We have been outspoken here on HomeTechStar about our general disappointment with the smart home space, despite founding this website two years ago to cover the space in detail. The reality of the current ‘state of the nation’s is increasingly consumer apathy towards a space which promised so much. So can Nest Labs, a company owned by Google, deliver a product which can raise the game for the entire space? Their Nest IQ indoor camera is a $299 device with just that intention – packing a 4k camera (so you can see any intruder in infinite detail) but more interestingly, packed with next generation Google artificial intelligence. Perhaps its our general apathy to this space, but we have not come to expect too much from the massively over-buzzed ‘AI’ space – but even we prick our ears up when the AI has spent years in the Google factory being finessed and shipped. When Google spend ‘years’ building something, we come to expect a degree of magic, so have they delivered with the Nest IQ indoor camera?
Before we explore the role of AI in the Nest Cam, lets look at the hardware specs. Powered by its 4k camera, the device boasts of an 8MP lens and a 12x zoom – which for context would provide detail on a face from the other side of a fairly large room. Recording in 1080p HD, this camera does promise to capture a level of detail which hasn’t been found in ‘smart’ security cameras to date. This therefore represents a promising start for the camera which will be taking pre-orders in June before shipping in July 2017.
There has been no lack of speculation around a new Nest cam, coming first from this leaked out report from Android Police last week and then followed up by Venture Beat.
As speculated, the major upgrade is in the Nest IQ Cameras ability to track movement through a 130 degree arc of vision, adding in the ability to leverage that 12x zoom to really capture the detail. Where it steps up a gear is in its ability to recognise humans, including those with obscured faces compared to say, a pet dog. Its only after the movement has gone through this AI based vetting that a warning notification is sent your way – hopefully helping avoid the sort of red scares that ruin anybody’s otherwise quiet day in the office.
The Google AI brings with it face recognition tech, meaning it can identify family members and distinguish as part of this vetting process, and further intelligent software allows the Nest IQ to capture audio whilst filtering out the sound of a television, podcast or radio station in the background. All of this is fairly reliant on you subscribing to the Nest Aware platform, which enables you to store up to a months worth of data on the Google Cloud.
The number 1 flaw in current smart home cameras, which the Nest IQ fixes
Any readers who own a ‘smart’ security camera will be aware of their overriding flaw – they capture anything and everything which has movement associated with it. One reader commented recently that they were fairly sure their ‘smart’ camera captures leaves falling off their indoor plants – sending out alerts which leave your stomach dropping. These devices are literally the boy who cries wolf, and that massively diminishes their value.
Through a combination of next generation AI (Alphabet/Google is now apparently an ‘AI first company’) and upgraded hardware, the Nest IQ is setting its stall out to overcome this issue. In reality, there are many who would argue that Nest needs to start solving at least some problems, and to start solving them pretty darned quickly.
Nest are struggling inside Alphabet / Google
The negative rumours have snared Nest since its very early days as a Google business. Perhaps that is the nature of a $3.2 billion acqusition – but Nest initially struggled [in many peoples view] to justify that hefty price tag, and later struggled, with many high profile problems. The rumours persist now that the company is consistently missing internal targets and that its future has been discussed at Alphabet board level on at least a couple of occasions.
This is perhaps part of the wider smart home space struggles – with few companies showing a willingness to stretch the boundaries and ship products which move the needle for the consumer. Too much smart home is too much gimmick, failing to solve real world problems with over-priced and under-spec’d products.
That doesn’t excuse Nest for falling over, producing sometimes lightweight products and being hacked – but maybe now wit the Nest IQ, they can start to cut through the cluttered smart home landscape and start layering in some value which will compel people to go out and buy their products.
The challenge for the Nest IQ cam in that regard is that smart home security cameras are not the most ‘sexy’ products in the market. Other niches within the smart home are likely more game for such radical overhaul, yet home security impacts everybody and is a solid starting point to show what AI can really do to keep our homes safe. Lets see if the Nest IQ can start to change the smart home game and get all of us our smart home mojo back.