Earlier this month, smart home giant Ring introduced a product called the Always Home Cam, one of those rare devices that instantly make you go wow! It is also something of a contradiction. On the one hand, it is an extremely cool piece of hardware that most tech fans will love. On the other hand, it is a definite WTF product if you stop to think about it.
If the Ring Always Home Cam has flown under your radar, here’s what you need to know. It is an autonomous “security” drone that functions in the interior of the home. It is designed to make automatic flying sweeps of the inside of your property to check for security holes and other potential risks. Importantly, the drone has a camera that users can tap into when they are away from their property.
And it’s this camera that presents the real problem with the Always Home Cam. Specifically, who in their right mind will want to put a camera in their home? Who in their right mind would want to put a camera that can fly around from room to room?
In a world where people are increasingly concerned about their privacy and how companies access personal data, the Always Home Cam seems to be a terrible idea. At best it is a misguided product from Ring, and at worst it is a nefarious attempt to gather information from customers.
For what it’s worth, Ring says there is no way for the drone to spy on people. According to the company, when the UAV lands in its dock, the camera is obscured. In other words, it will not be filming you when you sit on your sofa watching Netflix every night. Despite this promise, Ring is less forthcoming about what happens to the data the camera gathers when it is in flight.
Something interesting is happening with how consumers view drones. Many of the risks regarding privacy are largely forgotten. Amazon is continuing to push drone technology as a way to deliver goods, but Ring is bringing that same tech into the realm of home surveillance.
So, what does the Ring Always Home Cam mean?
Before continuing and ripping the Always Home Cam apart, I want to say it is both a mega-cool product and a feat of tech engineering. Ring admits it was hard to build because creating an autonomous vehicle to fly around the confines of a home and miss objects is not easy. So, on a technical level, the product is amazing.
However, in terms of what it brings to the home surveillance party, it is much more worrying. For a start, what does the Always Home Cam do that a regular security camera cannot? Sure, it flies from room to room when you’re out, but that seems more gimmicky than a genuinely useful tool. Why would someone breaking into a home be more worried about a drone than they would a standard camera? If the drone had guns or a giant net, maybe.
In fact, it may be much easier for a burglar to remove the Always Home Cam from the equation. It is much easier to simply swat it out of the air and destroy it. That small hidden boring security cam is looking better by the minute, right?
Ring also says the drone can navigate your home through the user pre-installing a map of the interior. That sounds good, and with lidar and probably a downward camera as well, the device should move around without bumping into things. However, what about if you leave that vacuum cleaner pole against the wall, or move furniture, or close a door? Ring has not explained what happens in these situations… does the user have to generate another map?
Here’s the thing about drone tech, and indeed any AI-driven robotic device. On the surface, all these products will look amazing. They dazzle us by taking something mundane and making it look cool. Ring’s Always Home Cam does that. However, with any of these technologies, it is always worth considering whether the product is more useful than what it wants to replace. Early impressions suggest the Always Home Cam simply won’t be and is probably doomed to fail.
Drones are interesting and will influence our changing lives in the coming years and decades. That said, I am still not sold on them ever becoming functional within a home. Where does it end? We now have a drone for interior security… will we also get one for heading to the kitchen to get a beer from the fridge? Perhaps one day our homes will be full of mini flying drones buzzing around making easy tasks more complicated than they need to be.
Sorry Ring, this is a cool idea and looks good, but cool is sometimes not enough.