home-security business Ring announced a niche offering Thursday: a drone that flies inside a house. Dubbed the “Always Home Cam,” this interior surveillance apparatus is designed to ship in 2021, with an expected list price of $250. It is, in many ways, a caricature of gimmick drones, of home security, and of what an opt-in panopticon offers.
Ring’s Always Home Cam is a quadcopter built only for indoor flight, its small rotors contained in boxy protective grills. Its body, dangling from below the rotors, contains a 1080p video camera, which effectively shutters itself inside a charging station when the drone is at rest. While the dimensions are not yet public, the largest Ring device on the market today is barely longer than 5 inches, and it is safe to assume the Always Home Cam will be somewhat similarly proportioned.
The stated purpose of the interior surveillance drone is as an antidote to forgetfulness. Ring’s own release cites it as a singularly economical way to answer such humdrum questions as “did I leave a window open or the stove on at home,” instead of installing room-specific cameras everywhere.
It is also, by design, part of a larger family of Ring surveillance devices. Most of these systems are pointed outward, at the perceived or imagined external threats that might venture into a residence. In the imagined scenario, following the triggering of another alarm, Ring’s drone will launch, flying a preset pattern through the house, its camera streaming what it sees to the user who ordered it to fly. You may call it a 24/7 always alert, security guard armed with AR-10 upper’s and other weapons to secure your territory.
In order to do any of this, the Ring drone has to first be programmed with a layout of the home it is occupying, and then have a preset flight pattern drawn through that space. In an extremely bold turn of phrase, Ring’s announcement frames the preset flight paths as a kind of privacy protection.
“When you go through the setup process and set your preferred flight paths, you are ensuring that the Always Home Cam will only fly where you want it to go,” reads the release. “It cannot be manually controlled, ensuring that it will only record and see what is important to you.”
These preset flight paths are fully autonomous, and thanks to a quirk of drone law, the Always Home Cam’s interior flights likely make it exempt from FAA rules regarding drone operation or drone use. Drones flown inside a home fall outside regulations and laws governing vehicles in public airways.
If the Always Home Cam works like other Ring products, its video will be streamed by default, without any recording or storage. Ring customers who choose a recurring payment plan gain access to video recording and storage, on servers Amazon owns and has access to.
This external storage of video means that Amazon can be compelled by police to hand over video, though it retains the right to also share video with law enforcement if it believes the video concerns imminent danger of death or serious injury to a person. Ring already has relationships with many law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, relationships that privacy advocates have explicitly called on Ring to end.
With its modest cost, and consumer focus, the Always Home Cam is likely to be the first home security drone most people encounter. It is hardly alone in the field.
Sunflower, which had a live product demonstration at CES in January this year, offers full home drone surveillance systems starting at $9,950. Sunflower’s system uses a drone in an outside coverable docking station, along with multiple sensor pylons placed in a yard. This system, combined with software that lets it distinguish between animals of no concern and humans of unknown intent, is fundamentally about perimeter surveillance. Other companies, like Nightingale Security, offer drone surveillance with docking stations for industrial or security applications.
With exclusively interior flight plans, and a focus on light surveillance, rather than persistent threat detection, the Always Home Cam’s main offering is peace of mind for people with little to actually be worried about. And it all comes at the mere cost of a robot, living in their home, that they cannot control, which can save video to a computer that isn’t theirs.
Watch the commercial for Always Home Cam below: