The Possibilities of Ubiquitous Video Streams

The idea of video cameras everywhere is used to conjure up thoughts of Police States or 1984. Today however, each of us walks around with at least two cameras at the ready.

One on their phone and likely another such as video surveillance of the interior of their homes or overlooking their doorsteps. Cameras are everywhere and the tech giants have been investing huge sums into making this technology cheap, accessible, and ubiquitous.

In March, Amazon announced it was acquiring Ring, the video doorbell company. Several years back, Google had acquired Nest, which then acquired Dropcam and brought it into the fold. The two represent billions of dollars invested in developing both the hardware as well as the infrastructure to support large scale video recording and analysis. Over the same period, dozens of alternative products have come to market such as the WeMo NetCam, Netgear Arlo, and Canary. The video camera on other devices such as the Echo Show and the JIBO also have the flexibility of doubling as cameras for the home.

With so much video data being streamed, it begs the question of what’s possible when you combine multiple streams together along with some of the latest technologies around AI? What can consumers expect of these devices over the next 2-3 years and what are the considerations, especially around privacy, that we’ll need to resolve?

Large advances in hardware technology coupled with new means of processing video have allowed for the costs to exponentially decrease over the years and for the capabilities of these devices to similarly experience exponential growth. Bandwidth, latency, and congestion issues of wireless network technology being addressed means that 4K, 60 FPS video can be streamed without concern about the image being grainy, or buffering.

Behind the scenes, computer vision technology has become commoditized with more service providers offering up the technology and more functionalities being extended to developers. New technology around edge computing may allow for the benefits of computer vision AI with the security of local-based processing.

What can you do today?

In the home, the primary placement of cameras likely include:

  • Baby cams to check on infants and toddlers
  • Doorbell cameras that face out onto a front porch
  • Outdoor cameras looking at backyards
  • Indoor cameras looking at entry ways

Most of the cameras on the market today come with the ability to stream the video to a phone or desktop, backup the video online, take time lapse images, and push voice to the outcome through the camera. Some also have alerting features through app notifications, email, or text message for event triggers such as motion or the identification of a person.

With these features alone, you can already do a lot:

  • Know if a package has been delivered
  • See if anyone is home or has come / gone
  • Check if the surrounding area is safe
  • Get a sense of the environment remotely (e.g. is there light inside yet)
  • Provide voice communication to someone in the area
  • Check if an infant child is sleeping / safe

However, when you start to add more cameras combined with AI, you can abstract a lot more information about the environment.

Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM, among others, now offer computer vision APIs that can be implemented by even a novice developer with extended amazing functionality. These include the ability to:

  • Identify an object
  • Identify a person
  • Understand logos
  • Extract text
  • Determine “inappropriate content”
  • Transcribe the video
  • Identify handwriting
  • Identify smiles
  • Identify emotion
  • Estimate peoples’ ages
  • Identify gesture
  • Identify foods

There is a lot of overlap among the service providers and while today these services are still too expensive for continuous use (they cost pennies per minute), the price will likely drop to pennies per hour or day over the next few years. Even with only this capability, it’s already possible to start extending the applications that are currently available on today’s webcams such as:

  • Tracking a user from room to room
  • Logging when someone arrives home or leaves
  • Tracking the emotion of different people in frame throughout the day
  • Keeping a record of what we’re talking about
  • Tracking visitors to the home

Today, this is achievable without needing to develop new technologies. What’s coming next will reshape how we adopt these devices.

The Next Five Years

The next generation of in-home cameras is going to combine advanced embedded AI features together with a highly reliable connection to online processing. We’ll see Alexa, Google Assistant, and Bixby, among others, embedded into the products and with that, the capability for them to understand what’s happening around us. Maybe we’ll become more comfortable with the idea of live streaming inside our home if the benefits are substantial.

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The Next Frontier in Digital Health

Digital health was prominently displayed at CES this year with lots of floor space dedicated to the industry and a cornucopia of health and fitness-focused wearable devices debuting in Las Vegas.

The declining costs of hardware components, the ubiquity of smartphones and the need for consumers to cut their medical costs is spurring innovation in many areas of digital health.  Given these trends, the line between health and fitness devices is blurring.   Every consumer electronics company from Sony to LG to Samsung is either getting into the game or thinking about it.  But as activity tracking becomes increasingly more commoditized, health device makers need to step-up their offerings and focus on disease management and improving outcomes.   Every patient consumer wants simple interfaces that engage them and allows them to gain valuable insights into their health and wellbeing – not achieved by the current cadre of activity sensors.

Health device makers and wellness apps wanting to provide real value for their customers are moving beyond step counting and integrating into connected health services in the cloud.  These services use a holistic approach to engaging the provider and patient in managing adherence and compliance and by extension – outcomes.    Incorporating physicians, pharmacists, therapists and trainers as part of an integrated “care-team” allows for meaningful patient engagement easing compliance and allowing patients to become “emotionally” accountable for using the app or device as directed by their care-team.   For healthcare providers, this same integration made possible by ubiquitous connectivity – allows them to think and engage beyond the practical aspects of care – the exam, laboratory test or simple disease management.

