Vue Wireless Camera System Uses Mesh Network

Perhaps it's a bit difficult to fathom, but a technology that was originally developed for "homeland security and defense purposes," is now being unleashed in a consumer product that will let you remotely see what your pet is up to while you are away from the house. San Diego-based, Avaak, today officially announced its first general consumer product, the Vue Personal Video Network, a "wire-free video system."

The Vue Personal Video Network ($299) comes with two wireless, Lithium-Ion battery-powered cameras, four magnetic camera mounts, and a base station, which Avaak refers to as a "gateway." Setting up the Vue couldn't be easier: After you plug the gateway into your home router, you bring each camera to within one foot of the gateway, and press a button on the gateway to pair it with the camera. The gateway supports up to a total of 50 cameras (additional cameras cost $99 each). You then stick the camera mounts wherever you see fit, and place the cameras onto the mounts. The cameras have a range of up to 300 feet (which is more like 100 feet in a traditional home environment with walls). There is no software to install, and you don't even necessarily need a computer at home to use the cameras remotely. All you need is a broadband Internet connection. The Vue gateway communicates to the Internet through your router and broadband modem as an HTTP request through port 80.

Once the gateway and cameras are set up, you actually access the cameras through the secure, Web portal. Web access is Flash-based, so you can view what your cameras see via any browser and device that supports Flash and has an Internet connection. As the iPhone and iPod touch do not presently support Flash, you can't access your Vue cameras via the iPhone/iPod touch platform; however, Avaak is working on an iPhone app for the Vue, which the company expects to be available sometime at the end of the summer.

The cameras only consume power when they stream video. Avaak estimates that each camera's (replaceable CR123) battery should last up to a year when used an average of about 10 minutes per day. The cameras use a very low-power protocol via a mesh network to communicate with each other and the gateway. In fact, the mesh network technology that the Vue uses was originally developed with funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to create inexpensive "leave-behind" devices for remote video surveillance (covert and otherwise). Avaak currently holds three patents on the technology and another 13 patents that it has applied for. The folks behind Avaak are the same ones who invented the PillCam. The Vue operates on a 2.4GHz frequency hopping mesh network that transmits data at 2Mbits/sec. It has a similar range as a traditional Wi-Fi network and should not cause or suffer from radio interference from other devices.

The cameras are small (2.9x1.0x.2.1-inches) and light (0.09 ounces). They use a 2-megapixel CMOS sensor and have a native resolution of 320x240-pixels. They transmit compressed/interpolated images that range in resolution (from 160x120 to 640x480-pixels) and frame rate (at 7 or 15 fps) depending on signal strength.

In addition to viewing the cameras' video feeds via the site, you can also schedule video to be recorded at a particular time. The myVueZone service includes 2GB of online storage, which holds about two hours of saved video. Note that after the first year, in order to continue using the service, it will cost $19.95 per year--without the service, there is no way to access the video streaming from the cameras. You can allow friends to access recorded video or even the live feeds, and export the video so that you can upload it to social networking sites. Avaak also promises that at some point in the summer, it will enable the use of embed links for saved videos. And somewhere down the line, Avaak says it will even open up its API to third-party developers.

One thing that the cameras cannot do is detect motion. This would require specific hardware that the Vue camera presently lacks; although the company is developing a future version of the Vue with this capability, as well as including audio recording capabilities. The Vue can be used, however, to monitor an extended coverage area, up to a quarter mile in size, using optional repeaters (prices have not been set yet). Note that the cameras are designed for indoor use only; but outdoor versions are in the planning stages for a later date. The Vue's gateway also includes a USB port that can be used to connect it wirelessly to your network, instead of using the wired Ethernet connection. Avaak will provide a list of compatible, USB-based, Wi-Fi adapters on its Website.

With the Vue Personal Video Network, Avaak is looking to provide a relatively inexpensive and very easy-to-set-up alternative to IP-based Webcams. How the Vue Personal Video Network stacks up against similar products will remain to be seen, but we are impressed with its potential capabilities and its advanced technological pedigree. The Vue Personal Video Network should be available in "late Spring," and when we receive it, we will put it through the rigorous HotHardware paces and provide you with a full, hands-on-based, review.