply limitations.

Success of case moulding - and fitting the two parts together : When moulding plastics, there's an amount of inevitable shrinkage and warp. We have been in repeated consultation with the plastics factory to ensure we design everything to best practices for moulding success, and added maximal tolerances where possible. We have a high level of confidence the case will fit well.

Passing Electrical EMC/CE testing : We have designed considerably more complex products than CallMaster for clients that have had minimal or no issues during EMC and CE testing. Best practices have been followed and no 'risky' areas are present in CallMaster. At the very worst case, we may require a PCB re-spin which we have already taken in to account on the shipping times.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge £1 or more About $1.31

    A quid? A tenner? Any donation to support technology development in Scotland receives our sincere thanks and appreciation. You'll receive access to all our updates on Kickstarter and be able to add your comments directly to the project.

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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge £60 or more About $79

    EARLY BIRD:

    A CallMaster device from the very first mass production run, as soon as they're built and tested. All cables and power supply included. Free apps. Includes postage to anywhere in the UK.

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    Pledge £70 or more About $92

    A CallMaster device from the very first mass production run, as soon as they're built and tested. All cables and power supply included. Free apps. Includes postage to anywhere in the UK.

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    Pledge £80 or more About $105

    One CallMaster device from a second production batch, in retail packaging. All cables and power supply included. Free apps. Includes postage to anywhere in the UK.

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge £250 or more About $328

    Super-backer! Not only will you receive the £70 reward, come to sunny Glasgow for lunch with the developers and learn how the CallMaster hardware and software was developed. (We'll buy you lunch, but travel can't be included, sorry). Includes early access to the app source code and a pre-production CallMaster device.

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