Dashboard cameras are a great way to protect yourself with video evidence from all sorts of trouble while driving -- everything from fender benders to insurance fraud and more. They can also be fun when you capture something random happening on the road.
Silicon Valley startup Owl thinks they can improve the dashcam with its new Owl car camera. Into the compact truncated wedge, Owl has crammed two cameras, voice control and web connectivity. The result is a dashcam with a built-in security system and video sharing platform.
Owl car camera
The unit features dual cameras: one 1440p cam pointed forward out of the windshield and a second 720p camera aimed into the cabin. That interior camera lives beside a small 2.4-inch screen that displays a duplexed view of the two cameras, but can be swiped with a finger to toggle between the views.
Like any good dashcam, the Owl features an accelerometer that can detect shocks and bumps and triggers an automatic recording of a 20-30 second video clip of the event.
Also like most dashcams, Owl mounts to the windshield. However, Owl features a unique beam and suction cup mount that affixes firmly in just 5 minutes. The unit ships with multiple beam lengths for different-sized cars/windshields.
The Owl unit connects to the host car's OBD-II port, but not to gather data from the car's ECU. Rather, it simply draws power from the port so it stays active 24 hours a day, even when the car is shutdown. I'm told the only data Owl looks at is the car's battery level which it uses to prevent excessive drain. The unit's low-power draw is said to also help prevent returning to a dead battery.
Between the Owl camera and the OBD connector dongle is a neat cable with magnetized connections on each end. It's easily routed and hidden along the bottom edge of windshield with an included tool.
4G LTE data connection
So far, Owl sounds like a well-designed dashboard camera, but what starts to set it apart from the pack is the always-on 4G LTE data connection. Owl has a built-in SIM and a subscription that allows its video clips to be uploaded to the web for editing, viewing and sharing via an iOS app.
The service includes the ability to upload up to 60 clips or 60 minutes of live monitoring each month and unlimited cloud storage for saved and shared clips.
The data connection also allows the Owl to be useful while the car is parked by sending live alerts to events sensed by the accelerometer or the onboard microphones, say glass breaking. When triggered, the owner can use the Owl app to get a live view into or around the car and can even activate anti-theft floodlights and speak to any unexpected occupants. Imagine shouting, "Hey, I've got you recorded, STOP TRYING TO STEAL MY CAR!" to a would-be thief.
The 4G LTE service isn't just a nice bonus; it seems like a requirement for operation of the Owl since there's no way to get clips off of the unit without the cloud service. There's onboard storage for a 24-hour video cache, but no SD card slot and no USB connection.
The dual microphones enable one more unique Owl feature: voice command. Like your Amazon Echo or Apple smartphone, Owl owners will be able to speak a trigger phrase to activate the camera and capture a clip to be uploaded over LTE.
Just say "OK Presto" -- I have no idea why that's the trigger phrase, but whatever -- and then speak a caption to be used to identify the clip. For example, "OK Presto, check out this cool classic car."
Later, the user can pull up the Owl app on their phone -- iOS only at launch with Android coming sometime later -- find the clip, edit the caption and then share it to friends, family or social media accounts. This feature allows the OWL to function as more than just a dashcam. The startup imagines that families will find all sorts of uses, particularly for the interior camera and that the use of voice command will keep the distraction to the driver at a minimum.
At launch, Owl will only be sold for $349, bundling the Owl Car Cam and one year of the LTE service. Later, the camera and online service will be sold separately for $299 and $10 per month.
At first blush, the subscription model is worrying, adding up to $120 per year after the introductory period on top of a fairly expensive MSRP for a dashcam. However, the peace of mind brought by remote monitoring and Owl's potential as an anti-theft device makes that price a bit more palatable. For example, last year my car was hit while parked on three separate occasions in one month. I think it would have been worth the $10 that month to catch who did it.
The Owl car camera is available now on Owl's website with orders starting to ship Thursday.