Owl Sees Daylight

A Dashboard Camera with Its Own LTE Cloud Connection

Back in 2013 when a meteor burned across the Russian skies, the world was treated to a nearly endless amount of amateur footage of the event. This wasn’t thanks to nimble-handed smartphone users, but rather the fact that so many car drivers in Russia employ road-facing dashboard cameras. Suddenly millions of people who hadn’t heard of these devices before became acquainted with the product category.

Dash cameras, long popular in markets in Eastern Europe and Asia, have been gaining popularity in the West. The devices essentially act as GoPro cameras for cars, capturing video that could be used as evidence after an accident. Although they’re mostly used while driving, a start-up called Owl has developed a camera intended to work 24 hours a day, watching the inside and outside of a car at all times.

Owl was co-founded in December 2016 by Andy Hodge, who worked on the original iPod at Apple. He also developed hardware while at Microsoft and then took a role at Dropcam, the camera start-up that was acquired by Google’s Nest.

Owl’s Car Cam is a lightweight device that fits in the palm of a hand. It has one camera pointed forward toward the road and one facing the interior of a car. This enables it to capture a feed of the road and also do some lifelogging by recording events inside the vehicle, potentially capturing entertaining moments of family, friends or pets.

One differentiator of Owl’s Car Cam is its built-in LTE connection, which is a small, but growing trend among makers of dash cameras. This enables remote live monitoring and allows a car owner to see what’s going on around the vehicle at any time. The camera is paired to a smartphone, so it knows when an authorised driver approaches the car. If someone attempts to break into it, two LED floodlights are activated and the owner is immediately notified through a smartphone app. The user can also use a built-in intercom to let the intruder know that the authorities have been contacted. The app is currently only available for iOS devices.

Owl’s Car Cam is priced at $299 and a monthly LTE data package costs $10, but the company is offering the hardware and one year’s worth of service for $349.

As for specifications, the device integrates two four-megapixel, 120-degree cameras — one on the front with a resolution of 1440 pixels to record activity outside the car, and a lower-resolution 720-pixel camera on the back to film the interior. The display is a small 2.4-inch, touch-capable LCD. In addition to various sensors to detect movement, the Car Cam offers GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as well as LTE radio. It also features a mono speaker, but captures audio in stereo. The Car Cam runs on a 2.4GHz, eight-core processor with 3GB of on-board memory, and gets its power from the car’s on-board diagnostics port.

For the majority of people, cars are often the second most valuable asset that they own after their homes, so their desire for round-the-clock surveillance is understandable. For them, the concept of a cellular-connected dash camera with a dedicated cloud service will be particularly intriguing. We expect more such products to come including from automakers themselves. The move could create a potential revenue stream for service providers, as well as peace of mind and even a potential insurance rebate for car owners.

Owl is marketing its Car Cam as both a serious tool and a playful one, and is hoping to create a community around its users by offering a $1,000 daily prize for the top videos shared. As a quick search in YouTube shows, there’s always a chance of capturing wacky real-life video using a dashboard camera. Owl is being wise in building up an ecosystem for its product.