Visual One smartens up home security cameras with object and action recognition

“Smart” cameras are to be found in millions of homes, but the truth is they’re not all that smart. Facial recognition and motion detection are their main tricks… but what if you want to know if the dog jumped on the couch, or if your toddler is playing with the stove? Visual One equips cameras with the intellect to understand a bit more of the world and give you more granular — and important — information.

Founder Mohammad Rafiee said that the idea came to him after he got a puppy (Zula) and was dissatisfied with the options he had for monitoring her activities while he was away. Here she is doing what dogs do best:

There are no bad dogs, but chairs are for people

“There were specific things I wanted to know were happening, like I wanted to check if the dog got picked up by the dog walker. The cameras’ motion detection is useless — she’s always moving,” he lamented. “In fact, with a lot of these cameras, just a change in the lighting or wind or rain can trigger the motion alert, so it’s completely impractical.”

“My background is in machine learning. I was thinking about it, and realized we’re at a stage where this problem is starting to become solvable,” he continued.

Some tasks in computer vision, indeed, are as good as solved — detecting faces and common objects such as cars and bikes can be done quickly and efficiently. But that’s not always useful — what’s the point of knowing someone rode their bike past your house? In order for this to have value, the objects need to be understood as part of a greater context, and that’s what Rafiee and Visual One are undertaking.

Unfortunately, it’s far from easy — or else everyone would be doing it already. Identifying a cat is simple, and identifying a table is simple, but identifying a cat on a table is surprisingly hard.

“It’s a very difficult problem. So we’re breaking it down to things we can solve right now, then building on that,” Rafiee explained. “With deep learning techniques we can identify different objects, and we build models on top of those to specify different interactions, or specific objects being in specific locations. Like a car in the wrong spot, or a dog getting on a couch. We can recognize that with high accuracy right now — we have a list of supported objects and models that we’re expanding.”

In case you’re not convinced that the capabilities are that much advanced from the usual “activity in the living room” or “Kendra is at the front door” notifications, here are a few situations that Visual One is set up to detect:

  • Kid playing with the stove
  • Toddler climbing furniture
  • Kid holding a knife
  • Baby left alone for too long
  • Raccoon getting into garbage
  • Elderly person taking her medications
  • Elderly person in bed for too long
  • Car parked in the wrong spot
  • Garage door left open
  • Dog chewing on a shoe
  • Cat scratching the furniture

The process for creating these triggers is pretty straightforward

If one of those doesn’t make you think “actually… that would be really good to know,” then perhaps a basic security camera is enough for your purposes after all. Not everyone has a knife-curious toddler. But those of you who do are probably scrolling furiously past this paragraph looking for where to buy one of these things.

Unfortunately Visual One isn’t something you can just install on any old existing system — with the prominent exception of Nest, into which it can plug. Camera workflows are generally too locked down for security and privacy purposes to allow for third-party apps and services to be slipped in. But the company isn’t trying to bankrupt everyone with an ultra-luxury offering. It’s using off-the-shelf cameras from Wyze and loading them with its own software stack.

Rafiee said he pictures Visual One as a mid-tier option for people who want to have more than a basic camera setup but aren’t convinced by the more expensive plays. That way the company avoids going head-on with commodity hardware’s race to the bottom or the brand warfare taking place between Google and Amazon’s Nest and Ring. Cameras cost $30-$40, and the service is $7 per month currently.

Ultimately the low-end companies may want to license from Visual One, while the high-end companies will be developing their own full stack at great cost, making it difficult for them to go downmarket. “Hardware is hard, and AI is specialized — unless you’re a giant company it’s hard to do both. I think we can fill the gap in the market for mid-market companies without those resources,” he said.

Of course privacy is paramount as well, and Rafiee said that because of the way their system works, although the AI lives in the cloud and therefore requires the cameras to be online (like most others), no important user data needs to be or will be stored on Visual One servers. “We do inference in the cloud so we can be hardware agnostic, but we don’t need to store any data. So we don’t add any risk,” he said.

Visual One is launching today (after a stint in YC’s latest cohort) with an initial set of objects and interactions, and will continue developing more as it observes which use cases prove popular and effective.

