A Home Security System That Can FlyBy - 11/12/2016
In a recent article about an indoor drone camera, I expressed my belief that robots and drones are the future of home security. In the same article, I also explained why drones are not yet ready to protect your indoor space. But how about security drones for outdoor applications? This is a concept that feels more optimistic. And there’s one such concept in the making.
Sunflower Labs is currently creating a “Home Awareness System” that consists of a hub, smart sensors, and an outdoor security drone named the Flying Camera. The system not only detects intruders, but it also tries to deter them.
Sunflower Home Awareness System for Home Security
The Sunflower Home Awareness System is an entirely outdoor security setup. The Smart Light is the main component responsible for detecting intrusions. It looks like an ordinary solar-powered garden light, but it’s not. It is equipped with a 360° motion sensor, sound sensor, and vibration sensor. It also sounds an alarm using its speaker and flashes bright lights to deter intruders. Of course, you’ll need more than one to cover your entire home. Sunflower Labs suggests placing one on your front lawn near the road, one near your front door/porch, and one on each side of your backyard. If you have a larger lawn, you can add as many Smart Lights as needed.
When intruders are detected, the first thing Sunflower does is notify you through your smartphone. You can deploy the drone to dig deeper into the alarm or you can simply ignore it. If you deploy the drone, it will fly autonomously, guided by Differential GPS, to where the alarm took place. At the same time, it streams live video to your phone. The sound of the drone hovering above is probably enough to scare intruders away, but Sunflower has added lights to make it even more intimidating. When you’re done flying, the drone autonomously flies back to its weatherproof, childproof, and pet-resistant housing which doubles as a charging station. Of course, you don’t have to wait for an alarm event to use your drone. Using the app, you can fly around your house anytime.
As the system detects sound, motion, and vibration outdoors, false alarms have the potential to be a real problem. That’s where the third component, the Sunflower Hub, comes into play. Aside from tying your Smart Lights and Flying Cameras together, the hub learns which events are normal and abnormal. It learns your daily routine, weather information, and your past response to alerts to decide whether it should alert you or not.
Sunflower is also dropping hints that their Home Awareness System might work with other automation brands. They’ve made mention of cause and effect relationships such as claiming the hub might soon be able to use weather information gathered from other smart home devices to make better decisions. And then there’s this:
Some have asked about HomeKit integration. Some things in the works: pic.twitter.com/yRB3iBnmJF
— Sunflower Labs (@sunflower_labs) November 6, 2016
However, future possibilities aside, the system is currently limited to interacting with its own device set.
Mapping and Navigation
Of course, none of this matters if the Flying Camera can’t navigate properly. First, how does it navigate to the location of an alert? The drone uses Differential GPS, which is essentially an improved GPS with better accuracy. It hones to the location of the Smart Light that detected the alert. Differential GPS is known to have an accuracy of 15 meters to as low as 10 centimeters (around 50 feet to 4 inches).
How about avoiding obstacles, such as your house or trees? I asked Sunflower Labs the same question,
“It is programmed with the model of your house and all the obstacles in the area (trees, power lines, etc.) and flies a safe distance from those objects”
For it to be programmed, you’ll probably need to manually teach the Sunflower app. The Flying Camera will also have a special feature that prevents it from flying off of your property. This is done with the help of geofencing. Basically, you’ll need to set up a geofenced area that doesn’t go beyond your property. The Flying Camera will only fly within the area you’ve set.
Risks and Challenges
New technology often comes with risks and challenges. For Sunflower Labs, the biggest challenge is making the Sunflower Home Awareness System a reality and living up to their promises. They’ve already received $21M in funding from investors. But between production and shipping, there are a lot of potential obstacles. If they make it through, Sunflower Home Awareness System will be available next year (2017).
There is also the challenge of protecting privacy, not only yours but also your neighbors. How does the Flying Camera handle privacy? According to Sunflower:
The Flying Camera is only deployed at your request. It has mounted lights that make it clearly visible when it’s flying. The camera’s software keeps it facing your property, and it’s programmed so that it never flies outside of your property bounds.
As for the consumers, there’s the risk of not getting the final product you’ve been anticipating. Remember, there are a lot of things we don’t yet know about the product. For example, how long is the battery life? Will it be able to fly to where the intruder is and back to its charging station in time? What will be the Wi-Fi requirements? How good is it at navigating? What if someone steals the camera?
Pricing and Availability
Currently, you can’t buy or even pre-order a Sunflower system, but you can reserve a spot for $25. A spot earns you a $100 discount that can be applied toward your actual purchase. It also increases your chances of becoming one of the first to try the Flying Camera during their beta testing program.
The estimated retail price of the Flying Camera is $799. Does this price include Smart Lights and the Hub? We don’t know for sure. The Smart Light is estimated to cost $159.
To me, it seems like they are on the right path. Stopping and detecting an intruder before he enters your home is ideal, but the technology still seems young which makes me too apprehensive to jump in head first. You can learn more about Sunflower Labs and their products on their website.