Editor's note: We now have a hands-on review of the Blink home security camera.
Keeping an eye on your home when you’re not there comes with trade-offs. Connected security cameras can be costly and difficult to install. They usually require constant power, and the ones that don’t run off batteries that need to be recharged. I’ve tested a few of these cameras and found that, at least for me, the annoyances generally outweigh the benefits of being able to peek in on my living room from my desk at work.
Blink addresses a few of the key problems with many home security cameras. It doesn’t need to be plugged in, which gives you much more freedom in where you can place it. It’s inexpensive, so you can set up multiple cameras and see more places in your house. And it uses intelligent power-saving technology so you don’t have to constantly charge its battery—a convenience made possible by creator Immedia Semiconductor’s own chip, designed in house.
See, Blink is a home security camera and a demonstration of Immedia’s technology. End users like you and me who order the Blink cameras on Kickstarter are customers, but Immedia also sources its semiconductors to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) across several technology markets, including home monitoring. Immedia cofounder Don Shulsinger explained to me that by crowdfunding Blink on Kickstarter, Immedia can not only sell a finished product directly to consumers, but also prove to its OEM partners that they should adopt Immedia’s chips for their own products. With the Kickstarter campaign a runaway success, the company has already shown that there's demand for Blink's unique set of features.
Each Blink camera has a motion sensor and a temperature sensor, and connects to your home Wi-Fi network. But you don't have to set up multiple cameras one by one. Instead, the Blink system also comes with a “sync module” that plugs into the wall. When you fire up the smartphone app (for Android or iOS), you’re communicating with the sync module, which then in turn sets up the network of cameras—Shulsinger told me that Immedia has tested one sync module with 10 cameras, and suspects it’ll work with up to 16. Then you can put the wireless, battery-operated cameras anywhere, up to 100 feet away from the sync module, as long as they’re within range of your Wi-Fi network.
To minimize the chore of keeping that many Blink cameras charged, the system keeps the cameras at zero power when they aren’t being used. Recordings are triggered by motion sensors, so Blink also has to start up quickly to be able to actually record whatever the sensor detected—if the hardware takes a few seconds to boot up, the burglar who tripped the motion sensor could be in the kitchen making a sandwich by the time the camera by the front door captures any video. Shulsinger says the Blink cameras can wake up and start recording in a fraction of a second.
The system defaults to 5-second recordings in response to the motion sensor or the onboard temperature sensor, but you can tweak that duration in the app, as well as check in on the cameras manually, of course. And the cameras don’t stream the video up to the cloud; they compress it and send it up over Wi-Fi in one short burst. Because Immedia controls both the hardware and the software in Blink, Shulsinger told me that the system can squeeze up to a year of battery life out of each Blink camera. That’s something I can’t wait to test, but even if that estimate turns out to be high, it would have to be off by a lot to approach the battery life of a competitor named Butterfleye, which I saw in prototype form in May.
Like Blink, Butterfleye is a wireless, rechargeable, sensor-equipped security camera. Unlike Blink, it's totally self-contained, so it works without a sync module or other base station. But it also only goes about two weeks between charges, and costs significantly more—$199 to preorder, versus a current price of $69 to preorder the Blink. Along with a motion detector, Butterfleye uses iBeacon and Wi-Fi geofencing, plus thermal sensors, to decide when to record and when to stay asleep, while Blink focuses on power consumption by staying asleep most of the time and then “blinking” awake in a flash.
As of this writing, Blink has raised $535,000, far exceeding its original goal of $200,000. One of the stretch goals was a geofencing feature similar to Butterfleye’s, letting the Blink system automatically arm itself when registered smartphones leave the house, and disarm itself when they return. (Or you can set a schedule if you prefer.) Butterfleye does have onboard storage so it can still record during a power outage, while it doesn’t seem like Blink can store video in the camera module, and couldn’t send it to the thumb drive attached to the sync module if a power outage takes down your Wi-Fi network.
Blink is on Kickstarter through September 3, with the first units expected to ship in May 2015. With a combination of its own silicon with its own software customized to squeeze out the most performance for the lowest amount of power, Immedia hopes the Blink system will solve the biggest annoyances of home security cameras—or at least convince the rest of the industry to consider Immedia chips.