This home security camera is smarter than Amazon and Google's, but it's expensive

Key Points
  • You can ask the Lighthouse camera when it last saw kids, your dog, when the babysitter came home and more.
  • It's the smartest home camera I've ever used.
  • It's also expensive and I wish it worked with a home security system.
Lighthouse AI aims to build a home camera that understands what it sees

I've been testing a home security camera for the past week that's far smarter than any other competing product, including those from Amazon and Google.

It's called the Lighthouse camera, built by Palo Alto startup Lighthouse AI, and it's capable of more accurately alerting you of humans, pets, and other things that your camera might notice while you're not home.

It uses technology similar to that found in self-driving cars, and is capable of recognizing 3D objects, making it more accurate than cameras that can only view 2D images and might get tricked by things such as changes in light.

Here's what you should know:

The Lighthouse camera tells you what's going on

You can ask the Lighthouse camera app to show specific events.

The Lighthouse AI camera can be configured to record every time you're away (it knows your smartphone's location) or even while you're home. It can then "ping" you based on certain events: If it sees a dog run across the room, a human enter the house -- such as a dog-walker or babysitter -- or a stranger who shouldn't be there.

At any moment during the day, you speak — or type — a specific query to the camera through the Lighthouse app. "Did you see any pets?" brought up every time my dog ran across the living room, for example. You can ask if it saw your babysitter, when your kids got home from school, or if your dog walker actually came on time. It worked really well when I asked it about my dog and humans the camera might have seen.

It works really well, too. I only had one time when the camera mistook my dog for a human, and that's when she was sleeping on the couch under a blanket that made her look larger than she is. Admittedly, I was a little concerned when I got the alert, but I was able to quickly tap into the camera to see a clip of my dog and a live view of the room.

A close up of the Lighthouse camera sensors.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

There are some fun features. You can save those clips of your dog doing something silly and send them to someone, or a family member can come in and wave at the camera and you'll get a notice that someone said hi. The latter isn't too useful, but a traveling parent might enjoy a wave from a son or daughter while away on a business trip.

The Lighthouse camera isn't so much a security camera as it is a smart set of eyes that can very accurately tell you what's going on. And unlike other cameras, you don't need to scrub through hours of recordings to see what happened while you were away: All actions are saved and easily searchable.

There are some downsides: The Lighthouse is rather large, much bigger and more intrusive than its competitors, given the brains and the cameras it needs to pack to work. It's so big that several visitors to my house asked me what it was, while others haven't commented so much on the smaller cameras I've had around.

It's expensive

The Lighthouse camera is smart, but it's also very large
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Here's the thing: You need to pay for the fancy AI features I just talked about.

The Lighthouse camera costs $299 but the AI features, which you need to really make it stand out against the competition, cost an additional $10 a month or $200 for permanent access. All in, we're talking about spending $499 for an in-home security camera that can only see one room of your house. That's pretty limited, considering things are happening all over your home that the Lighthouse won't see.

Google's Nest IQ indoor camera isn't as good at detecting humans and pets (I frequently get false alerts if the sun creates shadows in a room, for example), but it costs $299 and cloud recording is $5 a month or $50 a year. That brings up another point.

There's no security system

It's smart but doesn't quite match the decor.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Lighthouse camera, smart as it is, doesn't tie in with a home security system. If you see someone in your house after receiving a ping -- and only if you're lucky enough to notice -- you can manually sound a loud alarm that's build into the camera. It doesn't call the police, though, like monitored systems do. You just have to hope that siren is enough to scare someone off.

For $800, I can get a Nest IQ camera and a Nest alarm system that will activate if someone opens a door or window when I'm not home. I don't even need the camera to see if someone broke in, and I don't have to activate the alarm remotely. More importantly, Nest just added active monitoring, which means the police department will arrive if you pay for a monthly agreement (it starts at $19/month for a 3-year agreement, or $29 month-to-month.)

Should you buy the Lighthouse camera?

It has similar smart sensors as semi-autonomous cars.
Todd Haselton | CNBC

It all depends on what you need it for. If you want to monitor your home and make sure the dog walker comes home on time or your high school kid isn't sneaking in at 3 a.m., then the Lighthouse camera is really good and alerting you of those sorts of actions.

If you want to truly protect your house, I'd sacrifice the smarts and get a Nest Secure alarm system that pairs with a camera such as the Nest IQ, that way you have eyes and protection on windows and doors should someone try to break in.

Lighthouse is only going to improve over time, I was told in a meeting with the company, which means more features are on the way. If it can ever link up with an alarm system, this would be the best security camera you can buy, hands down.