$59 Smart Camera Module (Pixy)

By: Ben Wood, Published on Aug 27, 2013

Beset by lawsuits, the video analytic industry has seen little innovation recently. Now, a new offering from Carnegie Mellon researchers offers a super low cost smart camera module, raising over $270,000 on Kickstarter. We talked to Richard LaGrand, founder of Charmed and CMU partner, about the technology and its possible applications. 


LeGrand said Pixy was mainly developed to give engineers an affordable way to use computer vision. 

“When I was in school I remember I did some robotics and had to beg my advisor for $25,000 to get a computer vision system. That was considered the going rate for something that would give you the computation power of Pixy. What Pixy can do is pretty basic. If you want to detect a specific object like a charging station or chase after a ball, it can do that kind of thing."

The idea behind Pixy was to provide and affordable computer vision technology for hobbyists, researchers and engineers doing robotics. The project started in 2009 and is on its fifth version. It is 10 times more powerful than its first version and about a quarter of the price (currently $59 on Kickstarter, but the first backers got it for $39).

Watch their video demo below (warning: it starts slow but finishes strong):

Possible Applications

Pixy was built to interface with other devices:

“There are a lot of other ideas for things like bar code readers or QR code readers. It has a usb port so it could be used as a pointing device, but people are mostly asking if Pixy will work with specific algorithms so it's hard to tell what the application is,” he said. “One out of 10 emails asks if we can do face detection ... so we’re committed to providing that down the road (using the Viola-Jones algorithm [link no longer available]).” 

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

Could it be used for security applications? Possibly. But Charm's founder did not speculate on those applications. He said the main focus was to develop the technology and make it open source to the people couple apply them to all sorts of applications.  

“If you want to engineer a low cost camera like this, and be able to get frames out of the sensor, and do it cheaply, that’s been a hard problem. I think that people are responding to the fact that we have solved this hard problem and this is something they can use to leverage technology that's already been figured out.”

How it works

Pixy can detect hues and saturation, using an algorithm to assign unique color signatures to different hues. It stores those signatures in flash memory and uses them to process future images. 

It does not detect objects, but can detect colors and report its findings based on assigned values given to those colors or color combinations. This image show it detecting various colors:

However, the labelling is misleading because it does not know that an object is a ball or a box or a car, etc. Pixy cannot detect people or objects. User defined labels are added, matching colors to objects (e.g., red = ball, blue = box).

“You just press down on the button and hold down the object in front of it and it ‘learns’ the object you’re interested in,” LeGrand said. Pixy can store signatures for seven different colors and can detect hundred of objects within those signatures simultaneously.

Capability and Limitations

Detection Range

 “There’s not really a set distance. It has more to do with how much of the field of view it occupies,” said LeGrand. “Depending on the focal length of the lens, it could be a really small object.” The version of Pixy on the Kickstarter has a 2.75 mm lens and has a 75 degree field of view. 

Pixy processes information coming in from a 640X400 frame. As long an object takes up at least 4x4 pixels, Pixy can detect its color information.

Low Light

Charmed admitted that “You need plenty of light to get a good image. The sensor is a quarter inch sensor. So it’s not tiny, but not big either, but it’s pretty sensitive. What we rely on though is that you can train it. If you went from outside to a fluorescent lit environment, it might effect Pixy’s ability to identify that object, but since it’s easy to re-teach, it helps with that issue.”

Dark Colors

The technology does best with colors that have strong color signatures so browns and black are more difficult to detect, LeGrand said. “It’s more possible with brown because there is some hue in there, but it’s best to use an object that has a decent color signature.”

Potential Surveillance Applications 

While Pixy makes a neat demo and offers quite low pricing, given its limited intelligence (only making out certain colors and in well lit conditions), it is difficult to imagine mainstream surveillance use cases. 

Tech Specs:

  • Processor: NXP  LPC4330, 204 MHz, dual core
  • Image sensor: Omnivision OV9715, 1/4", 1280x800
  • Lens field-of-view: 75 degrees horizontal, 47 degrees vertical
  • Lens type: standard M12 (several different types available)
  • Power consumption: 140 mA typical
  • Power input: USB input (5V) or unregulated input (6V to 10V)
  • RAM: 264K bytes
  • Flash: 1M bytes
  • Available data outputs: UART serial, SPI, I2C, USB, digital, analog
  • Dimensions: 2.1" x 1.75" x 1.4"

1 report cite this report:

The New Generation of Crowdfunded Security Startups on Sep 02, 2014
New entrants to the security market are few and far between. However, there...
Comments (4) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

