This Robotic Ball is the Future of Home SecurityBy - 01/12/2016
At the beginning of last year, I predicted that by 2017, home security robots would be a thing. I was wrong. They are here NOW. Almost everything I imagined has manifested into a tiny, robot ball called Orbii, formally known as SensorSphere. Orbii was on the top of my CES wish list and though I got to see it, I did not get to see it in action due to “internet issues”. However, the project is now live on Indiegogo and I’m a backer. I’ve updated this article to reflect the latest and greatest information. And next year, I hope to update this article with my own hands-on experience, assuming the project is successful.
How Does Orbii Work?
Orbii is a ball-shaped, robotic home security system. It uses a modular design allowing you to swap out between 8 different module sections based upon your needs. It will offer options like a motion sensor, temperature sensor, humidity sensor, gas sensor, camera, microphone, or speaker. For now, the first batch of Orbiis, shipping to Indiegogo backers, will include an HD camera, a microphone, and a speaker. Backers will be able to purchase additional modules as they become available.
Truth be told, a camera packed with sensors is nothing new. Cameras like Angee and Piper are packed with more power than I ever thought possible. What’s revolutionary about Orbii is not the sensors, but the movement and modular design.
Orbii Has a Modular Design
The modular design is one solution to obsolete hardware. I know it’s happened to the best of us. You buy something from Kickstarter, it’s amazing, you wait a year, you get it, and it’s not that amazing anymore. With Orbii, you can swap out components, constantly improving the device. For example, the current camera module is HD 720p, but what’s to stop them from launching a FHD camera in the future? Or maybe I’m thinking too small. Perhaps in the future, you will be able to add a 3D camera module or a virtual reality camera. Who knows?
Orbii Can Move
Orbii is also a robot. It can move around your house, acting as an active patrol guard. My hope was that Orbii would be able to self-drive by reacting to sounds or other events. At CES I was told that this is not the case and it’s still not, but they’ve made some strides. Through a software update, you can now add slight automation to the process. By creating a map of your home, you can command Orbii to different rooms or you can have it patrol your home on its own. And on that note, Orbii is meant to cover your whole home, but it can’t navigate or even recognize stairs at this point in time. When driving it around, you will also need to be careful not to navigate the device into obstacles. The team is suggesting that you buy one device for every floor of your home. If you want to go the multi-Orbii route, you can buy and control up to 16 devices with one app log-in.
Another place it can’t navigate on its own is to the charger, and it needs a charger. With the initial launch, you will need to navigate Orbii back to the charging station. If you aren’t successful, well … too bad, as it can only wander around for an hour before losing juice. At CES I was told that a future software update will add the ability for Orbii to make it back to the charging station on its own, but even this requires interaction from you. You will need to command it within the app, telling it to make its way back.
More On The Camera
As mentioned, the current camera module is 720p. There is also a night vision option (also 720p) and they are already working on a thermal imaging camera. If you’re like me, your head is probably swimming with questions. How does a rolling ball take video? Does it flip upside down? Does it only record when still? Surprisingly, Orbii does live stream when rolling around. Omar Barlas, Orbii’s co-founder, explains it like this,
As it’s rolling around, it is streaming live video. When you roll the camera, it freezes a frame to the user when the camera is not going forward. And it starts streaming live again when it comes back to the same position. So you get a frame-by-frame view of what’s happening in your home.
Beyond live streaming, it can also record video thanks to on-board memory. It includes 16GB, which is enough to record up to 8 hours of footage. This is not a module and will be included no matter how you outfit your Orbii. If 16GB isn’t enough for you, it can also stream video to the cloud. No word yet on the cost of cloud storage, but there will be a cost.
Orbii in the Smart Home
What finally took me from meh to backer was smart home compatibility. Orbii will have its own IFTTT. They’ve offered very few details on how they plan to accomplish this our how they envision the end result, but in theory, it could be pretty fun. For example, you could create an IFTTT rule asking Orbii to roll to the foyer if the front door is opened.
Orbii was one of the devices I was most excited to see at CES 2016. And though I can still see the potential, it wasn’t everything I was expecting. The device isn’t yet smart enough to avoid obstacles and it has a mere 1-hour battery; however, they’ve already resolved a couple of my initial concerns including the ability to work with other smart home devices and autonomous navigation. Also, they really nailed the price point. For $139, you can purchase an Early Bird version of Orbii from Indiegogo. Their targeted retail price of $349 is a tad aggressive, but perhaps, by then, it will be worth it.