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Home automation device offers HD fisheye pan/tilt

Aug 23, 2013 — by Eric Brown 6,450 views

[Updated Jun 24, 2014] — A $209 Linux-powered home automation and security system aimed at apartment dwellers is off to a strong crowdfunding start on Indiegogo. BlackSumac’s Piper features motion, sound, and temperature detectors, and offers a 180-degree fisheye HD camera with pan and zoom viewable and controllable via smartphone apps.

Linux-based home automation and security systems such as Control4 have been gradually stealing market share from more expensive proprietary systems for years. Lately we’ve seen a wave of more modest, Linux-based solutions aimed at less affluent customers, including the new WigWag system. Like WigWag, BlackSumac’s Piper starts at a few hundred dollars and was born via crowdfunding. Piper jumped out to a fast start on Indiegogo on Aug. 21. At publication time, Ottawa-based startup BlackSumac was close to reaching half its $100,000 goal for Sept. 20.

BlackSumac Piper and its embedded electronics
(click images to enlarge)


The early-bird $189 packages are gone, but a $209 version is still available, along with other options. These include a $299 deal that tosses in two Z-Wave door/window security sensors, and a $599 package that provides three Piper units.


The Piper is designed for apartments and smaller homes, which BlackSumac suggests are poorly served by most home automation and security systems. According to the company, there is an 85 percent higher chance of being burglarized in an apartment than in a single-dwelling home.

Piper HD fisheye view seen on Android and iOS smartphones
(click image to enlarge)


The apartment focus appears to be behind the decision to include a wide-angle HD video camera, which lets homeowners checking in via Piper’s iOS or Android app quickly see how it’s hanging on the homefront. The app even lets users pan, tilt, and zoom the 180-degree fisheye lens, and the 1920 x 1080-pixel Omnivision CMOS sensor provides sufficiently high resolution to check on smaller details.

Users can set up rules to alert them according to triggers from the camera, microphone, IR motion sensor, and others sensors in each Piper unit, including humidity and temperature detection. The motion detector can be set up to ignore pets, says BlackSumac.

BlackSumac Piper mobile app screenshot examples
(click images to enlarge)


Responses to a break-in include various notification options, video recording, two-way audio, or blasting the built-in 105 dB siren. If one has a light equipped with a Z-Wave wireless chip, a rule can be set up to turn the light on based on certain triggers. Up to 232 Z-Wave devices, including heating systems and air conditioners, can be paired to a single Piper, and multiple Pipers can be strung together to create a network. Z-Wave devices can be controlled according to a schedule or based on sensor input.

Cloud software, which communicates via secure SSL, enables users to view stored video of an event even if the Piper itself is no longer online. Yet the Piper’s rules are embedded in the system itself, letting it operate even if the Internet is unavailable. The initial version offers WiFi, and a cellular model is in the works.

There are still some details missing on the Piper, including dimensions, but judging from the photos, the stylish unit appears to be not much bigger than a smartphone. According to an email from BlackSumac’s cloud development expert Reza Kazemi, the device runs Linux on an ARM-based, Texas Instruments DaVinci processor. The Piper includes 128MB of DDR2 RAM and 256MB of flash, which can be used for local video storage if the cloud video storage service is not available. More details can be found in the list below.

Specifications listed for the Piper include:

  • Processor — TI DaVinci ARM SoC with h.264 encoding
  • Memory — 128MB DDR2 RAM; 256MB flash
  • Wireless:
    • 802.11b/g/n (Marvell WiFi chipset)
    • Z-Wave controller
    • Passive infrared motion sensor (up to 20 feet)
  • Camera:
    • HD camera with 180-degree fisheye lens
    • 1920 x 1080 Omnivision CMOS sensor
    • Remote pan, tilt, and zoom
  • Audio — Mic; speaker; 105 dB siren
  • Sensors:
    • Ambient light sensor
    • Temperature sensor
    • Humidity sensor
    • 3-axis accelerometer
  • Other features — RGB LED; wall mounts
  • Power — 7.5W AC/DC wall adaptor; battery backup
  • Operating system — Linux (OpenEmbedded)

The Linux stack is based on OpenEmbedded, and includes oPKG firmware update and recovery services, according to Kazemi. A custom version of Gstreamer is provided for audio processing and video looping and streaming.

Additional custom software, subject to change, includes:

  • RTSP-based streaming
  • Security triggers
  • Cloud infrastructure / API integration (over HTTPS)
  • Encryption and security (using OpenSSL)
  • Hardware polling and control (via custom kernel drivers and SPI/UART/I2C/GPIO)
  • Portmapping (uPNP and nat-pmp)

BlackSumac plans to release “any modifications we have made to any sources (such as U-Boot/kernel) as would be required,” said Kazemi. “We’re definitely interested in the hacker community and the possibilities of opening up Piper as much as possible.”

The WiFi version of the Piper is available now for Indiegogo pre-sale funding, starting at $209, with shipments due in November, and Android and iOS app availability due in January. A $249 cellular version is due June 2014. More information can be found at the Piper Indiegogo page and at the Piper product page.


Blacksumac and the Piper device were acquired by iControls Networks in April 2014.


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One response to “Home automation device offers HD fisheye pan/tilt”

  1. pert says:

    Great info, thanks for the write-up.

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