TVT / InVid White Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Mar 18, 2020
With mega China manufacturers Dahua and Hikvision facing both bans and human...
ProCam Low-Cost Open Thermal Temperature Project on May 12, 2020
An engineering professor in Switzerland is building what he hopes will be the...
TVT / InVid Facial Recognition Tested on Mar 25, 2020
Facial recognition is frequently sold for thousands of dollars per channel...
Sunell Panda Cam Body Temperature Measurement Camera Tested on May 14, 2020
Sunell is far less well known than its gargantuan domestic competitors Dahua...
Cobalt Robotics Presents Indoor Security and Access Robots on Jun 03, 2020
Cobalt Robotics presented indoor security robots at the May 2020 IPVM...
CANCELLED: IPVM Conference 2020 on Feb 13, 2020
CANCELLED, May 6th: We are canceling the IPVM September 2020 Conference and...
Cisco Acquiring Fluidmesh on Apr 09, 2020
Cisco announced it is acquiring niche wireless manufacturer...
Cisco Video Surveillance Is Dead, Long Live Cisco Meraki Video Surveillance on Feb 11, 2020
A dozen years ago much of the industry thought that Cisco was destined to...
Facial Recognition: Weak Sales, Anti Regulation, No Favorite, Says Security Integrators on Jul 07, 2020
While facial recognition has gained greater prominence, a new IPVM study of...
Add Door Operators To Fight Coronavirus on Mar 31, 2020
IPVM recommends that integrators advocate and end-users consider adding door...
Anyvision Presents AI Facial Recognition and Mask Detection on Jun 08, 2020
AnyVision presented its AI facial recognition and mask detection at the May...
Cheap Camera Problems at Night on Feb 19, 2020
Cheap cameras generally have problems at night, despite the common perception...
The Booming Multi-Billion Coronavirus Fever Camera Market on Apr 21, 2020
The market for elevated body temperature detection cameras, aka 'coronavirus...
PSIM CNL Acquired By Everbridge on Mar 09, 2020
The end has finally come for CNL. Despite for years saying they would...
Breaking Into A Facility Using Canned Air Tested on Jan 28, 2020
Access control is supposed to make doors more secure, but a $5 can of...

Recent Reports

SIA Coaches Sellers on NDAA 889B Blacklist Workarounds on Aug 05, 2020
Last month SIA demanded that NDAA 899B "must be delayed". Now that they have...
ADI Returns To Growth, Back To 'Pre-COVID Levels' on Aug 05, 2020
While ADI was hit hard in April, with revenue declining 21%, the company's...
Exposing Fever Tablet Suppliers and 40+ Relabelers on Aug 05, 2020
IPVM has found 40+ USA and EU companies relabeling fever tablets designed,...
Indian Government Restricts PRC Manufacturers From Public Projects on Aug 04, 2020
In a move that mirrors the U.S. government’s ban on Dahua and Hikvision...
Directory of 200 "Fever" Camera Suppliers on Aug 04, 2020
This directory provides a list of "Fever" scanning thermal camera providers...
Face Masks Increase Face Recognition Errors Says NIST on Aug 04, 2020
COVID-19 has led to widespread facemask use, which as IPVM testing has shown...
Dahua Loses Australian Medical Device Approval on Aug 04, 2020
Dahua has cancelled its medical device registration after "discussions" with...
Google Invests in ADT, ADT Stock Soars on Aug 03, 2020
Google has announced a $450 million investment in the Florida-based security...
US Startup Fever Inspect Examined on Aug 03, 2020
Undoubtedly late to fever cameras, this US company, Fever Inspect, led by a...
Motorola Solutions Acquires Pelco on Aug 03, 2020
Motorola Solutions has acquired Pelco, pledging to bring blue back and make...
False: Verkada: "If You Want To Remote View Your Cameras You Need To Punch Holes In Your Firewall" on Jul 31, 2020
Verkada falsely declared to “3,000+ customers”, “300 school districts”, and...
US GSA Explains NDAA 889 Part B Blacklisting on Jul 31, 2020
With the 'Blacklist Clause' going into effect August 13 that bans the US...
Access Control Online Show July 2020 - On-Demand Recording of 45+ Manufacturers Presentations on Jul 30, 2020
The show featured 48 Access Control presentations, all now recorded and...
Face Detection Shootout - Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Jul 30, 2020
Face detection analytics are available from a number of manufactures...
Sunell is The First China Manufacturer to Market NDAA Compliance on Jul 30, 2020
Most China manufacturers are going to be impacted by the NDAA 'Blacklist...