Nikon, Sony, and others form alliance to make smart cameras play NICE

Cloud with secure camera, NICE alliance
D3Damon / Getty

Android phones can run the same applications regardless of whether the brand behind the phone is Samsung or Google — but what if smart cameras had the same compatibility? On March 6, Foxconn, Nikon, Scenera, Sony Semiconductor Solutions Corporation, and Wistron announced an agreement to develop an ecosystem that could bring Android-like compatibility to smart cameras. It’s called the Network of Intelligent Camera Ecosystem (NICE) Alliance.

The agreement aims to create smart camera standards and to develop a shared cloud infrastructure. Cameras with NICE specifications would store images and video in the cloud, with NICE handling standardized encryption and AI processing for object recognition.

David Lee, the CEO of Scenera, the California-based startup spearheading the development of the new standard, says the idea is to bring Android-like compatibility to all manner of smart cameras, from security cameras to baby monitors, along with embedded cameras on personal assistant devices.

“If you look at the camera today, all the software is custom-made by the company — it’s really difficult to mix cameras together,” he explained. “Having a common ground, just like Android for Google, that’s the kind of ecosystem we want to build.”

For consumers, the NICE Alliance could potentially drive four big changes to the smart camera industry. First, the cameras could all share the same AI infrastructure on the cloud. This would allow smart cameras to access features not provided by the manufacturer. For example, Lee explains that currently, smart cameras tend to send a lot of false notifications — the family dog, for example, can trigger a motion alert. Using a shared AI, cameras could be much smarter, learning the difference between Fido and a burglar, without requiring manufacturers to develop their own AI.

Second, third-party developers could introduce even more capabilities through software. Developing a smart camera API would allow for the same wide range of apps from multiple companies.

Third, users could potentially build security systems with cameras from different brands that would all play nicely together, recording video that is all stored in the same cloud and accessible by the same app.

Finally, the alliance could eventually help promote forward compatibility, extending a camera’s lifespan through software updates.

The NICE standard is just a work in progress, but it has the backing of several big players. Nikon is well known in the photography world, while Sony is the largest manufacturer of image sensors. Foxconn is most known for manufacturing tech products, including the iPhone, and Wistron is a global supplier for information and communication technology.

The group plans to have the specification standards finished by the end of this year before working with vendors and developers. If that timeline holds up, the first NICE Alliance product could be on the market in the first half of 2019, Lee says.

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