How to remotely access your digital picture frame from anywhere

By March 5, 2019 March 19, 2019 DIY Instructions, Software

I have built quite a few dig­i­tal pic­ture frames based on the Rasp­berry Pi for fam­i­ly & friends in recent years. These frames are deployed all over the world. Although they require very lit­tle to no main­te­nance, there is always a time when some­thing doesn't work, or there is a new fea­ture that you want to roll out.

There are var­i­ous ways how to access a remote Rasp­berry Pi, but one that stands out for me for ease of use and reli­a­bil­i­ty is Dat­a­plic­i­ty.

In this arti­cle, I will show you how it works and how to set it up.

Do you need remote access to your digital picture frame?

If you have built only one dig­i­tal pic­ture frame for home use, you may not need this solu­tion.

But if you have built one for your par­ents, sib­lings, or you have a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame at your week­end home, then you should read on.

Things in our house­hold exclu­sive­ly seem to break when­ev­er I am not home. In such an event I typ­i­cal­ly receive a deter­mined call from my beloved wife, order­ing me to do some­thing.

And some­times in the past, even if very rarely, this hap­pened with our dig­i­tal pic­ture frame which has a promi­nent place in our liv­ing room. I had prob­a­bly rolled out a new home automa­tion fea­ture with­out suf­fi­cient test­ing (as you may have guessed I like tin­ker­ing) and hadn't thought all impli­ca­tions through to the end.

But any­way, the result was that our frame was dark, she was expect­ing guests, and I was on a busi­ness trip.

In sit­u­a­tions like these, it would have been help­ful to access the Rasp­berry Pi pow­er­ing the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame remote­ly to make a few changes to hope­ful­ly get it up and run­ning again in no time.

Also, if you have giv­en a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame to non-IT-lit­er­ate peo­ple, it's help­ful to be able to access it remote­ly with­out requir­ing any inter­ac­tion on site.

It may be lit­tle things like chang­ing a wifi SSID or pass­word, adding a new fea­ture or just mak­ing a gen­er­al sys­tem update to ensure that the oper­at­ing sys­tem has all the lat­est secu­ri­ty fix­es.

You may not need it for two years, but when you need it, you will be hap­py to have it!

Introducing Dataplicity

Dat­a­plic­i­ty is the brain­child of Elliot Macken­zie, the founder of Machine­For­est, a "man­u­fac­tur­er of net­work-con­nect­ed things" as the com­pa­ny calls itself. They are based in Oxford, Unit­ed King­dom, the coun­try that brought us the Rasp­berry Pi!

I always like to know who is behind soft­ware solu­tions to under­stand their moti­va­tion and the poten­tial of any harm­ful use espe­cial­ly if you install it on a net­worked com­put­er.

In the case of Dat­a­plic­i­ty, I believe that the devel­op­ers are trust­wor­thy. They even pub­lish the source code of a script that is being down­loaded and pro­vide lots of doc­u­men­ta­tion.

Dat­a­plic­i­ty is a small piece of soft­ware that you install on your Rasp­berry Pi pow­er­ing your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame which allows you to access the ter­mi­nal.

The dat­a­plic­i­ty installer script cre­ates a ‘dat­a­plic­i­ty’ user account which is marked as a sys­tem ser­vice account. This client runs as an unpriv­i­leged user which means when you con­nect using the dat­a­plic­i­ty shell, you still need to enter your sudo pass­word to get supe­ruser access to your device.

As long as your remote Rasp­berry Pi has a func­tion­ing inter­net con­nec­tion, you can con­trol it as if you were in the local net­work.

Installing Dataplicity

When you go to dataplicity.com, you will be asked to pro­vide an email (as your account name). Hit "Start", and you will get a line of code that you copy and paste in the Ter­mi­nal of the Rasp­berry Pi that you want to con­trol. So do it before your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame leaves the house!

Go to "Devices" and click on your Rasp­berry Pi.

If you now enter

su pi

fol­lowed by your pass­word, you will log in with your reg­u­lar user ID.

From there on, you can do what­ev­er you would do if you and your remote com­put­er were in the same net­work.

There is even a native app for iOS and Android, as well as macOS and Win­dows 10.

Dat­a­plic­i­ty is free for one device and offers paid pack­ages with more advanced func­tion­al­i­ty.

Alternatives to Dataplicity

There is a good overview of var­i­ous meth­ods to access your Rasp­berry Pi over the inter­net described on the Rasp­berry Pi home­page, but I found the ease of use of Dat­a­plic­i­ty intrigu­ing.

Remote.it works sim­i­lar­ly and offers an unlim­it­ed num­ber of devices sub­ject to per­son­al fair use pol­i­cy. But it's not as easy to set up (their pass­word dia­logue drove me crazy despite using a super secure com­put­er gen­er­at­ed pass­word it had to con­tain five pre-defined char­ac­ters!), and the device isn't installed auto­mat­i­cal­ly, but with a bit of effort it works as well.

Remote-ioT offers five free non-com­mer­cial devices and pack­ages for busi­ness­es.

Yaler.net is more for the high-end indus­tri­al use case and offers no free devices.

Losant is a large US-based com­pa­ny tar­get­ting the indus­tri­al IoT mar­ket. I couldn't find any infor­ma­tion on pric­ing on their web­site.

If you have a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame that you want to con­trol remote­ly, I would rec­om­mend using Dat­a­plic­i­ty. Noth­ing beats the ease of use of this soft­ware and it's opti­mized for the Rasp­berry Pi.

It's inter­est­ing to com­pare the web­sites of these com­pa­nies. They all sell the same prod­uct more or less, and yet the dif­fer­ence in their appear­ance is strik­ing.

On the one hand, there is Dat­a­plic­i­ty where every­thing is super sim­ple, and then there is every­body else. Decide for your­self!

Tested with

  • Oper­at­ing sys­tem: Rasp­bian Stretch with Desk­top - Novem­ber 2018
  • Hard­ware: Rasp­berry Pi 2 B, Rasp­berry Pi 3 B+