NICE alliance aims to make home security cameras smarter

A consortium including Sony, Nikon, and other leading tech brands and manufacturers is working to standardize and improve the DIY security experience.

Smart city internet of things with security camera

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Smart home security cameras may soon be increasing their IQs. Leading consumer tech brands and manufacturers Nikon, Scenera, Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation,  Foxconn, and Wistron announced a partnership today with their signing of the Network of Intelligent Camera Ecosystem (NICE) Alliance promoter agreement. Through the alliance, the consortium will work to launch “a new ecosystem of next generation smart cameras.”

The popularity of the DIY home security movement has resulted in a rapidly expanding market of products with little standardization. Camera features and capabilities can vary dramatically—even within a single manufacturer’s product line—leaving some smart cameras significantly smarter (or dumber) than others. For their part, users are often stymied by vague and erroneous activity alerts, hard-to-browse video streams, and an overload of information.

The NICE Alliance wants to fix all that by creating an easier, more unified user experience for home security cameras. David Lee, CEO of the Silicon Valley start-up Scenera, likens the group’s vision to the Android ecosystem where an array of third-party mobile devices and apps are able to deliver a fairly seamless experience because of the Android OS. “Unfortunately, security cameras don’t have that kind of ecosystem,” he says. “So we’re trying to define one so that the camera manufacturers and the cloud service providers and the consumers all benefit. “

Lee sees the first step of the NICE specification being the enhancement of security and IP cameras to take advantage of AI-based cloud analytics. Home security cameras record huge amounts of data, but—Google and Amazon aside—most manufacturers don’t have the infrastructure services to process it and make it truly useful for end-users. This spawns what Lee deems “all sorts of unnecessary notifications” triggered by innocuous events such as a pet passing in front of the camera or a curtain's flutter tripping the motion sensor.

The NICE specification would enable the data cameras capture—video and still images, audio, and metadata—to be indexed, stored, and analyzed in the cloud.

“A smartphone application like Shazam, it listens to the 10 seconds of audio and sends it to the cloud and identifies what [song] it is,” Lee says. “The identification of the music is done in the cloud, but the phone captures the audio. They’re collaborating with each other. Similarly, that kind of collaboration can happened between the camera and cloud analytics. But there’s no standardized API to do that. So that’s exactly what we’re trying to define.”

In real-world use, Lee says that means a camera, upon capturing and analyzing video and audio of, say, a window breaking would be able to determine if it was caused by an errant baseball—in which case the user would be alerted to an “accident”—or by an unknown person—based on comparison to known faces in the user’s cloud database—and thus notified of an intruder. Lee says they’re also working on peer-to-peer communication channels for cameras so they can more easily communicate with other devices like alarms and external microphones to gather more “scene” data. “Not only that, but if you have a camera in the living room and a camera in the bedroom,” he says, “we’d like the two cameras to immediately interact so you can see where this intruder is moving and then get a continuous notification from camera to camera.”

In addition to making cameras deliver more accurate and informative alerts, the specification would also facilitate the sorting and classification of video captured from multiple cameras, organizing clips according to subject matter rather than time stamps or object detection. Though a few higher-end products. like Google’s Nest cameras, already deliver these type of intelligent alerts and event-driven summaries of their feeds, they are the exception and require pricey add-on cloud subscriptions to even activate those capabilities.

If this all sounds like pie in the cloud, so to speak, the five companies that compose the NICE Alliance are more than up for the task. With Foxconn’s and Winstron’s experience as ODMs of camera modules and mobile devices, respectively; Sony and Nikon’s imaging and camera expertise; and Scenera driving the new standard; smarter security cameras could be here sooner than you think.

Representatives from the five founding promoters are currently establishing the guidelines for the NICE Specification, which they expect to unveil in the third quarter of 2018. They'll also soon release more information on how other companies and interest groups can become members of the NICE Alliance.

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