The new Lighthouse home security device.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of evaluating Lighthouse, a new next-generation home security device from a Palo Alto-based startup Lighthouse AI. After spending a couple of weeks with it, using my mom’s New Jersey home for evaluation, I’ve concluded that this remarkable device offers a glimpse of the truly “smart” camera technology that will take home security to the next level in the coming years.
There are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of home security cameras on the market with very little differentiation. Many of them are satisfactory for passive home surveillance, but they fall far short of interpreting the video images they capture and, their annoying and repeated false alerts tend to create a “boy who cried wolf” situation. What makes Lighthouse very different is that it utilizes technology that not only sees 3D objects but recognizes them. Since Lighthouse can ascertain 3D objects, it does not get fooled by alterations in lighting conditions. The real potential of Lighthouse, however, lies in its intuitive smartphone app. The app employs artificial intelligence and natural language to create “pings,” recording events when specific activities happen. More on this later.
Best-in-class setup experience
For a product that is packed with ground-breaking technology, it’s one of the easiest home security camera devices I’ve ever set up. The shoebox packaging has a high-quality “ Apple-esque” feel, encasing the camera device itself, the power cord, and the setup instructions printed on a Post-it-size card. The latter point might scare users setting up a home surveillance camera for the first time, but getting it up and running is extremely intuitive and almost mind-blowingly effortless. Simply plug the camera into an AC plug, download the Lighthouse app (available in iOS and Android), and Lighthouse will find the camera on your WiFi network and prompt you for the router’s password. From opening the box to getting it up and running, the entire setup process took less than 5 minutes. Kudos to their product and user experience team.
I set up my single Lighthouse unit on the mantle of my mom’s fireplace, which offers almost a perfect wide view of her living room, kitchen, main home entrance and the hallway to the front door. The installed unit wasn’t terribly conspicuous on the fireplace mantle, and I suspect most homeowners won’t have a problem with the device’s aesthetics in other logical places within the home.
A really powerful “smart” home security camera
As I mentioned at beginning of this column, Lighthouse’s real AI power is set free via its mobile app. The mobile app allows you to type (or even speak) a specific question all in natural language. As you might expect, the 1080p HD video resolution is extremely high. So astonishingly high-caliber that it can detect individuals and make distinctions between adults, children, and even pets. Lighthouse also includes night vision functionality, making the product useful on a 24/7 basis. For example, you could ask “what were the kids doing in the living room this morning?” and it will pull up only those relevant video clips. During my out-of-town business trip to Italy a couple of weeks ago, I was able to test this feature by asking the app to “let me know if my mom doesn’t enter the living room by 10 AM every day.” Like magic, it only alerted me when this didn’t happen. Beyond pure home security, pet care, and keeping tabs on the kids, the usefulness of a product like this with elderly care cannot be overstated. I found the natural language capability extremely functional, as well as the ability to “speak” to the app rather than typing. Pings can also include more complex requests like, “Let me know if my mom doesn’t enter the room between 7 AM and 10 AM, between Monday and Friday.”
Strictly speaking, Lighthouse isn’t so much a traditional home security camera as it is a product that can precisely discern what’s going on its field of view. While other security cameras can record video in a binary fashion when motion is detected, the upside of Lighthouse (which can’t be over-stressed) is that you don’t have to hunt through hours of video recording to figure out what happened while you were away from home.
One thing that impressed me during my conversations with Lighthouse leadership was their commitment to privacy and security, a point that will become even more relevant as more products like Lighthouse emerge on the scene. Lighthouse features industrial-strength encryption (using highly sophisticated protocols) and is also quite explicit about privacy—you can set the camera feed to automatically pause recording when you return from home and resume when you leave so you can protect your private time. Not enough companies in this space are taking security and privacy this seriously, and Lighthouse deserves praise for it.
While Lighthouse certainly made a good impression on me, there are still some improvements I’d like to see made to the app. Some of these requests are already on Lighthouse’s roadmap and will be implemented over the course of 2018, though its executive team didn’t provide firm dates. Functionality improvements on the top of my list are the ability to process more complex requests like, “Let me know when my mom falls down.” Algorithmic and machine learning improvements like this are certainly within the capabilities of Lighthouse’s 3D time-of-flight sensor and horsepower; it’s likely these are the types of improvements that will get added to the Lighthouse app throughout the year.
From a hardware standpoint, it’s a bit disappointing that the unit is not waterproof; I’m sure many homeowners would appreciate the ability to use Lighthouse outdoors to monitor their backyards. Lighthouse also lacks the ability to work with other home security systems—while you can manually activate a siren via the app (or remotely talk to the camera), Lighthouse won’t contact the police like most traditional home security systems. I’d also eventually like to see digital assistant integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so users don’t have to depend purely on the Lighthouse app.
Putting these modest considerations aside, Lighthouse is clearly the best smart home camera “monitoring” solution on the market. I expect this promising solution will morph into a true home run if integration with home alarm systems becomes a reality. Lighthouse is the future of home security, and it deserves serious consideration.