The past decade has been a whirlwind of technological advances in many industries, including the home security business. From the introduction of doorbell cameras to complete integrated smart home systems, technology that didn’t even exist ten years ago is now so commonplace we don’t even think about it.
However, not all new technological innovations are successful. Sometimes a hot new device that at first seems like it might be “the next big thing” turns out to be a flop (remember Google Glasses?).
Within the past year, two companies, Amazon and Sunflower Labs, have introduced home security drones. The products in question are not at all similar and serve completely different purposes, but the common element is the idea of a drone being used as part of a home security system.
This is a new idea—while there are surveillance drones currently in use for industrial purposes (for example, assisting with perimeter security at a large plant), until now they have not been used for home security. The question is, are these products overpriced gimmicks, or the next big leap forward in home security technology? Below, we’ll examine each of the new products and give you our take.
The Ring Always Home Cam
The first product we’ll take a closer look at is the Always Home Cam from Ring, a company owned by Amazon. They produce a number of DIY home security products but are probably most well-known for their video doorbells. You may be familiar with them from some of the numerous scandals they’ve had in the past five years involving privacy violations, product recalls, and several well-publicized hacking incidents in which nefarious actors have gained access to people’s security cameras.
What is the Always Home Cam?
The Always Home Cam is a small, indoor home security drone that was introduced last year with much hype but has yet to go on sale (when it becomes available, it will cost $249). Ring is promoting it as an “autonomous indoor security camera” which can fly around your house and record videos of whatever it is pointed at.
The idea, according to Ring, is that instead of installing multiple indoor cameras, you can just buy the Always Home Cam and cover your entire property with one camera. When they put it like that, it almost sounds like a good idea—until you think about it.
Why this product is a terrible idea in every way
When you do start thinking about it, however, it quickly becomes apparent that there are so many issues with this product that it’s hard to even list them all in a short blog post—but we’ll try.
First, there is Ring’s terrible track record related to hacking and privacy. At least if a hacker gains access to a normal security camera, they can only see what it’s pointed at. With this drone, a burglar who gained access to it could basically take a tour of your entire house to figure out where all the valuable stuff was, where the good access points are, and what security measures you have in place. Umm…no thank you.
The funny thing is that in their promotional materials for the product, Ring actually states that they “designed Always Home Cam to hum at a certain volume, so it’s clear the camera is in motion and is recording”, calling it “privacy you can hear”.
Let’s put that another way: “Our products are so easily hacked that at some point, someone will almost certainly take advantage of the yet-to-be-discovered security flaws with this drone and use it to spy on you. But don’t worry! We made it so noisy and obnoxious that you’ll instantly know about it, and therefore won’t be at all disturbed by the fact that someone besides you is controlling an object flying around your house.”
Ring didn’t say exactly what you’re supposed to do if your drone gets hacked and starts flying around recording you. Chase it down with a big net, maybe? Wait for the battery to die?
Besides the privacy issues, the entire premise of the product doesn’t quite add up. Ring’s idea is that this one drone can serve as a replacement for multiple indoor cameras, and they promote the fact that it is noisy as a positive since you’ll know it is recording. However, think about all the situations in which you don’t want a home security camera to be noisy and disruptive—like checking on your pets while you’re gone without terrifying them, for example.
The truth is, while there might be a few very specific circumstances where an indoor flying security camera might be useful, those situations could also be addressed by installing one or two more normal cameras—which are available for far less than $249, and don’t come with all the other concerns.
Our verdict on the Always Home Cam, in case you hadn’t guessed, is that it is a complete gimmick and a total waste of money.
Sunflower Labs Home Awareness System
The second home security drone to hit the market last year is the Home Awareness System from Sunflower Labs. It is being billed as the “first fully autonomous residential security drone”, and unlike the Always Home Cam it is designed to operate outside.
The system consists of motion sensors (the “Sunflowers”) which look like garden lights and are dispersed around your property. A drone, called the “Bee” and housed in a storage unit called the “Hive”, can be launched to investigate anything that the Sunflowers detect. It flies itself to the area of property where the motion was detected, and when it’s done investigating, it flies itself back to the hive.
This system is marketed at a completely different audience than Ring’s drone. At a price of $9,950, this product is designed for the uber-wealthy to help protect their large estates. Let’s put it this way—the person who actually uses this drone would probably be the security guard in the guard shack at the gated entrance to the homeowner’s estate.
Our verdict on the Home Awareness System is that if you have enough money to buy this product and your security guard thinks it would help him or her do their job better, then go right ahead and buy it.
The age of the home security drone has not yet arrived
In summary, while there may yet be a time in the future when home security drones are a useful and necessary part of a robust home security system, that time has not yet arrived—and certainly not with the first two home security drones to hit the market. At least for now, the best home security defense continues to be a monitored alarm system—just as it has since the concept was introduced over a century ago.