Owlcam bets the dash cam is the new frontier in machine learning

Owlcam bets the dash cam is the new frontier in machine learning

To do machine learning right, some take the approach of getting in the middle of a big problem and hoping to amass the data to train the network. That’s the bet of startup Owlcam, whose $349 camera and service offering claims to have received millions of videos from its customers, building its database of understanding of what happens on the road.

"Tiernan

By Tiernan Ray |  | Topic: Artificial Intelligence

Recommended Content:
Advances in deep learning are picking up tremendous momentum – from the development of specialized software to major breakthroughs in hardware capabilities. This ebook looks at what deep learning has accomplished so far and where it’s likely to go…

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Sooner or later, everyone working in applied forms of machine learning goes after a use case that is going to yield tons of data, examples off of which to train a neural network.

It’s the data, many believe, that very often is the biggest deciding factor in making a network useful.

That’s the premise of Owlcam, a Palo Alto-based startup that sells a $349 camera for your car dashboard. It has been able to gather millions of videos from its users to refine its ability to detect crashes, to know when to capture video that can be used to handle insurance claims, or to detect an intruder to potentially solve car theft.

The product, in other words, is the young company’s entrée into a big problem where there’s lots to learn.

“Many people talk about doing machine learning, but with very little validation,” says co-founder and CEO Andy Hodge. “You need large amounts of data, but you also need ground truth.”

Also: Amidst furor over face recognition, Veritone promotes software’s use in law enforcement

Hodge, who has spent decades as a product manager for some of the biggest consumer products ever, sat down with ZDNet at a rooftop bar in Manhattan and reflected on how the company originated in that focus on data.

“We didn’t build a pitch book to raise money,” says Hodge of the company’s founding in December 2016, though the company has raised $28 million to date. “We went into my garage and built a cloud service and an iOS app and drove around with it.”

"owlcam-photo2.jpg"
The $349 Owlcam is a dashboard-mounted camera that knows when you’ve had an incident, using accelerometer data, captures it on film, and sends the clip to your smartphone. It can also detect if a perp has broken into a vehicle and send a video of the incident in real-time to the car owner sitting at home.

Owlcam.

“We said we would go consumer-first, and that would help us get the data we need.”

Hodge was a product development leader for the first Apple iPhone, after years of running product development on the iPod. Hodge then went on to run hardware at startup Dropcam, later bought by Nest, and then served as general manager of Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality headset.

Hodge doesn’t recall the very first time meeting Steve Jobs, but recalls arguing with him over things Jobs wanted for products, things that sometimes weren’t possible. “Steve was incredibly good at figuring out if the person he was talking to knew what they were talking about,” he recalls. He is left with the lasting impression that Jobs “was trying to make use of every minute” of life.

When it came time to ponder his next venture, “five of us were sitting around my house two years ago,” Hodge recalls.

“We discussed how it was inescapable that people were going to build amazingly smart cameras. The question, we realized, was, Where would you put them?”

Also: Artificial intelligence and the future of smartphone photography

The answer was a place where lots of things happen: The car. “It doesn’t take much to realize what happens in the home is on a smaller scale than what happens in the car. Ask a hundred people at a party, how many have had a home fire or a break-in, in the last five years, and it won’t even be ten hands up,” he says. “But ask who’s had a dent or a car break-in, it’ll be seventy or higher.”

“What we realized is if you care about machine learning, you care about data sets and about things that happen often enough you can learn from it,” explains Hodge.

"owl-portrait-andy-7081.jpg"
“We didn’t build a pitch book to raise money,” says Owlcam co-founder and CEO Andy Hodge. “We went into my garage and built a cloud service and an iOS app and drove around with it.” 

Forrest Arakawa

The camera plus smartphone app fulfills a couple of different functions. One is to record video at the moment of impact in the event of a crash. The video is sent to your smartphone, so that you can use it to show authorities if and when they show up to investigate your incident. That video has cleared some drivers of fault in various collisions, Hodge says. A bundled service called “Owlcam 911 assist” is activated as soon as an incident occurs, and that service places a call to your phone to see if you need medical assistance, rather like the OnStar service.

At the same time, the Owlcam detects motion when the car is parked and you’re not in it, which means if someone’s broken in, the inside camera can capture the intrusion and alert you on your smartphone. The company says this has led to apprehensions of car thieves. The green activation on the LED may even be enough to deter some thieves, he points out.

