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Smart cameras might sound a little scary, but are useful

Such cameras are called by different labels, like security camera, surveillance camera, etc., but the main point of them is that they are online and offer the possibility of “seeing through them” from anywhere. In addition to this basic functionality, there is a broad range of additional functions, e.g.:

  • Night vision

  • Storing of recordings, either on the camera or in the cloud (the latter typically requires a subscription, at a cost)

  • One or two-way sound

  • Remote changing of angle/zoom

  • Built-in motion sensor

  • Built-in security light

  • Built-in siren

  • Face recognition

  • Cameras tailored to monitoring of pets can even have functionality for play/treats

In addition, there are differences among the cameras on the market, in whether they are wired or wireless, have ports for memory cards, etc., and of course which platform/ecosystem they support.

From this extensive list, it is not surprising that this is also a category with many different manufacturers present. Some examples are Belkin/WeMo, D-Link, Honeywell, Logitech, Nest, Netatmo, Ring, TP-Link and many others.

In our smart home, we have installed smart cameras a few places in the house (see the individual room for more detailed information about the physical setup and programming of the solutions):

  • Guest room 1, since this room is where our dog stay when she is home alone, we have a Logitech camera here so that we can keep an eye on what she is doing and also talking to her if she gets restless

  • Garage, here we have a KingCam camera showing the interior of the garage and whether the garage doors are open or closed

  • Conservatory, here an Arlo camera monitors the room itself and the area outside the big windows

  • Outdoor, here we have five cameras, one Logitech camera that monitors the driveway and functions primarily as a security camera in case something should be stolen/damaged on our property, one Xiaomi camera that shows a feed from the cat pen and allows us to see whether they are OK no matter where we are, one Aqara camera that monitors the garden where the dog often plays around, and one Aqara camera that in essence works as a “wildlife camera”, and a Netatmo smart video doorbell

The range of functionality of such cameras can also give an indication that there are many usage areas, probably more than I am able to imagine, but some important ones are:

Security camera to detect/document unwanted persons/incidents

The heading is probably quite self-explanatory; with a camera suitably placed (outdoor or indoor), it is possible to monitor what is happening and becoming aware of it should something untoward be going on, whether at home or away. This can be done in real time by following the live feed from the camera, but if the camera stores recordings from the camera (many cameras also have a built-in motion sensor so that recordings are only made when something is happening), it is also possible to rewind and see whether the camera detected something after an event.

Setting up such functionality is normally quite easy and is done as part of the process to install and put the camera to use. In many cases, the manufacturer’s app offers more functionality, but many cameras also support different platforms/ecosystems and can be integrated into these.

Security camera to warn/deter

This is an extension of the usage above and is either dependent on having a camera with built-in siren or floodlight or that a camera without such functionality can be integrated with other components. The principles is in any case that when activated, detected motion turns sound or light on to scare away intruders. This can also be done by utilizing the two-way audio of the camera, but that mans having to take action oneself and talking to people caught by the camera.

For cameras with this functionality, setup of this application is done through the initial setup of the device. For cameras without it, this has be achieved by programming a signal-action routine, so that detected motion by the sensor in the camera turns on an audio or light source close to the camera, e.g., an outdoor light (see more about exploiting motion sensors one the page about that type of component).

Surveillance camera for general monitoring of a room/zone

This is closely connected to the usages outlined above, but more generally directed toward just monitoring what is going on somewhere in the home. This can be anything from fairly general requirements, e.g., just keeping an eye on what is going on in a basement/attic living room where kids “hang out”, to more specific requirements, e.g., checking whether a robotic lawn mower has gotten stuck or whether a pan is verging on boiling over in the kitchen.

Reading information displays

This is strictly speaking a particular version of the usage above, where the purpose is to use a smart camera to read information presented in displays on appliances which are located in rooms not easily accessible and which are not online. A specific example we ourselves have considered is our washing machine and tumble dryer, such appliances often display the time remaining of the current program running and it can be useful to read this information without having to go to the laundry room or where else these might be. The camera we now have outdoor to monitor the cat pen was originally acquired for installation in the laundry room and angled toward the displays of these two appliances. Sadly, the camera resolution was not sufficient to read the numbers, but with a better camera/larger displays/more suitable placement of the camera, this can be a good solution.

Monitoring of babies/smaller children

This is also a more specific usage area that is a variation of those mentioned above. For this, there are many dedicated products on the market, so-called baby monitors, but there is strictly nothing separating such from a general smart camera with two-way audio, and the latter can be put to other uses when the child has grown older.

Utilizing facial recognition to know who is home/in different rooms/zones

Here, we might be moving into more shady areas concerning ethics and even regulations, but the fact is that some smart cameras can recognize faces. This can be used to keep an overview of who is in the home, something which can be both useful and quite “innocent”. Parents can use this to know that children at an age where they walk home from school in their own have actually made it home, a mother can ascertain that she can stay a little longer at work since the father has arrived home from work, etc. Somewhat more dramatic are situations where something happens, like a fire or break-in, and one knows who is in the house and affected.

Utilizing two-way audio to communicating with people or pets

This is a basic functionality and usage area of baby monitors toward small children, but can just as well be utilized toward other people or pets. In principle, it takes the form of a video conference via a smart camera, allowing relaying messages, leading a conversation, calming down a situation, etc.

More specific monitoring/entertainment of pets

Again is this just a particular version of points mentioned above, but everyone who has a dog, cat, bird, or any type of pet and where these must now and then/often be home alone, knows that one often wonders what they are up to when one self is away. Smart cameras can both satisfy a general curiosity, but even more importantly, they offer opportunities for monitoring that animals who are nervous/don’t like to be home alone don’t hurt themselves or damage something in the home. Also for this purpose, two-way audio is useful, this allows both hearing what is going on and talking to an animal to calm it down (from own experience, however, we know that until the pet gets used to hearing the owners’ voice without seeing them can confuse them). Even more effective is using cameras that allow dispensing a treat, throwing a toy, or controlling a laser beam for play.

Utilizing built-in motion sensor for automation

A last area, which is described in more detail under motion sensor, is to exploit the built-in sensor in the camera to control other devices. This is parallel to using a dedicated motion sensor, i.e., use the signal to turn on lights, adjusting temperature, etc. The camera we have in guest room 1 is part of a basic routine where motion turns on the ceiling light.

Physical installation

Depending somewhat on the type of camera and where it will be used, the installation can be more or less complicated. Some considerations to make are:

  • Most important is of course the placement, so that the camera covers what is should capture. This also involves considering light conditions, avoiding that the camera gets in the way, etc.

  • Whether the camera is wired or wireless is of course also important. For battery-powered cameras, it is important to be able to easily reach it for charging, while wired cameras of course need access to a power outlet.

  • Different camera types often come with various types of mounts, but it is also possible to buy more tailored mounts, e.g., for installation in the inside of a window or even directly into a power outlet.

  • Some cameras also require an ethernet connection and must therefore be close to a router.

  • For cameras to be used outdoor, it is of course important that the camera is intended for such use or it is possible to protect it against the weather.

  • And as always, but even more important for cameras, where larger amounts of data are involved, network coverage and speed is crucial at the spot where it is to be installed.

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