Table of security cameras at Qualcomm’s IoT Analyst Day in San Diego. MARK VENA
Not surprisingly, the smart home category continues to enjoy enviable growth. According to Statista.com, worldwide revenue for smart home-related products is expected to exceed $48.5 billion dollars in 2018—a 38.3% increase over 2017. Part of this is due to the explosion of user-friendly home and business security cameras, a field dominated by brands like Nest, Arlo, and D-Link. The security camera market is hot and I expect it will remain so for the foreseeable future.
For most consumers, the security camera itself is the core element of their smart home, enabling the surveillance of their home, backyard, and property. Smart surveillance cameras feature mobile app support that facilitates alerts, easy monitoring, and even wireless support (alleviating the need to run cables to difficult access areas to reach in the home). External surveillance cameras are often weather-resistant and sometimes have small optional solar panels that can provide constant recharging of battery-powered units.
Inside-the-home monitoring has also become a popular usage model, for the monitoring of children, childcare workers, and the elderly. Privacy issues aside, there is growing demand here among consumers.
The big problem
The chief problem with this category is that nearly all these cameras are passive devices and provide “after the fact” monitoring capability. What I mean by that is these cameras do a wonderful job of detecting motion and alerting the consumer so the situation can be monitored. Unfortunately, most consumers with these smart home cameras are driven bonkers by false alerts.
Case in point: I installed a Ring doorbell at my Mom’s house so that she could see visitors outside her door, but she became substantially less enthusiastic about the device after she started getting alerts 25 times (or more) per day—all of them triggered by squirrels, the mail carrier, lawn care workers and other harmless actors. The problem remained even after turning down the sensitivity of the camera in the Ring app, and it became so irritating that we had to disable that function.
Help is on the way that could solve this problem and open up a whole new world of exciting usage models. As I detailed in my column back in early May, Lighthouse’s home monitoring solution utilizes 3D sensing and AI technology to “interpret” what it is seeing in the field of view. It can discern different individuals, giving it the ability to give you much more specific, useful notifications (e.g., when your kids are coming home, when the dog walker is running late, or if an elderly parent is not entering a specific room at the normal time).
More sophisticated usage models are possible with Lighthouse’s class of smart home monitoring technology. Beyond the sophisticated hardware technology itself, complex AI-based algorithms are required to interpret activities in the field of view. The first company that develops the ability to automatically detect someone in distress falling down, or detect an arm being raised with a gun or rifle (think of the security application potential for schools) will forever change the way we utilize smart monitoring cameras. Even if these capabilities produce modest false alerts, I suspect most consumers will accept the trade-off—those precious seconds might save lives. Lighthouse currently doesn’t provide this level of functionality, but the product has the technology to enable it once the appropriate algorithms are developed.
WiFi sensing technology coming soon
Cognitive Systems, a Waterloo, Canada-based startup, has developed an innovative approach to interpret radio frequency (RF) that can be used to sense activities within a home. This technology has the potential to really turn the market on its head. Unlike traditional sensors that use light or heat, Cognitive Systems utilizes WiFi-based motion detection in a manner that is purportedly more reliable and limits false alerts. Additionally, this technology makes it possible to see through walls and in the dark, unlike traditional video-based solutions.
Cognitive Systems’ approach offers a number of theoretical benefits. First and foremost, it has a privacy advantage, seeing as it is not video-based. Secondly, since it leverages other WiFi devices in the home (requiring only that the router incorporates Cognitive Systems’ technology), it will be less expensive than installing cameras in every room.
One interesting common denominator with both Lighthouse and Cognitive Systems is that they are strong partners with Qualcomm, who has played a long-time leadership role in the Internet of Things (IoT) and mesh networking categories. I attended Qualcomm’s IoT Analyst Daylast week in San Diego, and it was clear to me that Qualcomm is highly committed to enabling tomorrow’s smart home monitoring technology solutions like those from Lighthouse and Cognitive Systems.
If you’ve already invested in smart home security cameras, I do not want to suggest that you replace your current solutions—at least not yet. Today’s solutions do offer peace of mind and provide capabilities that many consumers find useful. That said, the smart home security camera category is going to be disrupted over the next two years with products that evolve the monitoring usage model from passive to almost real-time. The real potential of a “smart” camera is to provide intelligent alerts on what activities it “sees,” so that the viewer can respond rapidly. The security potential of these new products in schools, homes, and businesses is enormous and cannot be understated. From my standpoint, the future can’t come soon enough.