One of the noteworthy gadgets at CES 2015 was the Netatmo Welcome camera, which has won several awards for innovation.
The 6" tall Welcome camera uses facial recognition techniques to identify people entering a location such as a home or business. With a 130 degree range it can cover entryways or exits quite easily then notify you of the people it recognizes - as well as the ones it cannot. A simple concept that ties in quite well with both mobility and the always-expanding realm of the Internet of Things, Welcome offers security and reassurance. Netatmo provides a video on their product page outlining how the camera works, such as by informing a working Mom via her iPhone that her kids have gotten home safely and alerting her to an unknown individual in her house (who merely turns out to be a delivery man dropping off a package).
The details are straightforward: users interact with the camera via a browser or an app installed on their smartphone or tablet (Android 4.3/higher or iOS 8 required). The app provides both notifications ("Lily is home") and access to the live camera stream through an encrypted connection (browser connections only provide camera access). For privacy sake, camera data is stored on a local SD card (maximum 32 Gb size) and not on the internet. The camera is for indoor use only but could probably be installed in a clear waterproof container if needed for external monitoring.
There are no fees or services to sign up for, and the camera settings are comprehensive enough to be customized for various needs, such as to not send notifications or record camera footage of the arrival of designated individuals (such as a security guard making rounds in a warehouse). The Welcome camera even has night vision capabilities and Netatmo is working on an accessory called the Welcome Tag, which can extend the camera's reach and provide motion sensing functionality as well as door opening notifications.
Now, I can foresee a few issues with the camera and the way it operates poses some interesting concepts. In the first place, the privacy factor could be a problem if a business decided to install the Welcome camera in a hidden location. Some states require notification of employees beforehand, so anyone desiring to implement this camera for hidden surveillance should check and comply with local laws. If utilized in a public area to monitor employee comings and goings (such as by pinpointing chronically tardy individuals) this may provoke staff resentment due to the Orwellian style tactics being used. Obviously recording activity in private areas such as bathrooms or locker rooms is illegal.
Secondly, I think it would be better to have the option to upload photos to a secured internet account - what if a thief robs a house then steals the Welcome camera to cover his or her tracks? Granted, owners of the camera can view the live stream on their personal devices, but unless they happen to spy the thief and take a screenshot at that very moment they will have no evidence to rely on during an investigation.
Thirdly, as with many new inventions, the Welcome can be used for both good and unpleasant purposes. The crime writer part of my brain can think of all sorts of nefarious abuses of the product - a burglar reversing the concept of security by setting it up to be notified when the owner of a targeted house arrives at work (or arrives home, so the burglar has ample time to flee), a suspicious wife keeping tabs on her husband's whereabouts by checking to see if he really did go to the gym, or some other underhanded spy tactic not covered in the manual. Granted, the camera requires a high-speed internet connection and AC power so you can't just hide it in a McDonald's bag and put it on someone's windowsill, but portable mi-fis are easy enough to deploy and many public places have electrical outlets.
Overall, however, I think these concerns are minor (and I hope I haven't given anyone any inappropriate notions). The idea behind this product is indeed innovative and I think it will be a good fit for people as well as businesses that want simple yet reliable control of their environments while they're elsewhere. The Welcome camera and accessories will start selling in the second quarter of 2015.
Scott Matteson is a senior systems administrator and freelance technical writer who also performs consulting work for small organizations. He resides in the Greater Boston area with his wife and three children.