The last couple of years have seen the introduction of many security cameras aimed at the consumer market. Security and surveillance cameras used to be restricted to professional scenarios, and were primarily analog in nature. However, with advances in networking and the appearance of cheaper hardware, there is a shift towards the IP variety. The appearance of IP cameras has also brought in its wake units targeted at the consumer market.

In the IP camera space, large companies such as Bosch, Axis, Sony and Panasonic focus on hardware for professional security surveillance. The large companies make the security cameras, while large peripheral companies like Logitech and D-Link have solutions that make use of the local computer. D-Link, Linksys and Logitech have sub-$300 IP cameras meant for small offices and homes. They have been recently joined by companies like Avaak and Dropcam, which bring more ease of use to the table. These are startups with a focus on usage of IP cameras for casual monitoring.

As we are covering the Dropcam Echo today, let us take a brief look at the company.
 


Started in January 2009 by two ex-Xobni engineers, Greg Duffy and Aamir Virani, Dropcam has a team of 5 based out of San Francisco, California. The story behind the founding of the company makes for interesting reading. It clearly brings out the reason as to why consumer IP cameras have not gone mainstream yet.

Greg's dad, based in Texas, apparently bought an IP camera from a local electronics shop and spent four hours trying to set it up. After having little luck, he called up Greg and they worked on it for another few hours.  It took a lot of router and network tweaking, but the camera finally came online. A couple of days later, Greg's dad called again and said now he wanted to watch the video while he was at work. The problem with most consumer IP cameras is that they concentrate on features which are important for the industrial sector, where setup is performed by trained professionals. The average consumer prefers a plug and play solution, and the expectations are quite different too. Keeping these in mind, Greg and Aamir founded Dropcam in early 2009. A seed round was led by Mitch Kapor (founder of Lotus), David Cowan (founder of Verisign, venture capitalist), and Aydin Senkut (ex-Googler).  

Now that we know about the company, let us proceed to look closer at their second product, the Dropcam Echo.

Unboxing & Setup Impressions
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  • MonkeyPaw - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    From my own experience (was burglarized a few months ago in broad daylight), thieves are very bold. They will act like they belong there, and most people won't pay attention, especially if they look official. Unfortunately, all security can be bypassed--even a big dog can be dealt with if someone is determined enough. Your best hope is to make your property less appealing than everyone else's. I don't mean go all ghetto, but smash-and-grab people are pretty lazy, so they will pick the easiest targets first. If only they put their time into productive work, instead of making everyone else's insurance go up every year. >:( Reply
  • jquin6 - Saturday, January 12, 2013 - link

    Criminals taking basic precautions. Did your nanny drop you on your head? Only 40% have some high school or less! Reply
  • mcnabney - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    The 45GB/mo of upstream should have been mentioned a bit earlier, probably best placed in the cloud section of the article. This product is not really a commercial device and will likely be installed in locations with consumer-grade data connections like cable and DSL (or even wireless like Clear). That type of usage will certainly be noticeable by the ISP. Since this is, as you say, the iPad of IP cameras the likelihood of consumer installs is fairly high and that usage generation will likely come back to bite the customer.

    The cloud usage is really the big drawback, especially when 99.999% of 24/7 data will never ever by viewed. Why pipe it? My first thought was having a two-box solution. One is a camera, the second is small HDD that will store the data. That way the upstream only occurs when requested. It is also easier to haul a little box into court to be used as evidence than to wrangle the cloud. The two box solution could easily be battery backed-up and operate a direct ad-hoc wireless connection.
    Reply
  • Twoboxer - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    ^^ Previous comment makes many of the relevant points. Constant streaming is ludicrous.

    The hardware needs to do local motion detection, discriminate between simple lighting changes and real motion, and record only the video from several seconds before the motion detection, through the period of motion, and for several seconds thereafter. The recording should optionally be done to a local device, or to "The Cloud". The choice should be an economic trade-off between owning the local disk hardware, or renting the cloud.

    In either case, real-time remote access needs to be made as easy to implement as their current product apparently is. And a small monthly fee for this service, separate from the above, is reasonable.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    Twoboxer, The scenario you outline is only one of the possible applications. The solution suggested by you works for that particular scenario.

    When you look at apps like nanny cams (where you keep a watch over the babysitter), constant streaming becomes a necessity, irrespective of motion detection. Agreed, this will not be 24 x 7, as the cam in that particular application can be switched off as soon as the user gets back home.

    Another way to think of this is a webcam without a computer ( though one would definitely hesitate to pay $280 or so for this purpose alone :) )
    Reply
  • rcc - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    As I mentioned above, the hardware does support local motion detection as you describe. It's a dropcam limitation, most like so they can sell you the various rate plans. Reply
  • andrewbuchanan - Wednesday, August 11, 2010 - link

    I've written several security applications that store video offsite that clients could access anytime through a web browser, one stored mpeg4 clips of motion detection back in 2005, then other one in 2008 stored jpeg images approx every second.

    Neither company really went far with it. The primary technical concern, as somebody else pointed out already, is that most people get 1/2 to 1 Mpbs upload, enough for a couple of cameras max. And that's pinning their upload, in some cases 24x7, something the customer doesn't really want whether they know it or not. And it's bad with dsl/cable providers, worse with cellular or wireless providers. Makes for a nice sales discussion, you either gloss over it but include it in the fine print or scare them with the though of a huge internet bill. Upside is if your house burns down you still have recordings, and in the case of a break in they can't steal the recorder, downside is that your internet connection going down means you lose recordings and that happens all too often.

    My issue personally has always been that the quality of locally stored video can be 30 fps 2MP+ content (these days), or even 30 fps 352x240 (2005), 640x480-2MP by 2008. If it's for security local content just looks way better. I don't think there's enough market for nanny cams to make it worthwhile. Most people don't want cameras in their house, especially ones you can view over the internet.

    And... axis cameras are overpriced, they are nice, but overpriced. But maybe that's why they targeted iphone/apple :-), people who don't mind overpriced.

    Besides the company's I worked with doing this, there were others, so it's not really novel or unique. In most cases I've steered companies to doing something similiar to what I'm doing now, providing local equipment (nvr/dvr) with flash/silverlight/mobile streaming options. Hardware costs are higher, but there's no monthly, it's expandable, flexible, has much better quality, longer recording history, easy on your internet connection, and can still be watched anywhere.

    Downside being it does require someone to actually configure their router which I appreciate is what they are marketing this product as not needing. But is $25/month cheaper than just calling a professional to set up your router for 15-30 minutes?
    Reply
  • pkoi - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    So in other word that is
    Webcam + h264 compression + nic adapter.
    for ~300$

    In the Cloud ???, Sorry but you inevitably need local storage/server, preferably hidden, with an UPS.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Thursday, August 12, 2010 - link

    The review also brings out the USP of the product as the ease of setup and use (even for the non-tech folks).

    Also, the target market is casual monitoring (like nanny cams / looking after pets etc.), not for those really paranoid about security, I guess :)
    Reply
  • JNo - Monday, August 23, 2010 - link

    It's not the $300 cost of the product that will make them money or not, rather this is like selling printers -the money is in the refills, or in this case the subscriptions.

    "After this, a 7 day recording plan costs $8.95 per month, while the 30 day recording plan costs $24.95 a month."

    At these prices (on par with my mobile phone bill) this is way too expensive for your average jo to be a 'nanny cam'. It is clearly aimed at home security imho. And for most people, a decent holiday is 2 weeks, making the 7 day plan pointless. $25/mth is a lot so the ability to record locally is highly desirable. That's a lot of money for home security based solely on a webcam.
    Reply

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