I think it’s time we rethought how we use the word “smart” when it comes to our digital apps and devices. It’s become a buzzword attached to everything from TVs and watches to fridges and glasses. There is even a smart hairbrush that connects via wifi to a mobile app to “reinvent a person’s relationship to their hair.” (Yeah, we don’t know what that means, either).
So is it enough to have an internet connection in place to earn the title smart? What if the product just follows a programmed algorithm to generate generic connections? Is Netflix smart for recommending I watch Mr. Deeds starring Adam Sandler because I watched Sandy Wexler starring Adam Sandler?
In the video conferencing world, the term “smart” is reserved for webcams that can act independently. Autofocus, auto zoom, automatically adjusting for light conditions, even automatically switching focus to whomever is currently speaking–these things are smart.
Is that smart enough to impress us, though? What should a smart webcam for PC do, and when does a smart webcam become more than just a webcam?
The Smart Huddly GO
Norwegian webcam maker Huddly has recently thrown up its hand to claim that its latest offering is the smartest webcam on the market. Shortly before Christmas last year it released the GO, a small, wide-angle webcam that has all the usual smart features like auto zoom and auto lighting correct, and automatic visual noise filtering. That’s all just surface with the GO, however. To make the GO really smart, and to justify a $500 price tag, Huddly has turned the webcam into something like a little computer all on its own. The company eventually plans to build more than 100 features into the camera, but for now, has settled on a more manageable list.
- An advanced 16-megapixel image sensor that streams all the way up to 4K Ultra HD
- Content capturing, which can transcribe writing from a whiteboard
- The ability to recognize how many people are in a room and crop the image to fit
- Downloadable updates, as other features roll out
The GO was initially available only through Google’s Hangouts Meet kit (handy, because, despite the hefty price point, the Huddly GO on its own doesn’t come with a built-in mic or speaker), but now that it’s being sold separately, it can integrate with a range of hardware and video conferencing apps.
Huddly’s version of smart, therefore, is a device that reduces the need for human interference. The GO doesn’t deliver extra information, rather it wants users to forget the camera is even there and just go about their meeting.
Should smart, however, be limited to convenient?
Smart Webcams for PC Enhance Meetings
While it’s in a different strata of cost and size, Cisco’s Spark Room Kit, for example, goes beyond the GO’s ability to recognize how many people are in a meeting to actually identify individuals. It features 4k facial recognition tech that can recognize faces and voices and automatically shift its gaze to meet them. It can also recognize individual devices being used to join a meeting, and can automatically switch itself on should one of those phones or laptops come into range.
Turning our attention to personal webcams, the Logitech BRIO comes equipped with facial recognition software that’s sharp enough to be used as a security password on platforms like Windows Hello.
Elsewhere, voice-activated video calling, touchscreen hubs, and the integration of bots to perform search and discover tasks are adding to the growing intelligence of video conferencing. Then there’s the digital whiteboard crowd, headed by Cisco and Google that make group interaction more dynamic.
For now, it seems unfair to expect any webcam to pack all that “smart” into just one small device, but these apps offer a glimpse of our smarter future.
Smart Webcams Are Becoming More Connected
Top-of-the-line webcams–and the GO seems to deserve a place on that list–are already incredibly smart as webcams. It is now common to sit in a video conferencing meeting and not have to fuss over getting everyone in the shot, making sure everyone is in focus, making sure everyone can be heard, or even having to touch the camera to have it move from speaker to speaker. That’s plenty smart for a webcam.
The reality is, however, that our expectations of smart are guided by what computers and the internet can provide. There are plenty of webcams available that just relay images over a video call, but every time a product like the GO packs more computing hardware into the camera itself and promises more, we, reasonably, expect more.
And that’s the evolution to come. Webcams will grow more intelligent in order to provide features independently. The smartest of these webcams will one day be able to make a meeting more convenient by doing the grunt work themselves; they will enhance our experience by recognizing us and our colleagues and providing information about everyone; they will deepen the experience by employing bots and other auxiliary functions to connect us to the wider world in real-time–and they may even discreetly alert us when our hair needs some extra attention.