Tempo reveals $17M-funded $2000 weight lift training screen

Tempo wants to be the Peloton of barbells. It’s a 42-inch tall screen with 3D machine vision that tracks and teaches you as you workout. The giant upright HD display makes it feel like your personal trainer is right there with you while you compete with others in live and on-demand classes.

Tempo’s Microsoft Kinect-esque motion sensors scan you 30 times per second and notify you if your form is wrong. It’s all housed in a sleekly designed free-standing cabinet that neatly stores the included barbells, dumbbells, attachable weights, workout mat, recovery foam roller, and heartrate monitor.

Tempo opens for pre-orders today for $1995, requiring a $250 deposit and $39 monthly content subscription before shipping this summer.

Every single product in the market took a piece of equipment out of a gym and slapped a screen on it” says Tempo CEO and co-founder Moawia Eldeeb. “You need to be able to see a user to actually be able to give them guidance so they can work out safely. We wanted to build a fitness experience from the ground up with training and form feedback at the core of it.”

I demo’d Tempo this week and found the in-home convenience, motivational on-screen personal trainers, and the real-time posture corrections gave me the confidence to lift weights without the fear of injury. It might not feel quite as fun and addictive as Peloton, but it offers a facsimile of personal training that’s more affordable than in-person classes that cost $100 or more.

The idea of democratizing access to trainers is what convinced Eldeeb and the Tempo team to stretch its initial $1.8 million in seed funding for four years. While collecting data from its SmartSpot in-gym weight lifting assessment device, Tempo survived long enough to build this prototype.

“Most investors had given up on us. We built this product and had just $700,000 left” Eldeeb recalls. But once people could try Tempo, “we pitched 10 investors and got 9 term sheets. It got very competitive.” The startup recently walked away with a $17.5 million Series A round from Founders Fund, DCM, and Khosla Ventures. Now Tempo will pour that cash into marketing, retail distribution, R&D, and content production.

A founder’s journey out of homelessness

Tempo’s mission is to change people’s lives for the better like personal training did for Eldeeb. “Training is what took me out of a homeless shelter and got me to where I am I today” he reflects.

Tempo co-founder, CEO, and CPO Moawia Eldeeb

Eldeeb’s family immigrated to the US from Egypt when he was nine. But after an explosion leveled their building, they wound up in a homeless shelter. Eldeeb eventually dropped out of middle school to work in a pizza parlor and help pay the bills. But personal trainers at a local YMCA took him under their wing. He eventually paid his way through a computer science degree at Columbia University by working as a personal trainer to his eventual co-founder and CTO Josh Augustin. “Having trainers say you’re getting stronger taught me I could do something for myself.”

While at school, Eldeeb was developing an idea for a physical therapy wearable while Augustin was building 3D sensors for guiding robot perception. They soon realized that a combination of these ideas “offered us the possibility to deliver on the promise of guiding your form and tracking your progress accurately.”

In 2015, they started a company called Pivot to build SmartSpot — a similar looking upright screen that was designed for gyms. It could track users, but only output raw data about their form, like how bent a user’s knees were during a squat. It then worked with trainers to annotate the data to determine what movement patterns were safe and which were dangerous.

Gym owners bought in because it let them track which trainers were actually helping customers improve. “It held trainers accountable. If you weren’t delivering results, it’d be obvious” Eldeeb tells me. The company built up a dataset of over from over 1 million 3D tagged workouts, from hundreds of gyms, overseen by thousands of trainers. That formed the basis of the artificial intelligence that would let Pivot pivot into Tempo.

Pumping Iron With Tempo

At first, Tempo’s giant screen and black or white armoire can feel a bit daunting. The thing is about six feet tall, though it only takes up as much room as a large chair. It makes efficient use of space, with the barbell and dumbbells racked on the back, an internal shelf for the foam roller and mat, and a soft-closing cabinet on the front with the rubber-coated weight set. Keeping everything together means you won’t have to go digging in your closet to start a work out.

Tempo walks users through an initial computer-vision fitness assessment to understand your strength and flexibility so it can set base levels for its exercises. If you have an injury it needs to nurse, Tempo connects you to a human personal trainer that helps customize your workout plan. Otherwise, it uses your goals and data to set out a progressive regimen that gets a little tougher each day. It even blocks you from jumping into later classes so you don’t strain yourself.

