Apple Invents a Data-Secure Sensor System for Security Cameras that will be integrated into future HomePods
When Apple introduced the new HomePod mini on October 13th, they didn't just introduce a smaller HomePod, they introduced the beginning of a new smart home system. The first graphic below is from Apple's HomePod mini's webpage. Patently Apple has covered a couple of major smart home patents recently (01 and 02) and today's report covers yet another one titled "Data-Secure Sensor System."
Earlier this month the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that relates to home security systems, and in particular to video camera systems configured for monitoring a data sensitive environment.
Apple's patent background states that smart home technology has greatly improved in power and functionality in recent years and can provide an enhanced user experience that can be tailored to meet an individual user's particular needs. For instance, smart lights, smart security systems, smart entertainment systems, environmental control systems (HVAC), and the like, are becoming more and more customizable and integrated as the internet-of-things (IoT) sets a foothold in modern home designs.
Home security cameras, in particular, are more prevalent and provide sophisticated capabilities to help users better secure their home. In some systems, users can have the convenience of remotely viewing and controlling aspects of their security cameras via a laptop, smart phone, or other mobile device. That way, a user can safely investigate unexpected activity at the home, monitor visitors or guests, check for mail deliveries, and the like.
However, security cameras, sensors, etc., can be vulnerable to hacking or other cybercrimes, which may give unauthorized individuals access to sensitive images or details about a user's home.
For that reason, users typically do not install cameras in sensitive or private areas such as a bedroom or bathroom, or areas where security is paramount (e.g., location of a safe or valuables), despite the fact that activity in these areas may be important to the user. For instance, it can be very important to know when someone is accessing a safe or if vulnerable individuals (e.g., small children or elderly) need assistance.
So, while home security cameras and smart homes in general have improved much over the last decade, there still remains many limitations and vulnerabilities in these system and better alternative solutions to these problems are needed.
Apple's patent covers a data-secure system which includes one or more processors configured to: receive sensor data corresponding to a physical area; and generate descriptive data based on the sensor data, the descriptive data being different than the sensor data, and the descriptive data corresponding to information about identified objects or activity in the physical area; and an input/output (I/O) port, where the one or more processors are further configured to: prevent the sensor data from being accessible via any external port of the data-secure system, including the I/O port; and allow the descriptive data to be accessible via the I/O port. The data-secure system may further include an I/O choke communicatively coupled between the one or more processors and the I/O port, the I/O choke configured to limit a communication bandwidth of the I/O port. The I/O choke may limit the communication bandwidth to any suitable maximum data rate (e.g., including but not limited to a maximum data rate set between 5 kbps and 100 kbps.).
In some embodiments, the one or more processors can include a machine learning (ML) processor configured to generate the descriptive data, where the data-secure system further includes: an input port; and a second memory block communicatively coupled between input port and the one or more processors, wherein the second memory block is configured to store configuration data received via the input port, the configuration data configured to update the ML processor, and wherein the second memory block is only writeable via the input port and only readable via the one or more processors.
In some implementations, the data-secure system can further include a data monitoring processor coupled to the I/O port and configured to: detect sensor data passing through the I/O port; and take remedial action in response to detecting the sensor data passing through the I/O port.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates how a conventional camera system may be used in a private location; FIG. 2 shows how a data-secure sensor system can be used in a private location.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 below illustrates an alternative embodiments of a simplified block diagram of a trusted environment in a data-secure sensor system.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 above illustrates a simplified block diagram of a data-secure sensor system with an enhanced image transfer monitoring system (SEP) with high bandwidth communication capabilities
Patently Apple has generally covered this as a new patent in this report because we didn't cover the original patent filing. However, it's technically a "continuation patent." That means that they've updated their patent claims.
On that aspect of the patent, the only patent claim that differs from their granted patent 10,762,755 issued on September 1, 2020 is claim #8 which is presented below. This is completely new as follows:
Claim #8: "A non-transitory computer-program product tangibly embodied in a machine-readable non-transitory storage medium that includes instructions configured to cause one or more processors of a data-secure system to: receive and analyze sensor data corresponding to a physical area; generate descriptive data based on the sensor data that includes information that describes content captured by the sensor data specifically about identified objects or activity in the physical area, wherein the descriptive data is different than the sensor data; receive a request for information corresponding to the physical area; send the descriptive data to an I/O port in response to receiving the request; and prevent the sensor data from being accessible via any external communication port of the data-secure system, including the I/O port."
You could review Apple's patent application number 20200365000 for the finer details of this invention. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
So, how realistic is it that we'll see an in-Home camera system from Apple in the future? Very realistic. Back in August of this year we posted a report titled "Apple Wins a Patent for an Indoor Security Camera System that they acquired from Lighthouse AI Last Year." We covered the original news of Apple's acquisition back in March 2019.
Below is a video created by CNBC covering the "Lighthouse" in-home security camera system.
Patently Apple also covered an extensive Apple patent about a camera in a future HomePod (mini or not) back in August 2020 titled: "Apple Invents HomePod with Built-in Camera that Provides Siri with Eyes to deliver Next-Gen Commands & Longer-Range Face ID," that you could check out here. A few of Apple's Patent figures from that patent are presented below.