Also: Moveworks bets IT overload is a natural language processing problem

"Tech

Tech and the future of transportation: From here to there

Transportation is about to get a technology-driven reboot. The details are still taking shape, but future transport systems will certainly be connected, data-driven and highly automated.

Read More

The 4-megapixel front camera has a 120-degree field of view of the road ahead of you, and Owlcam has a touch-sensitive display, and a 4G LTE cellular connection. It connects to an app on iPhones and Android-based phones. It records video at 30 frames per second, with resolution of 1,440p for the outside camera, facing the road, and 720p resolution for its inside view of the cabin. The cellular service and the 911 assistance service are bundled into the $349 retail price for the first year, and each costs $9.99 per month after that.

Having sold over 25,000 units of the Owlcam since its debut in March of last year, the company has experienced a faster pace of adoption than Nest had, notes Hodge. The videos of incidents stay on a user’s app by default, for privacy’s sake, but customers can volunteer to send their videos to the company, and it turns out they do, in large numbers.

“There’s a psychological benefit for some, to share what’s happened.”

“We have moved over ten million video clips since the start of the company, and we have had thousands of events where there have been people filing the video because it was a meaningful event,” says Hodge. The company has amassed what it considers 125 million miles worth of road data at this point, including time and location and “a lot more.”

Hodge has observed the failings of expensive products when they run up against real-world data. “At Microsoft, there were teams of brilliant PhDs” working on technologies such as the Xbox’s “Kinect” sensor. “It was getting ready to launch, they had several million data points already, and then they realized they had a problem with lace curtains in Spanish homes: they would confuse the sensor.”

The machine learning part of what Owlcam does is home-grown, so far. Using the data collected from users, in an anonymized fashion, Owlcam is refining the detection capability of the system. Hodge is short on details of the machine learning model, save to say that convolutional neural networks, or CNNs, the workhorse of computer vision systems, are involved, but in a relatively shallow network of just a couple of hidden layers.


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“We have been surprised that relatively simple things work very well,” says Hodge. To Hodge, it is all about having labeled data, from the incidents, that is the ground truth of road incidents.

“The biggest thing we are getting is more real world events,” he says, including several hundred crashes and break ins to date. The algorithms running on the Owlcam and the companion app are not “universal recognition” in the sense that computer vision researchers aim for. Instead, it is “a targeted thing that we can get better at.”

The company has been busy of late extending its go-to-market actions and its features. In May, it began distribution through Best Buy. This month, it signed a deal with insurance firm CSAA Insurance Group to let people file a claim in a car incident directly from the Owlcam app. Next up are deals with fleet owners, to expand the product from a consumer offering to an enterprise product.

If you buy the product, Hodge and his partners believe you’ll consider yourself part of something larger than just your personal safety, though they emphasize the utility of the product. They hope you’ll become part of a network of information on the road that is creating one hell of a database.

To do machine learning right, some take the approach of getting in the middle of a big problem and hoping to amass the data to train the network. That’s the bet of startup Owlcam, whose $349 camera and service offering claims to have received millions of videos from its customers, building its database of understanding of what happens on the road.

"Tiernan

By Tiernan Ray |  | Topic: Artificial Intelligence

Recommended Content:
Advances in deep learning are picking up tremendous momentum – from the development of specialized software to major breakthroughs in hardware capabilities. This ebook looks at what deep learning has accomplished so far and where it’s likely to go…

Play Sound
We’re sorry, but a problem is preventing your video from playing.

Sooner or later, everyone working in applied forms of machine learning goes after a use case that is going to yield tons of data, examples off of which to train a neural network.

It’s the data, many believe, that very often is the biggest deciding factor in making a network useful.

That’s the premise of Owlcam, a Palo Alto-based startup that sells a $349 camera for your car dashboard. It has been able to gather millions of videos from its users to refine its ability to detect crashes, to know when to capture video that can be used to handle insurance claims, or to detect an intruder to potentially solve car theft.

The product, in other words, is the young company’s entrée into a big problem where there’s lots to learn.

“Many people talk about doing machine learning, but with very little validation,” says co-founder and CEO Andy Hodge. “You need large amounts of data, but you also need ground truth.”

Also: Amidst furor over face recognition, Veritone promotes software’s use in law enforcement

Hodge, who has spent decades as a product manager for some of the biggest consumer products ever, sat down with ZDNet at a rooftop bar in Manhattan and reflected on how the company originated in that focus on data.

“We didn’t build a pitch book to raise money,” says Hodge of the company’s founding in December 2016, though the company has raised $28 million to date. “We went into my garage and built a cloud service and an iOS app and drove around with it.”

