Cameras are one of the most popular smart home devices out there, but depending on which one you buy, they can be difficult to set up or, in the case of newer options, they share your images to the cloud. But a startup founded by two ex-Googlers is hoping to solve those camera problems with a $300 device that lets people combine feeds from both traditional IP cameras and newer, cloud-based cameras.
Camect is a Mountain View, Calif.-based startup that launched its device this summer on Indiegogo. It has since shipped about 500 units of the Camect box. The box can combine the feeds of up to three 4K cameras or 12 cameras with 1080p resolution. Arup Mukherjee, one of Camect’s founders, says the idea for the company came after realizing that while the new generation of home security cameras from companies such as Nest (Dropcam), Arlo, and others were easier to set up than the older generations of IP cameras, they still required users to compromise.
Most of the cameras had little or no onboard storage, so their data was sent to the cloud. But while that made it easy for users to check the security footage from an app, it also meant they only got snippets of video as opposed to a full stream. Moreover, many users needed a subscription for each camera to justify the costs associated with hosting video in the cloud. The whole process also led many users to question their privacy.
Older IP cameras were usually set up as a network that sent their data to a storage device and screens, but if someone wanted remote access, the integrator who set up the system often had to set up the access in a way that punched holes in the home’s network, which created a security risk. Nor did many of these cameras offer motion detection or the ability to scan for interesting events, which made looking through hours of footage after a security event tedious at best.
Camect tries to solve these problems by offering a terabyte of onboard storage and support for the protocols that older IP cameras use. Thus, you can hook those devices into the Camect box and get local storage with the ease of a cloud-camera setup along with remote access and AI that can detect people as well as a variety of animals and vehicles. Users can buy the box for $299 (it’s still in limited shipping for now) but if they want to hook up more than two cameras and use features such as the remote notifications and get updates to the AI models, they will also need a cloud subscription. Yes, it’s a subscription model, but at least you’re not paying a subscription fee to get 24/7 video from a single camera.
It’s the AI models Camect uses that I found so impressive. I saw the app in action at CES, where it strung together views from multiple cameras made by different manufacturers. The app could distinguish between a UPS truck and a USPS mail truck, and give notifications that were actionable and detailed. Mukherjee says that users who get false positives on their notifications, such as a tree that registers as a person, simply have to tell the app that the AI got it wrong. Then the user can choose to send the data back to Camect, which will update the AI model.
Mukherjee says it may take a user reporting the issue two or three times before the model will update, but that the AI will get more accurate. Camect updates the models every week, sometimes a bit more often. This was also the promise of so many connected cameras in the early days, but in reality, the models were not updated very often and reporting inaccuracies could feel like a Sisyphean task.
Mukherjee says the company plans to raise its first of funding soon and is seeking $2 million. Each camera sale is “slightly profitable,” but the hope is that subscriptions will help round out the margins. So far, Camect has offered a limited number of Camelot boxes with a lifetime subscription, and about 60% of the buyers have chosen that option. The remaining 40% of buyers were split evenly between one-year subscription plans and no subscription at all. Among those who didn’t elect a subscription, about 80% said they wanted to try it out and wouldn’t likely get a subscription if it performed as expected.
The Camect founders are planning to sell the device through the traditional security camera integrators. That’s a solid plan. And while I think some hardcore consumer users will check out the products, I think it’s a perfect device for small to medium-sized businesses that have existing security cameras but want more features. It’s a good way to take advantage of existing hardware and upgrade its feature set for a relatively small cost.
Security and access for small to medium-sized businesses is one of the biggest opportunities in the internet of things. Companies ranging from Openpath to Verkada — which this week raised $80 million at a $1 billion valuation — have injected new life into the category. Camect’s approach is attractive, especially for businesses that might not want to invest much in something entirely new.