Face Recognition Camera Tested (Netatmo)

By Ethan Ace, Published Jan 29, 2016, 12:00am EST (Research)

Can face recognition make home security "better"? That is the bold claim from startup Netatmo with their Welcome camera.

But with face recognition's historical challenges, can it really work in a sub-$200 consumer camera?

In this test, we take a look at the Welcome camera to find out, seeing how its recognition performs across over a week's worth of testing.

 

Summary

Netatmo's main selling points, its facial recognition and home/away features were unreliable in our tests, frequently failing to recognize subjects despite following manufacturer recommendations for setup. 

Without these features, Welcome is essentially just another consumer camera. Though setup and live viewing are simple and worked well, other options perform these functions at lower prices.

Key Findings 

Facial recognition performance:

  • Poor facial recognition performance, with faces frequently missed or not recognized as known persons, despite following Netatmo's placement recommendations, with subjects at close range (<6') in well lit areas. 
  • Facial recognition performance further degraded against strong backlight, effectively not working at all.
  • Even with subjects facing the camera at close range, well lit, and nearly still, performance was still unreliable, with numerous missed faces or known subjects not recognized.

Home/away mode works poorly, with users simply set as away after a set period of time (4 hours by default) instead of based on actual presence information. Users can be manually marked as away individually or as a whole, but this requires user intervention, limiting its usefulness.

Playback is limited to a list of event clips only, with no options for simply searching or viewing all recognitions for a single user, and no options for continuous recording.

Notifications are pushed to smart phone and desktop browser, no options for email. Notifications may be turned on/off per known person.

Pricing/Availibility

Welcome retails for $199 USD direct from Netatmo [link no longer available]. This is in line with other consumer models such as the Nest Cam or Simplicam (which also includes face rec), both ~$200 online.

Netatmo has no monthly subscription fees for viewing or recording. Video is stored locally to the SD card.

Physical Overview

In this video we review the physical construction of the Netatmo Welcome camera:

Poor Facial Recognition Performance

Netatmo gives these recommendations for placement for proper recognition:

We placed the camera in an office corridor, about 8' from subjects as they approach, about 5' off the floor, well within these recommendations.

Despite following these guidelines, the camera failed to recognize many subjects, either not seeing a face at all or displaying known users as unknown. For instance, in a 4 hour period, with subjects approaching ~60 times, the camera recognized users only twice.

We review these issues in this video:

Backlight Performance

Against strong backlighting, such as doors or windows, performance is even worse. The camera is unable to compensate for the harsh light outside, making subjects in the near FOV unrecognizable. This is especially problematic, given their positioning recommendations, which recommend aiming the camera at a front door.

This clip shows a subject entering the building via an exterior door, not recognized by the camera.

Identifying Users

There is no formal enrollment process for the Welcome camera. Instead, users are identified by clicking on unknown faces and assigning a name. According to documentation, profile strength may be increased, improving recognition, by identifying users multiple times should they be shown as unknown. However, despite identifying some users >20 times, profiles still were displayed as the lowest strength. 

We review this process in this video:

Home and Away Features 

Using face rec, Netatmo claims to display home/away status of registered users. When a user is seen, they are marked as home. However, away is based purely on a configurable time delay (1-12 hours), which defaults to four hours, instead of any sort of presence information.

There are two key problems with this:

  • Doesn't account for users elsewhere at home: If a user is seen by the camera, but then moves elsewhere in/around the home or goes to bed, the user is marked away after this delay expires, despite still being present.
  • Recognized on the way out: Since Netatmo recommends the camera be placed near an entrance, users may be recognized as they leave. This means someone may be seen as "home" until the delay expires, despite having left hours ago, resulting in missed alerts.

Because of these issues the home and away features are essentially a gimmick, instead of practically useful.

Limited Playback and Search

Motion and face events are stored to the camera's SD card and retrieved via the cloud interface (browser/mobile). Events are displayed in a single list by time and date with no option to search for specific events such as by user, unknown faces, simple motion. etc. There is also no option to jump to a specific time/date, forcing users to scroll through all events to locate specific incidents.

We take a look at search and playback in this video: 

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