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In September, 2019 a series of Nest devices began disregarding their regular video and temperature settings — oscillating wildly and in the case of one Wisconsin couple, feeding strange voices through their Nest kitchen camera while setting the home’s temperature to 90 degrees fahrenheit.

Consumer IoT device hacks reached a historical and notably dystopian crescendo this past fall. With Nest claiming to have sold at least 11 million home IoT units since launching in 2011 and Wyze and Ring’s eye popping sales numbers in the many millions respectively: the total internet connected home security camera market in the United States is easily in the tens of millions.

Sitting in the Menlo Park office this past fall, the team at IoTeX recognized this troubling trend of breaches in the home security camera market as an obvious example of how blockchain-based privacy controls are necessary to make IoT devices work for their users, not against them. For buyers of home security cameras, nothing could be more perverse than to have the very thing you purchased to try and protect your home be used in a way that directly makes your family less safe.

‘I’m your best friend, I’m Santa Clause!” —Hackers talking to an 8-year old girl through a compromised Ring Camera.

Since IoTeX’s founding in 2017, our mission has been to empower our world with trusted devices and trusted data — the Internet of Trusted Things. That ultimately means devices will begin working directly for users and with users. In other words, IoT devices will begin to align with Steve Jobs legendary vision for technology as a “bicycle for the mind”.

The launch of Ucam is more than just a product release — it represents a new paradigm for consumer data ownership. Developed in partnership with Tenvis, a leading IoT manufacturer since 2005 and Amazon’s Choice for security cameras, Ucam delivers cutting-edge features, enhanced security, and full data privacy. Over the past several months, IoTeX and Tenvis have worked closely to develop this first-of-its-kind product — what a journey it has been!

In this blog, we share our journey of making a new kind of user-centric security camera: Ucam, spanning blockchain, firmware, mobile application, and hardware design.

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Blockchain

Unlike most blockchain apps/products today, Ucam is meant to be used out-of-the-box by mainstream consumers, many of which will experience blockchain for the very first time. When designing Ucam we knew we had to utilize blockchain in meaningful and intuitive ways to guarantee both functionality and a great user experience.

Blockchain is the root of trust for the IoTeX Network. When designing Ucam, IoTeX and Tenvis discussed several novel approaches to incorporate blockchain, eventually reaching the perfect balance of user experience and functionality. The final result? Real, easy, and affordable privacy for all users:

  • Blockchain-based identity for enhanced security: with one click, users generate a unique blockchain login that is not brute force hackable and also separate from one’s Internet identity, directly addressing the root cause of most security camera hacks today such as the Ring and Nest breaches.
  • Decentralized issuance of encryption keys for full data privacy: seamless delivery of a one-of-a-kind encryption key to users via blockchain. Unlike other cameras, Ucam users are the only ones with the encryption key — not IoTeX, not Tenvis, and especially not hackers!
  • Customizable blockchain parameters: for advanced users, Ucam offers developer-friendly features, including decentralized storage of files (e.g., IPFS) and fine-grained access controls via Decentralized Identity (DID) and a smart contract.

Firmware

A non-visible yet crucial component of Ucam is custom firmware built from scratch by the IoTeX team. Firmware in IoT devices interacts directly with various electrical components and is critical to both hardware and software operation. Unlike software, firmware must be 100% bug-free — months of dedicated development (i.e., complex, low-level C code) were required to make Ucam feature-rich, robust, and compatible with IoTeX blockchain.

The most complex (and rewarding) aspects of Ucam firmware development were integrating custom end-to-end encryption and performing various optimizations to accommodate Ucam’s resource-constrained hardware environment. The resulting firmware allows users to enable full privacy mode and protect both livestreams and video clips with end-to-end trust.

IoTeX will continue to enhance the Ucam firmware with new features, which will automatically be added to users’ cameras through the over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates.

Mobile Application (UI/UX)

For a mainstream audience, even the most technically sophisticated devices are meaningless if users cannot easily use them. This is why it was a top priority for IoTeX to pair Ucam’s first-of-its-kind technology with an attractive user interface (UI) and seamless user experience (UX). After evaluating thousands of product reviews of other security cameras, we realized great UI/UX is centered around simple setup, intuitive dashboard, and accessible features, all of which are delivered in the Ucam mobile app.

One of the largest hurdles to blockchain adoption is account/key management. While blockchain enthusiasts are used to public/private keys and multi-step signing processes, everyday consumers expect turnkey services. As such, we held countless working sessions to design/develop a one-click setup process that even users unfamiliar with blockchain will find intuitive. It’s even easier than setting up a device with email/password login!

View from Ucam control panel

Hardware & Aesthetic Design

The final piece of the puzzle was to package our state-of-the-art technology in an aesthetically pleasing hardware design. After all, nobody wants to put a clunky and unattractive device in their home! To solve this challenge, we consulted many of our connections in the hardware industry to land upon the perfect design for Ucam.

Ucam’s design was inspired by the industrial design philosophy of ”form follows function”  the shape (form) that something takes should be chosen based on its intended purpose (function). The design of Ucam is meant to impress upon users that “Ucam works for You” and delivers the feeling of security/privacy to users. This led to design decisions, such as Ucam’s friendly robot shape (i.e., BB8), matte black color, and compact size.

What’s Next?

Throughout the next two weeks January 20–February 3rd, IoTeX will release details about Ucam, including amazing camera features (e.g., 1080p video, 360° coverage, motion detection, two-way audio, night vision) and, more importantly, unique “Powered by IoTeX” features (e.g., blockchain authorization, end-to-end encryption, full data privacy, private storage).

To stay updated on UCam product updates and to receive first access to our waitlist sign up on the UCam website.

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About IoTeX

Founded as an open source platform in 2017, IoTeX is building the Internet of Trusted Things, where all physical and virtual “things” — humans, machines, businesses, and DApps — can exchange information and value at global scale.

Backed by a global team of 30+ top research scientists and engineers, IoTeX combines blockchain, secure hardware, and decentralized identity to empower intelligent IoT networks and machine economies. By serving as a decentralized trust fabric for IoT, IoTeX will empower the future decentralized world by “connecting the physical world, block by block”.