"owlcam-photo2.jpg"
The $349 Owlcam is a dashboard-mounted camera that knows when you’ve had an incident, using accelerometer data, captures it on film, and sends the clip to your smartphone. It can also detect if a perp has broken into a vehicle and send a video of the incident in real-time to the car owner sitting at home.

Owlcam.

“We said we would go consumer-first, and that would help us get the data we need.”

Hodge was a product development leader for the first Apple iPhone, after years of running product development on the iPod. Hodge then went on to run hardware at startup Dropcam, later bought by Nest, and then served as general manager of Microsoft’s Hololens augmented reality headset.

Hodge doesn’t recall the very first time meeting Steve Jobs, but recalls arguing with him over things Jobs wanted for products, things that sometimes weren’t possible. “Steve was incredibly good at figuring out if the person he was talking to knew what they were talking about,” he recalls. He is left with the lasting impression that Jobs “was trying to make use of every minute” of life.

When it came time to ponder his next venture, “five of us were sitting around my house two years ago,” Hodge recalls.

“We discussed how it was inescapable that people were going to build amazingly smart cameras. The question, we realized, was, Where would you put them?”

Also: Artificial intelligence and the future of smartphone photography

The answer was a place where lots of things happen: The car. “It doesn’t take much to realize what happens in the home is on a smaller scale than what happens in the car. Ask a hundred people at a party, how many have had a home fire or a break-in, in the last five years, and it won’t even be ten hands up,” he says. “But ask who’s had a dent or a car break-in, it’ll be seventy or higher.”

“What we realized is if you care about machine learning, you care about data sets and about things that happen often enough you can learn from it,” explains Hodge.

"owl-portrait-andy-7081.jpg"
“We didn’t build a pitch book to raise money,” says Owlcam co-founder and CEO Andy Hodge. “We went into my garage and built a cloud service and an iOS app and drove around with it.” 

Forrest Arakawa

The camera plus smartphone app fulfills a couple of different functions. One is to record video at the moment of impact in the event of a crash. The video is sent to your smartphone, so that you can use it to show authorities if and when they show up to investigate your incident. That video has cleared some drivers of fault in various collisions, Hodge says. A bundled service called “Owlcam 911 assist” is activated as soon as an incident occurs, and that service places a call to your phone to see if you need medical assistance, rather like the OnStar service.

At the same time, the Owlcam detects motion when the car is parked and you’re not in it, which means if someone’s broken in, the inside camera can capture the intrusion and alert you on your smartphone. The company says this has led to apprehensions of car thieves. The green activation on the LED may even be enough to deter some thieves, he points out.

Also: Moveworks bets IT overload is a natural language processing problem

"Tech

Tech and the future of transportation: From here to there

Transportation is about to get a technology-driven reboot. The details are still taking shape, but future transport systems will certainly be connected, data-driven and highly automated.

Read More

The 4-megapixel front camera has a 120-degree field of view of the road ahead of you, and Owlcam has a touch-sensitive display, and a 4G LTE cellular connection. It connects to an app on iPhones and Android-based phones. It records video at 30 frames per second, with resolution of 1,440p for the outside camera, facing the road, and 720p resolution for its inside view of the cabin. The cellular service and the 911 assistance service are bundled into the $349 retail price for the first year, and each costs $9.99 per month after that.

Having sold over 25,000 units of the Owlcam since its debut in March of last year, the company has experienced a faster pace of adoption than Nest had, notes Hodge. The videos of incidents stay on a user’s app by default, for privacy’s sake, but customers can volunteer to send their videos to the company, and it turns out they do, in large numbers.

“There’s a psychological benefit for some, to share what’s happened.”

“We have moved over ten million video clips since the start of the company, and we have had thousands of events where there have been people filing the video because it was a meaningful event,” says Hodge. The company has amassed what it considers 125 million miles worth of road data at this point, including time and location and “a lot more.”

Hodge has observed the failings of expensive products when they run up against real-world data. “At Microsoft, there were teams of brilliant PhDs” working on technologies such as the Xbox’s “Kinect” sensor. “It was getting ready to launch, they had several million data points already, and then they realized they had a problem with lace curtains in Spanish homes: they would confuse the sensor.”

The machine learning part of what Owlcam does is home-grown, so far. Using the data collected from users, in an anonymized fashion, Owlcam is refining the detection capability of the system. Hodge is short on details of the machine learning model, save to say that convolutional neural networks, or CNNs, the workhorse of computer vision systems, are involved, but in a relatively shallow network of just a couple of hidden layers.

“We have been surprised that relatively simple things work very well,” says Hodge. To Hodge, it is all about having labeled data, from the incidents, that is the ground truth of road incidents.

“The biggest thing we are getting is more real world events,” he says, including several hundred crashes and break ins to date. The algorithms running on the Owlcam and the companion app are not “universal recognition” in the sense that computer vision researchers aim for. Instead, it is “a targeted thing that we can get better at.”

The company has been busy of late extending its go-to-market actions and its features. In May, it began distribution through Best Buy. This month, it signed a deal with insurance firm CSAA Insurance Group to let people file a claim in a car incident directly from the Owlcam app. Next up are deals with fleet owners, to expand the product from a consumer offering to an enterprise product.

If you buy the product, Hodge and his partners believe you’ll consider yourself part of something larger than just your personal safety, though they emphasize the utility of the product. They hope you’ll become part of a network of information on the road that is creating one hell of a database.

CSAA Insurance Adopts Owlcam Video Tech to Accelerate Claims Process

CSAA Insurance Adopts Owlcam Video Tech to Accelerate Claims Process

Through Owlcam’s vFNOL feature, CSAA customers have the option to report and open an insurance claim directly from the Owlcam mobile application.

Anthony R. O’Donnell // 

""

(Image source: Owlcam homepage.)

CSAA Insurance Group (Walnut Creek, Calif.), a AAA insurer, has adopted Owlcam’s (Palo Alto, Calif.) video security and safety service to improve the customer claims experience. CSAA is the first major U.S. property and casualty insurer to leverage Owlcam’s Video First Notice of Loss (vFNOL) feature, giving customers the option to report and open an insurance claim directly from the Owlcam mobile application, according to an Owlcam statement.

""

Andy Hodge, CEO, Owlcam.

Using Owlcam’s 4G LTE service, HD cameras and artificial intelligence (AI), CSAA’s customers can use Owlcam’s real-time video upload capabilities to easily report incidents such as crashes and break-ins to help expedite claims, according to the vendor statement. The vendor operates with a privacy-first approach, which gives the customer full control over whether to submit to CSAA Insurance Group—no data is shared without explicit consent.

“Owlcam has revolutionized automotive security with real-time video over 4G LTE. We see our video helping people every day,” comments Andy Hodge, CEO, Owlcam. “You can see hundreds of examples on our website. Helping those drivers plug straight into CSAA Insurance Group is just one way to make these sadly unavoidable events something that drivers can do something about.”

""

Cal Hankins, VP, claims, CSAA Insurance Group.

When a crash or break-in is detected in a car with an equipped Owlcam, a video clip is instantly sent to the driver’s phone, according to the vendor. Within the Owlcam App, customers can live-view footage captured by the camera to see what is happening in real time from anywhere. The video proof of a given incident can immediately be shared with insurance companies as well as police arriving on the scene.

Transforming how Members Manage their Risks

“CSAA Insurance Group is excited to partner with Owlcam to be able to offer an innovative new service that will provide value to AAA Members with a seamless customer experience in documenting and reporting a claim,” comments Cal Hankins, VP, claims, CSAA Insurance Group. “Video is a powerful tool in the claims process and we are proud to be able to integrate Owlcam’s technology to transform the way members manage their risks and deal with life’s uncertainties.”

Owlcam will bundle 911 Assist with its security dashcam

Owlcam will bundle 911 Assist with its security dashcam

Last year, Owlcam debuted its first cloud-connected dashcam. It was unique because not only did it record your trips, but it also doubled as a real-time security camera for your vehicle. The cost of the Owlcam was $349, and that includes a one-year trial of 4G LTE service, which then costs $99 a year (or $9.99 a month) thereafter. Last December, Owlcam introduced a 911 Assist feature that would call for assistance whenever your car got in a crash. It used to cost an additional $79 a year, but starting today, 911 Assist will now be a part of the standard 4G LTE $99-a-year package.

As we wrote about last year, the Owlcam acts very similar to a Nest or Ring camera. You can view live feeds of what’s going on in your car as well as what’s in front of it (there are two cameras) and it’ll send an alert to your phone if it detects something suspicious. Moreover, if you get into a fender bender or a crash, a video is instantly sent to your phone, which you can use as evidence for the authorities or the insurance company. The addition of the 911 Assist service means a live operator will call you after the crash, to make sure you’re ok.

