Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Dropcam Pro Upgrades Quality, Adds Bluetooth LE, Sounds Awfully Like Dave Eggers’s Dystopian Future

In Dave Eggers’s new dystopian technology industry book, “The Circle,” the pinnacle of progress is described as a small, cheap, high-quality personal streaming-video camera.

He was holding a small device in his hand, the shape and size of a lollipop.

“This is a video camera, and this is the precise model that’s getting this incredible image quality. Image quality that holds up to this kind of magnification. So that’s the first great thing. We can now get high-def-quality resolution in a camera the size of a thumb. Well, a very big thumb. The second great thing is that, as you can see, this camera needs no wires. It’s transmitting this image via satellite.”

A round of applause shook the room.

“Wait. Did I say it runs on a lithium battery that lasts two years? No? Well it does. And we’re a year away from an entirely solar-powered model, too. And it’s waterproof, sandproof, windproof, animalproof, insectproof, everything-proof.”

In “The Circle,” Eggers calls the device SeeChange, and says it extends his fictional tech giant’s mission: “All that happens must be known.”

Eggers has said he did not do much research for the novel, so as to keep his perspective unblemished, but the device he described is really quite similar to something that already exists: Dropcam, the slick and popular personal home video monitor.

DropcamProDropcam is not yet windproof, and it doesn’t officially support battery charging, but the new version launching today, Dropcam Pro, has higher-quality video, with a 130-degree field of view that’s zoomable and performs much better at night.

Users watching the live feed on a touchscreen device can pinch to zoom at eight times the resolution. They can also identify recurring activity patterns so they can get an alert when something happens on the feed.

Video is transmitted through dual-band Wi-Fi, and with improved compression, the new device uses only 10 percent more bandwidth than the last version of Dropcam. It will cost $199, and will be sold on Amazon and Dropcam.com, and soon at retail stores.

Just like the last version, Dropcam users will have the option to upgrade to pay a monthly fee to access older footage, which about 40 percent of buyers choose to do.

As for Eggers’s vision, Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy allowed that it was surprisingly close to home. But he said, “With Dropcam, it’s the individual who chooses to share. That helps keep it from being weird and dystopian.”

One new feature that Duffy is particularly excited about is the addition of Bluetooth LE, the near-range, low-power wireless signal that’s included in Dropcam Pro. That will allow the cameras to be linked with other connected household devices. Those sorts of things are just starting to arrive on the market and on Kickstarter.

As Duffy described it, “We think that this is the way the connected home is actually going to happen. Dropcam is a product that sells well on its own, and it’s a product that lets you see what’s going on, so it’s a very logical tie-in to all these sensors and control devices. If a wireless connected light toggles on and off on your iPhone, but nobody sees it … it’s the lamest demo ever. You don’t even realize this until you try to demo it. And then you say to the person, this isn’t cool at all. But with a camera, you can see it.”

What’s next for Dropcam? Duffy said the company is working to reduce audio delays, so the devices — which include both a microphone and a speaker — can seem more like a videoconferencing system and less like an intercom.

Dropcam also wants to make an outdoor version, eventually. “When we put things out, we want them to be 100-percent solutions,” Duffy said. “When we looked at outdoor, we want it to survive the Texas summer heat, thunderstorms, bugs. The existing competitors don’t have enough power, robustness, weatherproofing — none of them solve those problems. We think we have a solution, but it’s not ready yet.”


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus