Home monitoring cameras do a great job tracking what's going on when you're away from your house, but they can also send you a deluge of alerts. Last year, Arcsoft's Simplicam tried to solve that problem by using facial detection to send motion alerts only when it saw human features, but that still meant you'd get alerts when your kids came home — even if you were really on the lookout for burglars.
Today, that's been improved with the addition of facial recognition, which Arcsoft is rolling out as a free update to people who bought its Simplicam camera and pay for its monthly recording service. The system can store up to 10 people's faces, and will tell you who it recognizes, or — just as importantly — who it doesn't. The idea is to cut down on the number of alerts people get and, as a bonus, stop recording when the camera recognizes someone who would normally be in your house.
Hey computer, here's my face
The new system, which Arcsoft says is in beta, requires teaching its camera system the features of your face. The setup takes about a minute, and involves slowly turning from right to left, then back again while standing just a few feet away from the camera. You start the process using Arcsoft's Simplicam app, and the camera gives you vocal directions with its speaker.
Once the camera knows a face, it does a number of things. For one, it will automatically start categorizing any video where it's picked one up and keep a running list of still images for people it recognizes. As you weed out the wrong matches, the system improves. You can also set it to delete footage when it records you or another person you've trained it to recognize, as well as set the system to alert you only when it sees people it doesn't know. That means you can basically stop using the company's geofencing feature, which would flip on alerts when a phone got out of range of your house, and slurp up battery life in the process.
Facial recognition was originally set to launch with the Simplicam last August but wasn't ready in time due to its complexity. According to Arcsoft's director of marketing Caroline Tien-Spalding, the feature uses 10 times the server-side processing as facial detection, which is why it's still something the company is limiting to the people who are paying for monthly recording services.
Alongside the facial recognition, Arcsoft is planning to release a software update later this month that will let users set up motion activity zones inside the camera's field of vision. This is something several other competitors have (including Dropcam) and is incredibly useful if you just want to be alerted when there's activity in a certain area, like a door or window. Arcsoft's solution won't be quite that advanced from the get go, with a simple grid system where you pick from areas that have already been mapped on screen. That's versus being able to draw boxes around areas or objects you want to keep an eye on (like how Dropcam and Samsung do it), and get alerts when something moves in each area. Despite that, Tien-Spalding says this grid system ends up being more accurate when making changes from your phone and selecting what the camera is seeing on the other end.
"Drawing doesn't work: either you overdo it, or you underdo it. We're making it so that the grid we've created will actually map to the camera instead of overlapping," she says, adding that the system makes it harder to botch the setup. "Half the challenge is making things that people understand."