It's a small world. The CEO of Avaak and I were both involved with a DARPA research program called SensIT to develop self-organizing and self-healing wireless mesh networks. My project was the "Tree Hugger" contingent, but we were fortunate to get the chance to do a cooperative field test with some folks from the MIT Media Lab, and the technology that developed eventually became ZigBee. Avaak's technology is another spin off from the SensIT project. Called the Vue personal video network, it utilizes what Avaak calls FrameMesh networking.
Gioia Messinger, the founder and chief executive officer at Avaak, certainly thinks the Vue system is a big deal: "Just as the iPod revolutionized the way consumers experience music and entertainment, we believe the Vue personal video network will change the way users remotely view their lives on a daily basis.”
Let's take a look at what makes this system a paradigm shift from the traditional Webcam. First and foremost this is a wireless mesh; it isn't Wi-Fi and it doesn't require hiring someone to tinker with your home firewall to play with port forwarding and NAT relay rules for inbound traffic. This system is very easy to set up, well within the realm of possibility for a "normal" end user. The Vue system's wireless mesh capability of re-routing or relaying information isn't in the camera but rather in the Vue Repeater. So for instance, if you have a basement camera which was too far away to communicate directly with the gateway, you could place the repeater at the top of the basement stairs or somewhere convenient between the two devices, and provide connectivity to the basement cam even though the basement camera cannot directly communicate with the Vue Gateway. I have also been tinkering with how to use Vue for special events, and Gioia mentioned that multiple gateways can be set up to allow for more throughput between the cameras, a good feature if you’re expecting a cyber crowd.
Another huge difference between Vue and a Wi-Fi system: Vue doesn't require huge amounts of power. Gioia tells me that in a "typical" home the Vue's batteries (CR-123 standard camera battery) should last upwards of a year. Less power also means that the Vue has less chance of interfering with other wireless devices.
Now here's the secret sauce. Previously, if you wanted to view a Webcam installed in your home or office, you had to modify the firewall and add "holes" through it to allow the outside world to peer in. This also meant that anyone that could find that hole could also exploit it, not to mention cyberstalk you through your own Webcam. The Vue avoids these troubles by turning the Webcam model inside out... literally. The Vue Gateway instead makes a secure connection to my.vuezone.com, but outbound so that your home firewall sees it just like another computer on your home network. You then give your family and friends access to my.vuezone.com through profiles that control when and what they can see of your personal life. Say, for instance, that the kids are growing up and insist that they don't need a babysitter. However, you're out on your 30th anniversary and you don't have a Web browser handy. So instead you give granny access to the Vue Cameras through my.vuezone.com and she can watch the kids remotely. You've just given the kids their first breath of "freedom" while still having the warm and fuzzy of granny keeping an eye on them.
Below are some screen images of the interface where you can see thumbnails of clips I recorded in the lab. Playback is as simple as dragging the camera to the work area and clicking on it.
Here's something I really need to point out: The Vue doesn't have motion detection and its 2Lux camera sensitivity isn't exactly low light! Now before you click away, remember that this isn't technically a security device. It's in the same category as a nanny cam. But as you can see in the above screenshot, you can set this system up to schedule grabbing of video clips or still images. Not terribly different from quite a few VCR based security recorders. I've been given hints by Gioia and others that this is only the first iteration of the FrameMesh technology and that we may see a version slanted more towards the commercial market. However, this version is targeted at the home user. Avaak is going after the low hanging fruit first.
Pricing: $299 for 2 camera kit, and $99 for additional cameras. Repeaters available separately. Recurring costs: first year free, subsequent years are $19.95 for the 2gig storage maintenance. Additional storage can be purchased. Note: Avaak will be taking pre-orders for the product on the Vue Web site starting Monday March 2 and will be shipping the product in early summer 2009.