According to Owlcam, more than 25,000 devices were sold in just the past year, making it one of the fastest-selling connected camera companies. In addition to the 911 Assist bundling, Owlcam also announced that its camera will be sold at all Best Buy locations. You can also buy it on Amazon or Owlcam’s own website.

Owlcam Announces Expanded 911 Assist and Best Buy Launch

Owlcam Announces Expanded 911 Assist and Best Buy Launch

Owlcam is a 4G LTE connected car camera that protects people, cars and trucks with real-time video and data

PALO ALTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Owlcam today announced that every Owlcam will now include one year of its emergency crash response service, Owlcam 911 Assist. Owlcam also announced Best Buy will begin selling Owlcam in over 550 stores, as well as on BestBuy.com.

Owlcam brings real-time HD video security to cars and trucks

Owlcam’s built-in artificial intelligent (AI), 4G LTE service and HD cameras deliver the real-time video and alerts drivers need in crashes and break-ins. Owlcam is helping people from across the country every day. These stories are available to view on the Owlcam website.

Owlcam customers receive an alert to their phone if motion, impacts or broken glass are detected. From within the Owlcam App, customers can live view to see what’s happening in real time from anywhere.

When a crash is detected, a video clip is instantly sent to the driver’s phone. The video proof can immediately be shared with insurance companies and police on the scene. Owlcam 911 Assist’s live operator then calls to see if the driver needs help, sending emergency services if needed.

Owlcam is $349, which includes both the camera and a one-year trial of the Owlcam 4G LTE service and Owlcam 911 Assist. After the first year, the subscription is $99/year or $9.99/month.

Owlcam 911 Assist is helping people get emergency assistance every day

“After the crash it was hard to think straight. Then, a voice came through the Owlcam asking if I needed help,” said 17-year-old Ana Smith, an Owlcam customer in a recent head-on collision. “I said, ‘YES!’ and an ambulance came right to my location. Now, I’ll never drive without my Owlcam.”

Ana was on her way home from a movie when an SUV crossed three lanes, causing the crash. Owlcam 911 Assist’s live operator called her to see if she was OK, and she asked for help. The live operator then dispatched police and an ambulance to Ana’s GPS location. Thankfully, no one was badly hurt. Ana showed the Owlcam video to the officer at the scene using the Owlcam App. The officer then cited the other driver, clearing Ana of fault.

This is just one example of how Owlcam 911 Assist works to help people every day.

Owlcam 911 Assist is now included with every Owlcam

“Since we launched Owlcam 911 Assist last December, it’s been helping people every day. This is what we want for our families and we want everyone to have this too. So, we’ve been working hard to make it part of every purchase and, as of today, it is,” said Andy Hodge, CEO and founder of Owlcam.

To get its life-saving technology in more cars and trucks, Owlcam has announced that, beginning May 14, Owlcam 911 Assist will be included as part of their core subscription, offered at no additional cost (formerly an extra $79/year).

Available at Best Buy now

Starting May 12, BestBuy.com and over 550 Best Buy stores will offer Owlcam. “Best Buy means Owlcam will be within a 15-minute drive of most Americans, so they can see, touch and buy the best-connected security for cars and trucks,” says Doug Bieter, EVP of sales at Owlcam.

Owlcam launched in March 2018 and has had more consumer sales than Nest, Ring or Dropcam had in their first year. Owlcam is being adopted by people everywhere, with more than 25,000 devices sold. More than 100 million miles have been protected by Owlcam since their launch. Owlcam is the fastest-growing connected car camera company in the world.

To learn more, visit https://owlcam.com/.

About Owl Cameras, Inc.

At Owl Cameras, we love cars and the people that are in them. Owlcam is using video and data to make our roads safer for everyone. Owlcam is based in Palo Alto, CA. Owlcam sales started in March 2018. In 2019, Owlcam is expanding with new features, major retailers and B2B2B enterprise fleet sales.

Owlcam is led by Andy Hodge, founding leader on Apple iPhone and iPod, Microsoft HoloLens and Dropcam. Our 60+ person team is highly experienced and has previously created products and services with over $100B in sales.

Learn more at www.owlcam.com and the Owlcam pressroom or follow @owlcameras on Twitter.

 

 

Maybe the Innovation Glass is Half Full?

Maybe the Innovation Glass is Half Full?

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After attending the OnRamp conference in Minneapolis last week, I come away more optimistic about innovation in insurance than I’ve been in some time. 

