In Depth: Canary Smart Camera Has Sensors, Alerts, Siren, No Home Automation
Canary's Smart WiFi security camera, now on Indiegogo, sends alerts for unusual events like motion detection and temperature swings; users can view the surveillance and take action. No home automation though.
Julie Jacobson · July 22, 2013
Just plop it on a shelf and wait for text or email alerts to warn you if motion is detected, the temperature spikes or humidity soars. Then you can view the action, sound the built-in siren or call the neighbors ... or have the system itself call the neighbors.
There’s no home automation in the equation. The thing just sends you alerts, and you decide what to do next.
“We hope to add it [automation] but very few people have anything to automate,” said co-founder and CEO Adam Sager in an interview with CE Pro prior to launch.
Canary is, after all, shooting for the mass market – something way more massive than the DIY markets targeted by Lowe’s (Iris), Xfinity (the new $10/month Home Control system), and startup iSmartAlarm.
Those systems may be simple, but not simple enough, Sager says. In fact, in Canary’s corporate video (below), he calls his product “truly the world’s first consumer security product.”
That claim might be a stretch, but the product is interesting.
There is nothing to install in the Canary case – no sensors, no smart plugs, no thermostats. You just put the 6-inch-tall device – featuring a nice industrial design, by the way—on a shelf or desk or any other place that can offer a decent image from the built-in wide-angle camera.
Upon an alarm event, video will record automatically to Canary’s cloud-based service. It is always buffering so the recording will capture video from 10 seconds before the event to a certain amount of time after that.
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Users also can view live video from the camera.
Canary will store video from just a few events for free. Anything more than that will incur a fee.
No storage is available locally, so you’re out of luck if your Internet connection is down. Speaking of which, you’ll also get no alerts if you’ve lost your Internet connection. No cellular options are available.
For an additional fee, users can subscribe to a call center that will respond to events according to parameters set by the user. For example, based on the “criticality” of an event, the service might wait 1 minute to respond if the user does not.
Sager says they’ll be working with a reputable third-party monitoring station.
The system is also equipped to contact other third parties, such as neighbors, based on parameters set by the users.
In addition, through Canary’s cloud service, a geo-location feature can be incorporated into the user experience. If everyone has left the house, for example, the system might ask if you want to “arm” the device. It can also tell you, for example, “David left the apartment.”
I’m sure David would love for you to know that he was late for work but, yeah, all the newfangled security systems can do that.
On Algorithms and Learning
Canary makes a big deal about the “learning” aspects of its product:
Canary contains multiple sensors that gather data from its surrounding environment to learn the patterns and rhythms of your household. While other home security systems rely on binary sensors that can only tell users if a door or window is open or closed, Canary applies complex algorithms to the data it collects to understand what qualifies as a notable event, and then communicates to the user why that event happened and what action should be taken. Canary is a learning system; the longer the device is owned, the smarter it becomes.
Other than the buzz-factor, though, I can’t see much value in this learning feature.
Why, for example, would it need to learn the temperature patterns of the house when it can’t do anything to adjust the thermostat? How about just alerting the homeowner if the temperature exceeds certain setpoints?
In any case, Canary would be learning the temperature patterns in a space that may not be the best placement for a thermistor – say, by a fireplace or drafty window.
And why learn the traffic patterns in a single area of the house (via the built-in PIR motion sensor)? The rule should simply be: If the system is “armed,” alert the homeowner to motion inside the home.
The only possible use I can fathom would be learning the behaviors of a pet, so the homeowner isn’t notified if the dog trips a sensor. But this could just as easily by done by pet-immunizing the sensor.
Currently, the learning feature is gratuitous, but who knows? Maybe it could be useful in the future.
What Canary Doesn’t Tell Ya
Sager tells me I asked the toughest questions of all the other inquisitors. Here are a few things I learned from our conversation:
- Up to four Canary devices can be assigned to a single account, whether those units are in one or multiple locations.
- Although the Canary product has a speaker and a mic, you can’t speak through the device remotely. For example, if motion is detected and you pull up the video to find your housekeeper, you can’t ask her what the heck she’s doing there on a Tuesday.
- There is no smoke detector built into Canary, but the system could learn that the siren from your own smoke detector is an unusual sound, and thus alert you, at which point you could listen in.
“Audio detection will get better over time,” says Sager, who suggests that at some point Canary could distinguish between a baby crying and glass breaking.
- You cannot attach additional sensors to Canary. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a remote flood sensor tied to the system?
“We’re trying to get rid of complications,” Sager says. “That often scares people.”
- This company is not the same as the other New York-based Canary that generated some buzz earlier this month for its “smart” smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
Prospects for Canary
Is Canary a winner or a dog? Hard to tell right now because there are several similar products that will be announced shortly, so it may come down to ship dates.
Canary is $149 for crowdfunding supporters, and the product should retail for $199 when it ships in “early 2014.”
The company hopes to raise $100,000 on Indiegogo.
I like the concept of a security camera that contains a few sensors besides motion, plus a built-in siren.
I also like that the product can establish two-way Internet communications without having to mess with the user’s home network. Other IP-enabled cameras usually aren’t that simple.
I’m not too bothered by the extreme simplicity of the product – lack of two-way oral communications, lack of smoke detector, inability to add sensors, and zero automation capabilities.
At its heart, the system is for folks just like Sager who “was on a vacation with the family and came back with a feeling of vulnerability,” he says. “I didn’t know what happened at my home when I was away.” (So dump the “learning” gimmick, I say.)
A big chunk of consumers either don’t use their existing security systems, don’t have one, or don’t want to pay for one. And the simplest security systems don’t include surveillance cameras.
This is for them.
I’m definitely bullish on this new product category, but is Canary the company that will pull it off?
Canary started working on its product more than a year ago, and the company founders have strong pedigrees. Sager has years of experience in physical security, IT security and other types of risk management for massive enterprises.
It does not appear, however, that the company has much experience (yet) in the most important aspect of this category: consumer retailing and mass marketing
In the end, it will all come down to that.
Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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