IP Cameras Inside Light Bulbs: A New Market?

By Brian Rhodes, Published Jan 07, 2015, 12:00am EST

Poor lighting is a common problem for video surveillance.

To solve this, a big trend in the past few years is to add IR lighting inside the camera but how about the other way?

What if 'smart' light bulbs added cameras inside? This is an emerging niche we examine inside this post, looking at the logistical and operational tradeoffs of such an approach.

Lightbulb Cam Concept

The Snap, from Sengled, combines a White LED, PAR38 sized flood lamp with a Wi-Fi connected 720p camera with a mic and small speaker. The entire unit screws into a standard light fixture and is powered by a high voltage circuit.  The image below shows off the latest product mockup:

While the unit is pre-production, the manufacturer claims it will offer some notable features when released:

  • Cloud Storage:  The camera will store video clips and have a live-view feature that is app accessed and remote server based.
  • Face Recognition: Not only will the unit record on motion, the manufacturer claims it will pick out faces and recognize them allowing for special alerts or configurations to be pushed to home automation systems.
  • Indoor/Outdoor: With PAR38 lamps being common floodlamp fixtures both inside and outdoors, the Snap will be rated for use in either location type.

The manufacturer is not giving out details like camera specifications, wireless range/repeater range, or unit price.  However, they are claiming the unit will be available in the market by the end of Q1 2015.

Advantages

Pairing lights with cameras is a smart idea, since low-light is a classic fundamental weakness of many cameras.  Because Snap pairs a white light into the camera, potential lighting issues are likely to be diminished.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Lighting aside, one of Snap's strongest features will be ease of install.  Rather than running new cables and hanging a new mount, the Snap just screws into place, likely in spots where security lighting already exists. Integrating lights with security cameras is no longer an external job, since everything is packaged in one device.

Drawbacks

However, even at a high level, we can see major issues that will prevent Snap from taking off.

  • Unit Positioning: Many light fixtures point straight down. Especially PAR38 fixtures, whose characteristic parabolic beam is commonly used like a floodlight. While a fixed downward cast works great for security lights, it is a terrible position for a camera that essentially will only stare at the ground.  Also, no detail is given about image orientation once installed: will the image the camera produces be rotatable according to how the bulb is screwed into the fixture?  At this point, the manufacturer is mum.
  • Useless Face Rec: In addition, the downward mount of the bulb also essentially makes the face rec feature pointless.  Successful face rec is difficult even if camera mounting is ideally looking at subjects straight on and from low heights, but if the camera is only able to see the tops of heads it is difficult to see much success.
  • PAR38 Only: While a common bulb in residential and commercial lighting, PAR38 is mostly used outside or in canned light fixtures. Snap may not fit or be misrated in the most common A19 sized lamp fixtures that are most popular.
  • Theft/Vandalism: Details are also unclear as to what anti-theft protections Snap will feature, if any. A real risk appears to be someone just unscrewing it and walking away with the bulb, which at the very least defeats any security value the device provides.

Market Options

In recent years, the market has produced a few examples of lights equipped with cameras. For example, a camera equipped light fixture startup called Kuna raised nearly $230k in just over a month.  We covered Kuna in our Startup: The Smartest House Light Ever? update. The major structural difference between Kuna and this bulb camera is Snap will likely be easier to install for the casual DIYer.

A similar light fixture product named Nightwatcher has been on the market for several years, but unlike Snap or Kuna the unit's camera is not networked and simply writes video to local storage.  The unit is not able to send alerts, but simply traverses the light head to track movement within range of the unit's PIR.

Are You Interested? Vote

Comments (29) : Members only. Login. or Join.
Loading Related Reports