MicroPower makes surveillance truly wire-less

Jan. 9, 2012
With $6.5 million from Motorola and a private fund, solar-powered wireless camera firm readies for masses

Jan. 9, 2012 -- MicroPower Technologies, a small San Diego-based tech firm offering wireless video surveillance, has caught the eye of technology mega-firm Motorola Solutions to the tune of $6.5 million. That's the amount that Motorola Solutions' venture capital arm and an undisclosed private fund has invested in MicroPower's first institutional round of funding.

Why is Motorola Solutions Venture Capital putting money out for this small firm? According to MicroPower's CEO Jonathan Siann, the interest came down to MicroPower's unique ability to do exactly what the company's name implies -- to use an inordinately low amount of power to run a video surveillance camera and a wireless radio.

Pop over to the company's website and you will find the Rugged-i, a surveillance image capture unit that manages to fit a solar power system and back-up battery, a wireless duplex radio, and the surveillance camera and lens all into a housing the same size that most outdoor cameras use. Because of the low power consumption, the camera doesn't face the heat or humidity build-up that often comes with the territory of higher-power draws.

"The ability to fit into the form factor is based on a technology of high-efficiency video capture and transmission," Siann explained. "When you reduce the power needed by 90 percent, it allows you to deploy that size form factor and that cable-free capability. In the case of the Rugged-i, it allows you to remove the cables fully – not even requiring power cables."

An outdoor surveillance camera solution without wires may not be truly revolutionary, but most similar configurations take the entire top of a mounting pole, with an array of photovoltaic cells to provide power, a large battery, an external radio, and the camera itself. That small form factor of MicroPower's Rugged-i keeps everything integrated, which means easier installation when a technician is up on the ladder.

The unit can communicate its wireless signals for up to a ½-mile to MicroPower's MiniHub, a wireless hub that can receive the signals from up to four Rugged-i cameras. That amount of range combined with the standalone nature of the Rugged-i cameras makes the solution useful for a variety of environments where trenching power and communications cables to a camera just isn't practical. Siann said interest for the cameras is common for parking lots, at critical infrastructure, along roadways and in public safety environments.

Of course, for what you gain in a true cable-less install, security buyers can expect to give up a little bit on the feature set. While the industry races toward HD and megapixel video surveillance at full frame rates, the $2,500 Rugged-i camera pushes only five frames per second at a 640x480 resolution. It might not be high-resolution enough to recognize faces at a distance or to count the hairs on your suspect's arms, but it's plenty enough to give the basic situational awareness you need to secure remote environments. The solar power system will work in most locations (presuming your installers don't put your cameras under dense shade trees or under the eaves of your building), but there are some location limitations. Towns like Seattle won't be suitable for this unit, but for most U.S. states (48 of them), the solution will do just fine, said Siann.

Now with $6.5 million in its company coffers and 18 employees, MicroPower is getting ready to take its cable-less gospel to the masses. Siann said the company is not only developing new product versions, but plans to use the funding round to market its solution to the channel. It's already supported by a number of prominent video management software companies (Exacq, Milestone, Genetec and others are already on the fit list).

"The key thing for integrators is that this is something that gives them the ability to access locations they couldn't before," Siann said. "These companies could have lost the job because they couldn't affordably get video into a specific area."

From Motorola's perspective, the investment in MicroPower doesn't mean they're preparing to buy the company (although that has happened on occasion in the past with investments from Motorola Solutions Venture Capital). According to Mel Gaceta, the investment manager for Motorola, "A lot of the technology they've got fits directly into our focused verticals, such as public safety, retail and industrial. We started working with them about two years ago and came across them through some discussion with our public safety business unit."

For now, Motorola is placing a $6.5 million bet that the ability to take video surveillance truly wire-less while retaining a small form factor is a winning opportunity.

About the Author

Geoff Kohl | Editorial Director/Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher

Geoff Kohl is editor-in-chief and associate publisher of SecurityInfoWatch.com and editorial director for Cygnus Security Media magazines Security Technology Executive and Security Dealer & Integrator (SD&I). In 2011 he founded the Secured Cities conference, an urban security/municipal video surveillance conference for law enforcement and city management. In his editorial role, he has covered the security and public safety industries for eight years, and is host of SIW's webinar training series and the SIW Radio podcast program. He is also author of The Security Check blog. He can be written to at [email protected].