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Ring's flying security cam needs these 4 features to succeed

The Always Home Cam launches later this year. Here's what we want it to have.

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Ring Always Home Cam

The Ring Always Home Cam is coming.

Amazon

Last year, Amazon announced the Ring Always Home Cam, a drone camera that flies around your house and records whatever it sees. People are pretty excited, apparently, and I can see the appeal – especially if you have ambitions to turn your house into a video game villain's lair. Personally, I'm pretty hesitant about putting an autonomous flying drone camera in my own home. 

Fueling my hesitancy is Ring's political baggage. Yes, some of its user data has been exposed within the past few years, but its current problems -- with its Neighbors app encouraging unhealthy surveillance among communities and its partnerships with police forces putting regular people's civil liberties at risk – represent an ongoing and troubling pattern of privacy slippage. Adding a drone camera that will literally patrol your home isn't helping.

That said, I won't dismiss the Always Home Cam out of hand. Here's what Ring needs to offer (and not offer) to win me over.

Smart responsiveness

When something goes bump in the night, what's the first thing you do? Well, after you grab the baseball bat, you go see what it was. An autonomous camera's biggest appeal to me is that ability to go check when something unusual happens, whether it's the sound of glass breaking or Ring's security system registering a door or window opening.

Ring has already confirmed that there will be some level of responsiveness tying in with Ring's Alarm system, but for the camera to reach its full potential, I want to see it respond to a wide variety of customizable inputs, and respond in personalized ways, such as going to parts of the house I've OK'd ahead of time.

Practically, that means working with Alexa Guard to listen for human footsteps when you're on vacation, or it could mean investigating when your Ring video doorbell picks up unusual activity like someone approaching the door and not leaving after a few minutes.

But the personalized settings are important, too. I don't want to wake up in the middle of the night, stumble out into the hallway and get slapped in the face by a drone checking on the unusual sounds I made when I got up.

Now playing: Watch this: Everything we want from Ring's new drone cam
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Multifloor mobility

If you've ever used a robot vacuum cleaner, you probably know that stairs are its Achilles' heel. Despite the drone cam's flight capabilities, though, it has a similar limit.

I really wanted the Always Home Cam to be able to go up and down stairs without problems. Even more than that, I wanted it to be able to move vertically in different spaces -- flying higher where ceilings are vaulted, for instance -- or to avoid a pedestrian.

For now, barring significant updates, this isn't going to happen. Ring has said the device will work on a single floor and that it will follow predetermined paths created by physically carrying the drone around the house -- that means no responsive avoidance of a person walking, for instance, other than maybe registering an obstacle and reversing course.

When I get my hands on the Always Home Cam, you can be sure I'm going to try carrying it up and down stairs to see if I can make it work.

Smart security

At this point, video doorbells are getting pretty good at telling the difference between a person and a package, and Alexa Guard can tell the difference between human footsteps and animal ones. I want to see that same logic applied to the Always Home Cam: If it can go check on an unusual sound, it should also be able to distinguish between a mundane situation (like my cat knocking over a book) and a crisis (like an intruder breaking in through my back door) and alert me appropriately in either case.

ring-doorbell-review0

Ring doorbells are already good at telling the difference between people, animals and packages. Hopefully the Always Home Cam will have the same smarts.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Robust security and privacy protections

Security and privacy are easily my biggest concerns about the Always Home Cam, especially considering Ring's track record. First, I want the device to use end-to-end video encryption by default. Ring offers this feature with some other video devices, but you have to opt in. That encryption means better security in general -- and it makes it harder for users to share footage, too, which I think is good.

Honestly, I'd even throw in there that the Ring app shouldn't be able to share footage taken by the Always Home cam. That app is designed for sharing clips of mostly public or fully public spaces like your front stoop or the sidewalk in front of your house. I don't think we should be normalizing sharing footage from inside our houses, and accidental sharing could lead to privacy disasters.

What I don't ever want: Remote control

Remote control is a tough feature on a drone camera, because it sounds incredibly convenient -- but the costs likely outweigh the benefits. If I'm away from the house, I'd love to take a quick lap, virtually, to check that everything is as it should be. But hackers are already gaining access to home security cameras regularly, and a hacker flying a camera around the house is a nightmare scenario for many people.

Ring plans not to include this feature for now, which is a good call, though I'd love to see the company commit to keeping this feature out of future updates and generations of the device, too.

I'm still on the fence about the Ring Always Home cam. I can see the appeal, but it also feels like an extension of Ring's habit of pushing the privacy envelope in the wrong direction. With the right security and privacy measures, along with some mobility and camera smarts, I might be sold on the gadget. Regardless, we'll almost certainly have to wait till the second half of this year to find out exactly what it's going to look like, because Ring still hasn't given a launch date more specific than "in 2021" for the Always Home Cam. Based on its previous product launches, I wouldn't hold my breath expecting it before the fall.