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Nikon, Sony join startup Scenera for better security cameras

An alliance called NICE hopes to make cameras smarter and let you expand what they can do as easily as adding apps to your smartphone.

NICE camera alliance logo

NICE Alliance

A quintet of companies hopes it can make your next internet-linked security camera as smart and as adaptable as your smartphone is.

The effort, announced Monday and called the Network of Intelligent Camera Ecosystem (NICE) Alliance, hopes to power cameras that can capture imagery that's richer and more useful than today's cameras from companies like Amazon, Google and Netgear. And they want to make that information available over a standard interface so you can add new services to your camera the way you add new apps to your phone.

A startup called Scenera helped put the alliance together. Other players are camera maker Nikon, image sensor manufacturer Sony, and Asian design and manufacturing companies Wistron and Foxconn. If all goes well, though, many more manufacturers will join, Scenera Chief Executive David Lee said.

"We believe that there is a strong incentive for big makers to get on board," Lee said. They'll have learned what happened to companies like Nokia and Ericsson when Apple and Google remade the smartphone market with app stores and apps, he said. "Even dominant mobile hardware manufacturers who didn't embrace open application environments were driven out of business. NICE is creating an open application ecosystem that enables developers to create third-party apps for diverse cameras."

Security cameras are a big deal, with tens of millions installed in North America already, according to analyst firm IHS Markit. They peer at you from stores, campuses and airports, and increasingly they're showing up on our doorsteps and living rooms, too, so you can see who's at the front door or if your puppy is gnawing on your new shoes while you're off at work.

But they come with a lot of constraints, too, that you might not like, and that's where NICE hopes to help.

Net-connected cameras can do things like send you alerts when there's motion in your house. But you may not be happy with the reliability of those alerts or the price you have to pay for networked cloud storage to review footage. And good luck getting that 5-year-old Dropcam camera to cooperate with that new Amazon Cloud Cam.

By late 2018, the NICE Alliance plans to finalize its technology to make security cameras smarter and able to connect to any image-handling service. That would mean you wouldn't have to rely on Amazon, Google, or others for alerts, cloud storage, and other services.

"We want to have many camera makers, app developers and service providers work together," Lee said. "We'd like to have NICE-compliant products in the market in the second half of 2019."

Among the features Scenera promises for NICE cameras:

  • AI-based detection of objects and events to cut down on alerts you don't care about and ensure things you do care about don't escape your notice.
  • Support for multiple cameras so clips of the same subjects can be packaged into one video for easier review.
  • Support for a variety of camera technologies, including conventional or infrared imagery, audio, and directional data about subjects captured by video.
  • Security measures to protect cameras and footage, and updates to ensure camera software vulnerabilities can be patched.

Scenera, naturally, hopes to profit from the business. First, it plans to license its own technology to manufacturers making NICE cameras. Second, it -- and the other NICE founding members -- expect be paid by those who to follow the NICE plans.

Lee previously helped develop HDMI, the successful video cable technology which provided similar dual streams of revenue for his earlier employer, Silicon Image. "It's a similar business model," Lee said of NICE and HDMI.

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