That feeling began with the keynote panel I moderated with Allianz Life CEO Walter White and Securian Financial CEO Chris Hilger, who laid out a compelling vision. Rather than thinking about using technology to automate jobs or cut expenses, they see ways to make their financial advisers better, more-informed coaches. They also envision extending the benefits of the advice to those many who otherwise couldn’t afford financial counsel, because the high cost structure makes fees prohibitive. (At ITL, we use the word “centaur” to describe employees who, like the mythical creatures, have combined with machines to be more powerful than people alone would be.)

A later panel laid out a new vision of segmentation. While the traditional focus has been on defining segments for marketing purposes, panelists recommended using the techniques to categorize people for different customer experiences. At the moment, companies strain to win customers by demonstrating great understanding of their situations and needs, then do one of two things: 1) dump them into a generic onboarding process that immediately undercuts any claims of trust; or 2) strive (and fail) to deliver a unique experience for each person. Sophisticated segmentation of customers could deliver considerable personalization of the customer journey at a reasonable cost. 

(ITL CEO Wayne Allen contributes a related thought from the Sitkins Network conference where he spoke last week. He said the suggestion was to move away from thinking about customer-centricity and toward empathy. In other words, don’t just make the customer the center of your efforts; do everything you can to put yourself in that customer’s shoes and understand what he or she feels, then do what the customer—not the company—needs.) 

Still another OnRamp panelist described an opportunity with micro businesses—ones that range from a sole proprietor up to four employees. While many have seen potential in small and medium-sized businesses, I hadn’t yet heard such a clear argument for products and services that can be provided digitally, at low cost, with little friction, while fitting in with personal financial services that the buyer wants and may already receive.

The array of clever ideas behind some startups also struck me. For instance, while I’ve been hearing about telematics in cars for decades, I’d never thought about motorcycles until Marina Mann introduced herself and her company, EatSleepRide. She has tracked 20 million kilometers of motorcycle rides and is rolling out services that not only rate the risk of the rider but offer real-time advice to the rider about signs of fatigue, dangers that may lie ahead, etc. 

There was even a startup, Owl Cam, that may let me resolve a pet peeve that has been bugging me for the, oh, 45 years I’ve been driving. 

The background: I often offer a running commentary about other drivers, a habit I picked up from my father and, sorry to say, seem to have passed on to my daughters. I get especially annoyed when someone tailgates me in the left lane even though traffic in front of me means I have nowhere to go—these geniuses seem to think they can push safe drivers out of the way by creating dangerous situations—but I’ll also complain if someone cuts me off, if someone seems to think he’s playing Fast and Furious, etc. I’ve always wanted some way to document the crazy driving to help get idiots off the road (and, yeah, vent my spleen a bit) but never had the means. Until now.

Owl Cam sets up a two-way camera on the dashboard that captures both the interior and the road. The main purposes are to record a thief, a vandal or a car that hits yours while you’re not in it, and to help resolve claims quickly if you’re in an accident. But the feature that I covet is the one that lets you keep the past 10 seconds from the forward-facing camera by just saying, “Hey, presto.” Now, if the police set up some way for concerned citizens to share video, and if Owl Cam figures out some way to capture the license plates of those tailgaters, we’ll be in business. 

This insurance innovation thing may have a future!

Cheers,

Paul Carroll

Editor in Chief

In our modern era of crime fighting, NFL player credits car cam app for catching alleged thief ‘red handed’

In our modern era of crime fighting, NFL player credits car cam app for catching alleged thief ‘red handed’

When Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah is on the field, his main job is to fight through tackles. He didn’t expect to be doing that to a stranger breaking into his car.

The 24-year-old NFL player, who comes in at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, recently purchased the Owl Car Cam for his Dodge Charger. It’s a cloud-based security camera with a subscription service.

The camera, which mounts on the car’s dashboard, has both inward and outward facing cameras, like similar products on the market, and connects to an app. The app alerts the user’s phone if the user’s vehicle is in a crash, dented or broken into, even if the user is not inside or nearby.

"(ABC)  Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah shared his experience using a small security camera that caught a stranger breaking into his car.

In February, Armah said he got an “instant notification” on his phone from the Owl app and when he opened it, he said he watched in real-time as a stranger broke into his car. It was all captured on video through the camera.

“I see someone in my car, and that’s when the adrenaline starts running,” he said.

Armah decided to run toward his car, where he saw the alleged thief trying to leave the premises.

"(ABC)  Owl is one company creating small security cameras to monitor customer’s treasured spaces, like their car.

