SUNFLOWER HOME AWARENESS SYSTEM REVIEWBy - 01/25/2019
Security cameras come in all shapes and sizes, but not many of them can fly. Sunflower Labs, however, has been working on an outdoor security camera drone for the past two years. Slowly but surely, they’re turning their idea into a reality.
The Sunflower System consists of three components: the Hive, the Bee, and the Sunflowers.
The star of the show is the Bee. It’s a drone equipped with a downward-facing high-resolution camera with IR LEDs for night vision. The exact specifications of Bee are not yet public, but we do know that it can fly, stream videos, and record.
It’s completely autonomous; you don’t have to fly it or even charge it. It knows how to go to its destination and fly back to its base while intelligently navigating obstacles such as trees. It’s battery-powered and has an estimated flight time of up to fifteen minutes when fully charged.
The Hive makes Bee more intelligent.
Hive is a landing station that is about the size of a dog house. After deployment, Bee autonomously flies back to the Hive and docks itself. Sunflower recommends placing Hive under an open sky and away from obstructions like trees and overhanging eaves. They say that over time, they will develop more ideal placement options for Hive such as on rooftops.
Besides being a landing station, Hive serves other purposes. First, it serves as a weatherproof housing unit for Bee. After the Bee docks, the Hive puts a roof over its head. The mechanical “roof” is weatherproof and controlled by Hive’s computer. It automatically opens and closes as Bee comes and goes.
The Hive also doubles as a charging station for Bee. While docked, Bee recharges. And don’t worry about Bee running out of juice mid-flight. It autonomously flies back to Hive when its battery is low. Also, each deployment is only around 2 to 3 minutes. Even if Bee deploys not fully charged, it has plenty of time to get back to its charging station.
Finally, Hive acts as the brain of the Sunflower system as it houses the computer that controls Bee and sends data to the cloud.
The final component of the Sunflower System is the Sunflower. It’s a smart garden light equipped with over 20 sensors that detect motion, sound, and vibration. It can detect a person approaching or walking toward your property and even measure the person’s speed and direction.
Placement of your Sunflowers will depend on your property. In general, Sunflower Labs recommends placing one near the entrance of your property, another near your front door, and a couple in your backyard.
Like most motion-activated garden lights, Sunflowers light up when they sense movement or vibration. However, Sunflower Labs claims that Sunflower is smarter. Instead of going reacting whenever something moves, your Sunflowers will communicate and compare notes with each other. The goal is to learn your property’s daily routines and eventually improve the quality of alerts.
Besides simply lighting up, Sunflowers also guide the Bee. Using their sensors, they can pinpoint the location of intruders so Hive knows exactly where to send Bee.
How The Sunflower System Protects Your Property
The Sunflower System springs into action the moment Sunflower smart lights pick up movement. The system won’t deploy Bee right away. That would be an unwelcoming sight for expected guests. Instead, it sends you an alert via the companion app. If you open the app, it will show where the Sunflowers think movement has occurred. If you see an expected guest, you can simply ignore the alert. However, if you’re unsure what triggered the event, you can deploy Bee.
To deploy Bee, you don’t have to do anything besides touch the app’s ‘Take A Look’ button. Bee will autonomously fly towards the movement and stream video to your phone. It also records the video so you can play it back whenever you want.
As you use the system, it becomes smarter. Eventually, it will learn the type of events you ignore and only send you alerts that matter. It might even get to the point where it knows whether to deploy the Bee or not without your guidance.
Drones have a negative reputation because they’re used by some to invade the privacy of others. Sunflower Labs wants to make sure that their drone won’t be used for such purposes, which is why you can’t pilot Bee yourself. Also, it only deploys when you tell it to and only when the Sunflowers detect movement.
Of course, if you’re going to use Sunflower, you will have to use caution. First of all, you will need to check your local government’s guidelines for using drones. Sunflower Labs promises to comply with all local rules, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. You should also explain to your neighbors what Bee is for and what it does. Finally, be responsible when using it.
Sunflower is a one-of-a-kind system, but it’s still under development. That said, I’m not convinced that self-deployment is a great step forward. For now, Sunflower Labs is aiming at delivering the features described above. While we tried to visit with the team at CES 2019 to learn more, they were missing from the booth during our stop so we had to settle for imagining the possibilities.
For example, instead of deploying Bee when there’s movement, the drone could periodically patrol your property throughout the day.
We’re also excited to learn if it will work with other smart home products. In theory, it would be great if the drone could fly towards your front door if, for example, your outdoor camera or video doorbell detected an unrecognizable face.
For now, all we can do is hope the Sunflower System finally becomes a reality. And once it’s ready for primetime, maybe we will see improved capabilities.
Questions & Concerns
For now, everything about Sunflower is hypothetical. Sunflower Labs has working prototypes, but they have yet to deploy them in multiple environments. Right now, they have a proof of concept and video demos, which leaves a lot to be curious about including video quality. Drones, by nature, fly at least 10 feet off of the ground. At that height, can it capture what intruders look like?
Second, what about connectivity. The system requires Wi-Fi, so how much area of coverage does it require from your router?
Third, can the Bee fly when it’s raining or snowing? We know that they designed the Bee to be able to land in “adverse weather conditions,” but Sunflower Labs hasn’t been very specific.
And finally, can they deliver a high-quality product? It’s been over two years since we first covered Sunflower, but it still lacks a projected release date and price. In their defense, their FAQ section states:
“We have made a ton of great progress in our development and testing and we are more confident than ever that we will be able to bring this system to market in due time.”
Do I Recommend The Sunflower System?
There are too many unknowns to recommend Sunflower. What we know for sure is this: Sunflower is an interesting option. At launch, it probably won’t be ideal for average American homes, but high-end communities could benefit from its features. If you’re interested in Sunflower, you can sign up for updates by visiting sunflower-labs.com and providing your email address. If you do, you’ll be among the first to know when Sunflower is ready.