Avaak Technology Lets Users Create Their Own Personal Video Networks

3/30/09Follow @bvbigelow

When San Diego-based Avaak made its debut earlier this month at the spring DEMO conference in Palm Desert, CA, chief executive Gioia Messinger offered a grand description of the company’s personal video technology.”It’s like your own personal Google Street View, except it’s live, expandable, sharable, and easy—very, very easy,” Messinger told the Demo audience.

The technology enables users to easily set up a wireless Internet gateway and two small video cameras for $300, providing real-time video of anything from a family gathering to a company warehouse that can be viewed online via a personal “VueZone” account. In the same way that YouTube became ubiquitous and Google Earth forever changed the way people view the planet, Messinger said in a company statement, “We believe the Vue personal video network will transform the way consumers use remote video viewing.”

Since Avaak plans to begin selling the technology in the next few months, I met recently with Messinger and marketing vice-president Dan Gilbert to hear the Avaak story.

avaak-familyMessinger told me the idea for Avaak’s technology was hatched about five years ago, when the Pentagon was searching for inexpensive sensors that U.S. troops could leave behind when they must evacuate an area after securing it. In particular, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency was looking to expand on wireless networking technology developed by a UC Berkeley computer science team headed by Kris Pister. The Berkeley team created wireless networks consisting of millimeter-sized sensors that were so small and so inexpensive that Pister coined the term “smart dust” to describe them. (Avaak itself is the Hebrew word for dust.) Such technology could be used by the military to track enemy movements, or to detect poisonous gas or radioactivity. Since then, Pister has founded his own startup, Dust Networks, a Hayward, CA-based company commercializing the technology for monitoring major industrial plants.

Instead of developing sensors, however, Messinger said she and Avaak co-founder Bar-Giora Goldberg proposed developing an inexpensive, low-power wireless network of sugar-cube-sized video cameras. Troops could simply throw handfuls of the cameras across the countryside as they withdrew from a zone they had secured. Each camera would act as a node in a wireless mesh network that could be used to transmit the digital video signals to a military intelligence center, allowing for safe and unobtrusive surveillance.

Messinger said the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency provided $2 million in funding Avaak’s proposal, which it used to develop a proprietary mesh networking protocol called FrameMesh. The Avaak team conducted successful field demonstrations of its technology at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, CA, and at Army training centers in Fort Monmouth, NJ and Fort Polk, LA.  Messinger said the technology has been incorporated into a program that Avaak is now doing for the Navy, and she expects it eventually will be deployed by the Marine Corps and the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.

avaak-camera_mount1Meanwhile, co-founders Messinger and Goldberg became increasingly focused on the commercial possibilities of their technology. In 2007, they raised $7 million in venture capital funding to develop their technology for consumer markets. Three Silicon Valley VC firms supported the Series A round: Trinity Ventures, InterWest Partners, and Leapfrog Ventures. “We wanted people who were interested and had dealt with consumer products in the past,” Messinger said. “Trinity was an early investor in Starbucks, Jamba Juice, and Image Bucket, so they were very keen on building consumer brands and we were lucky enough to have them support us.”

Before Avaak’s debut at DEMO “we were kind of operating in stealth mode,” Messinger said. She contends the technology represents a potential sea change in the way streaming video gets used by online communities.

“People are always thinking of video in the home as a surveillance or monitoring technology,” she said. “But we see it as video that can record your kid’s Taekwondo session or a birthday.” With a playback feature and the ability to store many hours of personal video at Avaak’s data center, Messinger said Vue can encourage users to share their candid video moments with friends and families.

She also sees business applications, such as enabling pet owners to watch their pets at a kennel while they’re on vacation or while their pets are recuperating at a veterinary hospital. The Vue network also might help office-bound business owners keep an eye on their warehouses, loading docks, or other remote operations.

“The whole value proposition is simplicity,” Messinger says. “Anybody can install it. There is no software. It is zero-configuration networking. You just plug it in and it finds our data center.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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