Authorities say people should never apprehend a suspect themselves, but Armah said the alleged suspect tried to make a run for it. He said he caught up to him and restrained him with a grappling move called the “armbar.”

With the Owl Cam, Armah not only had footage of what the suspect looked like, but he also had a video of what appeared to be the suspect breaking into his car, which Armah was able to turn over to police.

“We have the guy’s picture, we have what he was doing in my car… so it’s really undisputed,” Armah said. “Literally caught red-handed.”

Armah, the son of an immigrant father from Ghana, said he bought a Dodge Charger with his first NFL paycheck. That car was just broken into in December, he said, so he decided then to invest in some security.

“I mean, windows shattered, glass hanging out on my paint, scraped up my side of my car,” he said. “You just feel very violated, and I felt like it’s just disgusting to see your own property like that. Something you worked hard to get. You finally get it and someone physically went through your car, tampered with your personal items. You just feel very violated.”

The alleged thief that broke into Armah’s car was arrested and charged with breaking or entering into a motor vehicle. He was released on bond and is due in court later this month.

Andy Hodge, the founder and CEO of the company, said they have received positive feedback on their camera system.

'(ABC)  Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah shares with “Nightline” his experience using a personal security camera in his car.

“We hear the story over and over again — where someone calls up the police and say, ‘Hey, my car got broken into, ‘Well we can’t do much about that,’ ‘I have video,’ ‘Well the videos we get aren’t very good. But then they send the video from the Owl Camera and the police say, ‘We’ve never seen video like this, we can see exactly who it is,” Hodge said.

Owl has been around for a couple of years and sells for $350 — $250 for the camera and about $100 for the first year of service. Devices like Owl are part of a growing smart device market to catch would-be thieves in the act.

For Hodge, one story that has stuck with him of Owl helping a customer get out of a scary situation involved a woman who he said was named Jennifer.

"(ABC)  Carolina Panthers fullback Alex Armah shows Nightline’s Juju Chang the small security camera on the dashboard of his treasured Dodge Charger.

“Two guys came up to her, said they had a gun,” he said. “She thought…to walk in front of the car, pulled the two of them in the range of the camera. She points at it, she says, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ And they back off. And in less than an hour, those two guys were both arrested.”

The company said they have seen people post their Owl videos on social media, using crowdsourcing to help identify alleged suspects.

“I definitely think it’s going to be a huge advantage,” said Armah, who is not currently being sponsored by Owl. “[Criminals] will think twice for sure.”

Armah, Hodge and the authorities do not condone people going after alleged suspects themselves. If you see something happening with your car, call 911.

This $349 dash cam is pricey, but its 24-hour HD video coverage, theft-prevention alarm, and dual cameras make it worth the cost

This $349 dash cam is pricey, but its 24-hour HD video coverage, theft-prevention alarm, and dual cameras make it worth the cost

"Owlcam"
  • Car dash cameras serve the important purpose of constantly recording in the event of an accident, but they can be finicky and annoying to operate and access properly.
  • Owlcam is one of the few that isn’t. It’s a smart dash camera that uses LTE service to live stream and store both interior- and exterior-facing videos that can be accessed from anywhere with your smartphone. You’ll never have to worry about if something was captured or not.
  • Additionally, the Owlcam acts as a security system when your car is parked. You’ll get notifications for possible impacts or burglary attempts.
  • Priced at $349, Owlcam is a bit more expensive than most other dash cameras, but considering all the features and convenience, I think it’s worth it. If it can protect you from being accused of being at fault for one accident or from one theft, it’ll pay itself off.

If you own a car, you should do everything in your power to protect it.

But even if you’re the safest driver on the road, accidents are unfortunately not always avoidable — and they’re expensive to fix. Beyond having car insurance (which every driver should have), the next best thing you can do to protect yourself and your ride is to install a dash camera.

The premise of dash cameras is simple. You mount a camera on your dash to record 24/7 just in case an accident occurs. It’s a smart way to cover yourself from reckless drivers or even those that made an honest mistake.

But a not-so-smart device with grainy video, poor audio, and limited storage space for recording can easily turn out to be more of a headache than an added safety measure. That’s where Owlcamcomes into play.

Designed to work with all cars model year 1996 or newer with the exception of Teslas, the Owlcam is a smart dash camera that plugs into your car’s OBDII port. What separates it from most other dash cameras is its two HD cameras (one road-facing and the other interior-facing), its LTE connectivity for video storage, and its integrated smartphone app.

