Tiny cameras have gotten pretty good over the last decade. Not only are they built into anything you could want — from doorbells to police vests to teddy bears — they’ve made big strides in terms of quality (4K capture is the norm), smarts (able to detect motion, people, and even facial expressions), and power efficiency (some can last years before a recharge).
In other words, tiny cameras have been commoditized. But that doesn’t mean the companies making them have covered every use case. That’s where a player like Psync can stand out, and the startup is going for it with its first product, the Psync Camera Genie S ($34.99). More than a security device, the cube-shaped camera aims to use the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to help capture family moments when you otherwise wouldn’t. However, the AI features, called ViewSay, will cost you an extra $0.99 a month. Psync lent me a Genie S enabled with ViewSay to try out.
The idea is you’d set up the Genie S in, say, a playroom where your child spends a lot of time. That way, when the kid is playing alone and does something cute, the camera will automatically capture the moment. And when that happens, you don’t just get a notification. The secret AI sauce (read: OpenAI’s API) will instantly interpret what the camera’s seeing to send you an accurate description of what’s happening so you can decide if it’s worth watching, saving, and maybe even capturing as a longer recording.
That’s a pretty specific use case. I could see some pet owners gravitating to Genie S, too. You might think folks interested in general surveillance and security would be a good target customer, but the overall design of the camera will limit its appeal.
Wall-E, is that you?
Not that it’s a bad design. About the size of a Rubik’s Cube, the camera’s cube shape is novel, and dare I say: fun. It’s playful without being “kid,” and the way the L-shaped camera section (which contains sensors and LED spotlights) folds out makes the whole thing look reminiscent of Wall-E. The matte white color and choice of a blue recording light (as opposed to the usual red) greatly reduce any intimidation factor.
I also have to give huge points for the device’s mechanical engineering: Once it’s set up on a tabletop and plugged in, the Genie S is capable of rotating up to 350° and the L-flap tilts up to 135°. Not only does it track the movement of whatever’s in front of it, it does so completely silently, at least to my ears. The rubberized base holds the camera perfectly on pretty much any flat surface in your home.
None of that is an issue… unless you’re using the Psync cam for general surveillance, in which case you’ll have to factor in how distracting that movement may be. It certainly draws attention to itself — my family noticed the Genie S as soon as I set it up in my kitchen — so if blending in is a factor, Psync’s little AI cam isn’t for you.
But for what it’s designed to do, the Genie S does an excellent job. Whenever there’s motion or a change of scene (say, turning on a light), the camera comes alive, capturing a 12-second clip and sending a notification to your phone. And thanks to Psync’s AI (a multimodal AI that uses a Llama 2-powered Visual Language Model, or VLM), those notifications describe what the camera’s seeing so you can decide whether to engage or not — without needing to open the app.
Impressively accurate AI descriptions
I found Psync’s descriptions to be fairly accurate most of the time. It correctly identified when a person was in the room, their gender, generally what they were doing, and other details. A typical description: “A man is standing in a kitchen, holding a cup of coffee, and looking at a television.” There were occasional misses, certainly — it once said my daughter was working on an art project when she was just standing near a box, and there was the time the camera had a fever dream and mistook the underside of my kitchen cupboard for a bird. But there were times I was pleasantly surprised, too, like understanding when my wife was preparing food rather than just standing in the kitchen. Overall I estimate the notifications at a 95% success rate. I also liked getting them on my Apple Watch; no need to dig your phone out of your pocket if it’s just the cat on a countertop.
The app is simple and usable. Once you’re in it, you can record live video, browse the 12-second recordings that triggered the camera, or control settings (e.g. turn off and on subject tracking). While the app is very usable, I thought finding your recordings was less intuitive than I’d like.
One of the more novel features is co-watching videos. If, say, your toddler starts to do something really cute, you can quickly send the live video link to your spouse and watch the moment together. I could definitely see this being popular with parents of little ones.
I came away impressed with the Psync. I was skeptical of the boxy design at first, but I came to like it very quickly, and the app is the right mix of simple and functional. Although I can’t see too many enthusiastic customers outside of the new-parent crowd, the AI-powered notifications add a dimension of convenience that just might make evangelists out of them. For an extra $1 a month, why not?
Correction 11/2/23: Psync describes its AI technology as “GPT algorithms and advanced multimodal AI empowered by VLM (Visual Language Model), which is based on the open-source Llama 2. It is not powered by ChatGPT, as this piece originally said.