While it looks like a fairly typical smart home camera on the outside, the Lighthouse has advanced 3D mapping built-in -- tech similar to that which helps self-driving cars navigate. As a result, it could be the first smart home cam to not only watch over your home, but to understand it as well.
Place the Lighthouse -- a connected cam from a tech startup of the same name -- on a table facing the door, or mount it on a wall overlooking a room, and it'll do the basics we've come to expect from the likes of Piper, Nest Cam and Canary -- it's a camera you can connect to your Wi-Fi network, so you can check on your home from afar.
Beyond the basics, the Lighthouse supposedly knows the difference between adults, children and pets. It learns faces to recognize people, and will let you know if it spots someone new. It should even understand actions like running.
All of that sounds fantastic, and I saw it work to an extent in a short demo over a video call, but we've yet to see most of these features successfully implemented in other smart home cams. If the Lighthouse meets its promises, its tech could propel the cam past the competition, but it has much to prove.
The Lighthouse team also looks to have built a robust voice search engine into the camera's app -- another tall task that is exciting in theory. During the demo, a company rep asked the app if someone walked her dog while she was away. The app found the appropriate clip.
Lighthouse's big bag of tricks
The Lighthouse uses geofencing on your phone to help it track whether you're home or away, and you'll have to help it learn faces at first by identifying different pictures it captures of your family members. After that, you can pull up footage by searching for "kids running during the afternoon." The voice recognition software in the app is supposedly smart enough to recognize the specifics in that search.
You can also ask it to keep you up to date with a voice command such as "tell me when my kids come home" or alternatively "tell me if my kids aren't home by 4 p.m." Other security cameras sense motion and let you set up rules based on the time of day, but the Lighthouse wants to let you speak intuitively to your smart home, and see only the info relevant to what you need to know.
You can get a notification based on specific actions -- such as if your pet jumps up on the counter. You'll even be notified if someone waves at the camera, and you can then pull up the app to chat with them via the two-way audio.
How does Lighthouse measure up?
The Netatmo Welcome also offers facial recognition and tracks who comes and goes. Like the Lighthouse, the Welcome will notify you if it spots someone new. Netatmo's outdoor cam, the Presence, can discern between people, animals and cars. Both Netatmo cams work pretty well -- but not flawlessly, and the Welcome takes a while to reliably learn faces.
Nest Cam's new Nest Aware feature helps it tell the difference between people and pets, and it lets you set specific activity zones for motion alerts.
In theory, the Lighthouse will stretch well beyond those capabilities. It'll also be quite expensive, and sold only as part of a subscription service -- the cloud learning tech is what makes the product unique, the company says. Starting today, you can preorder the Lighthouse on the company's site and you can expect your device in September.
You'll pay $400 for the cam and a one-year subscription, $500 for the cam and three years or $600 for the cam and five years. You can buy plenty of standalone security cameras with no monthly fees for $200, so the Lighthouse has a tall barrier to entry. For your money, Lighthouse stores footage for 30 rolling days.
Lighthouse will only be available in the US to start, but those prices convert to roughly £310 or AU$540 for one year and £460 or AU$815 for three. The subscription costs $10 a month (£7/AU$14) after your initial term expires. Subtract that monthly cost from the one-year bundle, and Lighthouse is an expensive $280 on its own vs. $200 for the excellent Nest Cam. (If you cancel your subscription, you'll still get live streaming and security alerts, but that's it.)
Since you're locked into a lofty upfront price and then a month-by-month subscription fee to keep most of the camera's features working, I'd recommend waiting to make sure it manages to be as smart as promised. From the intuitive voice searches to recognizing faces and actions, Lighthouse is advancing on a lot of fronts simultaneously. If it does come through, it could give the smart home a sizeable boost of helpful intelligence.