These features address issues of capturing footage that’s hard to clearly make out and the constant need for clearing SD cards for storage space. Additionally, it provides a level of security and vehicle monitoring that most dash cameras lack altogether.

Read more: This $70 scanner can diagnose your car’s issues and save you money on repairs

"Owlcam"Owlcam

How to set it up

The first step to setting up the Camera is downloading the Owl Car Cam app on the App Store or Google Play. It’s worth noting that you’ll need an iPhone 6 or newer with iOS 11 or an Android with the Oreo or Pie operating system. The brand has tested models including Google Pixel 2/2XL, Samsung Galaxy S8/S9, and LG V30, but comparable newer models like the Google Pixel 3 and Samsung Galaxy S10 should work fine, too.

Next, you’ll need to locate your car’s OBDII port, which can usually be found on the driver’s side of the interior on the lower dash. I used my mom’s 2007 Honda CR-V to test the camera out (my vintage cars are too old) and the port was located almost directly underneath the steering wheel. If your car’s port is not immediately visible, check your car’s owners manual or do a quick Google search. Once you’ve located yours, it’s time to install the camera on your dash and run the wire to your OBDII port.

In the box, you’ll find the camera, the camera mount, the OBDII port adapter, power wire, and a tool used for tucking the wire in the crease of the dash and windshield. Owlcam says you can complete the entire installation process in six minutes, but I wanted to make sure my camera was precisely in the middle of the dash and that the wire was neatly hidden, so I spent a little bit more time than that. Once the camera is plugged in and your car is on, the on-screen directions will guide you through pairing it to the app. I really like that the installation doesn’t require any hard-to-reverse modifications, so if you ever decide to take it out, you won’t be left with sticky adhesive on your dashboard.

"Owlcam"Owlcam

How it works on the road

A driver’s worst nightmare is getting into an accident, only to be wrongly accused of being at fault (well, maybe this is the secondworst nightmare). While all dash cameras, in theory, serve the main purpose of capturing footage you need as proof for insurance companies or police, they can be inconvenient to use and are often unreliable. Having to constantly make sure they’re actually on and recording with enough storage space to capture footage can easily render many dash cameras useless when they’re needed the most. But with Owlcam, that’s never an issue. As long as it’s plugged in, both HDs cameras are recording, and since the device uses LTE service, it’s automatically saved to the Owlcam app.

In addition to road safety, the Owlcam can also be used for fun on the road. If you see something cool on the road like a rare supercar or you and your passengers decide to have a car karaoke session, simply say “Ok Presto” to begin recording a clip from either camera that will be sent directly to you — there’s no need to go into the app to retrieve it.

"owlcam"Owlcam

How it works when you’re parked

What really separates the Owlcam from most other dash cameras on the market are the many features it has when you’re not in the car and on the road. While it doesn’t continuously save video recordings as it would when your car is on (for the sake of not draining your car battery), the Owlcam is prompted to save the video if an impact or break-in is detected. If your car is parked and someone hits it, you’ll be immediately notified of a possible impact, and it will send footage starting from before the impact to the app. If your car is parked and is left uninterrupted, that footage isn’t actively saved.

Additionally, the Owlcam does a really great job at deterring thieves. If the green flashing light isn’t enough to make a would-be thief think twice and they do break into your vehicle, they’ll be welcomed by two bright LED flood lights to let them know they’re visible and on camera. Once you’re notified of the break-in, you can use the live video stream and two-way audio function to see what they’re doing and to yell at them until they flee.

Although I haven’t had to deal with car thieves or burglars, I can confirm that this function works well. Owlcam pairs to your smartphone via Bluetooth as a way to detect you entering. Since I installed the device in my mom’s car, I’d get a notification to my phone when she entered her car, which would be much more alarming if I knew someone else wasn’t supposed to be driving. I tried the two-way audio with her and it works without fault.

The bottom line

It’s been several months since I first received the Owlcam review and it’s been a great addition to the car. Aside from uninstalling it to test and review other products that require an OBDII plug-in, it’s been used daily by my mom on her commutes to and from work.

Thankfully, I’ve never been in an accident, but I felt a lot more secure with Owlcam installed when I drove the car. Priced at $349, Owlcam isn’t the most affordable dash camera, but it’s well worth it — especially if you’re behind the wheel a lot like my mom. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that your car is better protected at all times — whether you’re on the road or not. And, if it can save you from being accused of an accident that wasn’t your fault or from having your car burglarized or stolen altogether, the price tag is outweighed tenfold.

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