The past year has proved that many pieces are in place (desire, policy, market demand, innovation, investment, etc.) for a radical transformation in healthcare. We’re beginning to see many aspects of our health and wellness reimagined.  There is now a growing community of stakeholders who understand that change is not only possible, but inevitable, and best of all are taking action to see those changes come true.  The next step in this tectonic shift, is leveraging a higher level of connectivity where data, devices and humans are optimally connected to enable good care decisions – shifting the cost curve and encouraging accountability and adherence beyond what’s offered by today’s consumer health devices.

Source: Smithsonian Magazine
Source: Smithsonian Magazine

Why Wearable Devices Will Never Be As Disruptive As Smartphones

Wearables moved from the buzz idea of 2013 into a tangle of clips, bands, badges, brooches, glasses, earpieces and headsets. It’s all too easy to be cynical about the products launched at this annual tech frenzy in the Mojave Desert, but here’s a skeptical case between the tech crowd’s boosterism and the casual scoffing. Let’s step back and try to separate the potential from the hyperbole. Read more

Source: Jawbone
Source: Jawbone

Thousands of the World’s Internet Connected Things In One Place

A new project is curating and organizing all of the sundry gadgets that collectively comprise the so-called “Internet of Things”.  A new website seeks to catalog all of the world’s Internet-enabled devices.  So far, they’ve got more than 2000 listed, and they plan to add more in the months ahead.  There are fitness monitors, medical devices, smart home products and all sorts of other gadgets ready for measuring and monitoring everything around us. Read more

Source: The Connected Devices Project

Will AllSeen (formerly AllJoyn) have the same fate as other Internet of Things standards that have been tried in the past?


The reason we are where we are today, with smart home hubs having 7 radios to provide frequency and protocol interoperability between “all” smart connected devices in your home is because many years ago we started with a small light weight protocol called ZigBee and at some point, it gathered an alliance around it.  With multiple constituencies all pulling in different directions, the protocol became unwieldy and too heavy for what it was intended.  Then we had Z-Wave and the Z-Wave Alliance, same dilemma although with a smaller number of players influencing the outcome.  We also have Bluetooth with the Bluetooth SIG, Insteon, 6LoWPAN and so many others.  They all promise the same thing, to be able to tap and control a whole ecosystem of products and devices seamlessly. But, they’ve all failed to garner a huge following across a spectrum of products – thus the consumer is forced to pay more for solutions that promise to play well together with others because interoperability across protocols is non existent – unless you include multiple radios in a single hub.

Here comes Qualcomm to the rescue.  Qualcomm’s goal is to offer developers and consumers an experience that works across all platforms, manufacturers and devices.  But is this possible?  Sure, ad-hoc WiFi can provide the connectivity fabric between all devices, but is that sufficient?  Many IoT devices are part of a purposeful solution that doesn’t necessarily adhere to the notion of continuous connectivity and command-and-control from a single interface.  Thus, a battery-operated sensor with a 10-year battery life can’t be expected to respond to continuous low-level WiFi beacons – nor should it.  In cases like these, it is best to leave the protocol implementation to the manufacturer of the device who has intimate knowledge of functional and customer requirements.  AllSeen, of course, does not solve the physical layer protocol dilemma that has precluded IoT to cross the proverbial chasm.

When HTML was first written, it was done so by one man, Tim Berners-Lee, whose mission was to have a markup language that web browsers could use to interpret and compose text, images and other materials into visual web pages.  He was not conflicted by a consortium with competing interests nor was there 10+ other protocols in existence promising to deliver the same thing.  In AllSeen’s case, fragmentation and competitive forces will prevent it from making great strides for many years to come.  It’ll take a lot more than open-source, the Linux Foundation and a few examples to get everyone on board.

The Terrifying Search Engine That Finds Internet-Connected Cameras, Traffic Lights, Medical Devices, Baby Monitors And Power Plants

Marc Gilbert got a horrible surprise from a stranger on his 34th birthday in August. After the celebration had died down, the Houston resident heard an unfamiliar voice coming from his daughter’s room; the person was telling his sleeping 2-year-old, “Wake up, you little slut.” When Gilbert rushed in, he discovered the voice was coming from his baby monitor and that whoever had taken control of it was also able to manipulate the camera. Gilbert immediately unplugged the monitor but not before the hacker had a chance to call him a moron.

Source: Forbes
Source: Forbes

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Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies Maps Out Evolving Relationship Between Humans and Machines

The evolving relationship between humans and machines is the key theme of Gartner, Inc.’s “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2013.” Gartner has chosen to feature the relationship between humans and machines due to the increased hype around smart machines, cognitive computing and the Internet of Things. Analysts believe that the relationship is being redefined through emerging technologies, narrowing the divide between humans and machines.

Source: Gartner August 2013
Source: Gartner August 2013

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The Internet Of Things Gold Rush

If you liked the early days of cloud computing, you’re going to love the Internet of things (IoT) and its less-sexy cousin, machine-to-machine communications. Certainly, you’ll be in elite company. Cisco is dedicating an entirely new business unit to the fledgling effort. AT&T has built two shiny new facilities dedicated to developing things like smart luggage that can locate your bags in the airport so you don’t lose them. Verizon has a program aimed at transportation. Broadcom, Oracle, Samsung — all are in the hunt. Intel says IoT technology will enable 3.8 billion more connected “things” by 2015. At an average cost of $100 per item, we’re talking $380 billion (about the GDP of Austria) in just two years.

2013 The Year of the Internet of Things
2013 The Year of the Internet of Things

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