When three former Palm executives started public testing of their security monitoring software late last year, the goal was to prove to the world that the product--Vitamin D--was really better than other technologies at distinguishing humans from other moving objects.
But several months of testing also led to some rather interesting things being caught on tape.
Owners of a San Leandro, Calif., coffee shop, for example, were able to determine who was stealing pastries once a month, forcing a $300 pastry order to be scrapped each time.
"This is exactly what we wanted to do by getting out the free beta," Vitamin D co-founder Greg Shirai said in a telephone interview. "Our theory was that people were going to just going to try it and come up with their own uses."
Vitamin D, a start-up led by Shirai and former colleagues Rob Haitani and Celeste Baranski, is looking to shake up the security market with software that can use an ordinary Web cam to conduct surveillance, using the company's software to detect anytime a human being comes into the scene. The company's software uses artificial-intelligence technology licensed from Jeff Hawkins' Numenta.
The ultimate goal of Vitamin D is not just to be in the security software space, but to improve the technology to be able to do more advanced analysis of video using artificial intelligence.
The goal, though, is for the initial version of the software to prove to be useful enough that people will download, and eventually pay for, the technology. So far, Shirai says, he's encouraged with some of the uses that the thousands of beta testers have uncovered.
A prize pumpkin grower in Los Altos, Calif., for example, has been using the software to monitor his collection, some of which weigh up to 1,200 pounds. The more expensive software he used previously tended to cause a lot of false positives as the pumpkin leaves rustled in the wind.
While the false positives are down, the farmer did catch some curious deer (see video) as well as some pumpkin enthusiasts sneaking in to take pictures.
Meanwhile, Dan Kreifus, of Mount Laurel, N.J., found out that his dog walker was taking food from his pantry and, more importantly, not even walking the dog. "I set it up in my house on a laptop and was able to catch my dog walker stealing some food from my pantry as well as not actually walking my dog! (which explains the mess we would have at times)," Kreifus told the company.
As for Vitamin D's product, the software is nearly done with beta testing and a final version is expected to be released next week. Although the company hasn't announced pricing, Shirai said the company will maintain a free version that works with a single camera and has features comparable to what has been in beta.