Your workout plan begins with tutorial sessions that teach you to do the exercises with safe and proper form. When I was hunching forward during my squats, Tempo’s computer vision would ding me with instant feedback to keep my knees back and chest up. Then once I’d corrected the issue, it congratulated me with little green checkmarks. “Any product that doesn’t offer that is no better than a DVD or YouTube videos” Eldeeb remarks.

From there I could choose between a variety of class styles and lengths, ranging from high intensity interval training circuits to isolated sessions focused on particular muscle groups. In each, you watch a near life-size personal trainer doing the routines right in front of you while they demonstrate form and drop inspirational quotes.

Tempo is producing seven live classes per day from its San Francisco studio which you can also watch on-demand. You can compete against friends or strangers, and Tempo compares you rep for rep so it’s more about perfect form than reckless speed or weight. The live trainers can actually see all your data and your mistakes on a dashboard as they lead classes, and can call you out for screwing up (though you can deactivate this shame mode). Eldeeb says “knowing the trainer can possibly see your numbers will motivate you to actually do this right.”

The class selection interface is suspiciously similar to Peloton’s, though that at least will make it familiar for some. Over time, you build up an immense collection of data on your performance in each work out, excercise, and muscle. Unlike hitting the gym by yourself, you’ll never struggle to remember how much weight to use or whether you’re improving. Classes are soundtracked with dancey remixes sourced from a partnership with Feed.fm to avoid the royalty issues with original songs that slapped Peloton.

Tempo gives feedback when you’re doing exercises wrong, and when you correct yourself

For a 14-person startup, Tempo is trying to do a ton and that can leave some rough edges. The bluetooth armband heartrate monitor can have connectivity issues and the computer vision doesn’t always register every rep, especially if your posture is off. Classes also fail to include enough stretching to prevent strains, instead devoting the start of classes to warmups that ease you in but might not protect your muscles well enough. My quads were destroyed after my demo.

Tempo still achieves its primary objective: it makes weight lifting accessible. No need to drag yourself to the gym or be beholden to a trainer’s schedule, where I’d always end up arriving late and wasting 25% of my session. The form feedback fixes my core complaint about remote personal training app Future I’ve been using for nine months, which can’t see you. That’s led to minor injuries from bad sit-up posture and other incorrect movements. Tempo can’t catch everything, but it can nip some of the most common mistakes in the bud.

Eldeeb was blunt when asked why Tempo is better than well-funded competitors like $3000 Tonal’s wall-mounted resistance cable-based training system or the $1500 Mirror’s massive screen.

“The biggest problem with Tonal is two-fold. Cables and motors do not last. I want this product to be in your house for 10-plus years. [Tempo] is in gyms running 24/7 in for 3 years and it’s still working. The second biggest thing is just feedback.” While Tonal does include a camera and microphone it might employ in the future, it’s not scanning you to detect when you’re lifting weights crooked like Tempo.

As for Mirror, “What is the difference between ClassPass Live and Mirror? It doesn’t come with any equipment, and there’s no training. It’s just a two-way mirror and a Samsung LED panel behind it with an arduino board” Eldeeb rails. He claims it can’t actually monitor your workouts and that his team’s tests found Mirror would say they’d burned 500 calories when they were literally just sitting on their couch in front of it.

Eldeeb demos Tempo

If the software proves to have high retention so people actually recommend Tempo to friends, the biggest hurdle will be its price. You can buy a couple dumbbells for $50 or get a barbell weight bench for a few hundred. Even if Tempo’s $55 per month financing option plus $39 subscription makes it cheaper than a single personal training session or on-par with a gym membership, it could still seem like a serious commitment.

That feeling is magnified by how all of its equipment and classes and data can feel a bit overwhelming. The startup might have to spend a fortune on retail establishments that can guide users through their first Tempo experience. There’s also no mobile version yet, so you can’t bring the work outs on the road with you.

Eldeeb seems guinely motivated to keep improving the product so it’s better than commuting to work out. “Getting to the gym or class is often half the battle. By bringing the gym to you and structuring the classes to be as efficient as possible, Tempo not only makes improving your health more convenient, but it gives you back your most precious resource: time.”

For those comfortable lifting the cheap weights they have at home or hitting up a budget gym, Tempo might seem needlessly overwrought and expensive. But for anyone who needs more instruction or wants to get a Barry’s Bootcamp-worthy workout at home, Tempo might be just their speed.