MicroPower 2.0 Solar Wireless Surveillance

By Ethan Ace, Published May 13, 2013, 08:00pm EDT

When we first looked at MicroPower's solar surveillance system in 2010, key limitations existed, making widespread use challenging. However, late last year, a second generation was released to overcome limitations found in field deployments. In this note, we look at what changes have been made, which limitations still exist, and the future prospects for MicroPower's Helios compared to rival wireless solar surveillance offerings.

Updated Product Line

MicroPower updated their Helios product line late in 2012. This was not a fundamental feature upgrade, but included several incremental improvements:

  • Auxilliary solar panel: MicroPower now includes an additional 16W solar panel, in addition to those mounted on the camera enclosure. In some locations, cameras aimed north could suffer from insufficient power due to weather or short days. This panel is intended to compensate for these effects, while remaining relatively small (15"x14") to prevent wind load issues and poor aesthetics of larger panels.
  • Directional antennas: MicroPower now includes directional antennas with all Helios kits, specified for up to 1/2 mile range. Previous generations featured omnidirectional antennas with reduced range.
  • RF Improvements: According to MicroPower, improvements have been made to increase their proprietary wireless protocol's (TrustLinx) data rates and resistance to interference. 

The Helios system is available through MicroPower's distributors, with MSRP of $3,500 USD for the MPT2520 package including camera, antenna, and solar panel, and $2,500 for the MPT2720 hub, supporting up to six cameras, including antenna. MicroPower maintains a traditional security pricing structure, with deep discounts from MSRP for dealers.

Limitations

The Helios system supports a fixed camera only, and still has key limitations in resolution and framerate, despite improvements to power and transmission. Maximum resolution remains VGA, at five frames per second, using MJPEG compression. This video clip demonstrates MicroPower's resolution and framerate:

These limitations prevent the Helios system from being useful in many applications, as only small areas may be covered with any sort of detail. Micropower says that megapixel is a priority for future development though no timetable was provided.

Competitive Comparison

There are any number of options available for solar power in surveillance systems. However, most require custom engineering based on equipment load, battery size, location, and other factors, which many integrators may not be comfortable with.

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One pre-engineered system is the Dotworkz Solar Kit, which consists of solar panel(s), controller, batteries, and enclosure configured based on integrator requirements sent to Dotworkz. The kit is non-proprietary, meaning any camera and wireless equipment can be used.

When only using a single camera, Dotworkz is only modestly more expensive while supporting higher functionality cameras. However, with more cameras, the price gap becomes more significant.

The price comparison is as follows

Dotworkz

  • Solar surveillance kit: $5,000 USD average, not including camera or wireless.
  • Mid-range HD camera: $800
  • Low-cost wireless: $200, such as Ubiquiti.

MicroPower

  • MPT2520 Camera Kit: ~$3,000 estimated street price
  • MPT2720 Video Hub (supports up to 6 cameras): ~$2,100 estimated street price

For a single camera, Dotworkz would be about $1,000 more ($6,000 to $5,100) but for 6 cameras, Dotworkz would be ~$13,000 more (because the camera side components of Dotworkz cost significantly more).

However, MicroPower has the obvious disadvantage of limited framerate, resolution, and transmission distance which a Dotworkz kit overcomes. MicroPower also has no PTZ options, while they may be supported in a Dotworkz kit using their D2/D3 enclosures.

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