Inside Look at the Design and Development of the Cisco Meraki MV Security Cameras

February 28, 2020

We partnered with Cisco Meraki to design their their flagship line of security cameras: The MV Series. These unique waterproof devices offer advanced image analysis without complex installation, can be ceiling or wall-mounted indoors or out, and are ideal for use in offices, schools or commercial spaces. Each camera features onboard video processing to ensure they record and analyze content -constantly.

The design goal for this project was to finally introduce elegant and approachable security cameras to the market. We chose a refined white bowl form to serve as the camera’s nest and created a clean line around its black dome. We then covered it with a glossy lens that vaguely resembles chocolate melting over ice cream.

Each camera was designed from the inside out. We worked with the Meraki team to leverage a simple internal architecture and applied internal shrouds to hide mechanical details and provide a resolved product appearance. Installation is as easy as driving in a couple of screws, and positioning the camera before securing everything in place with the outer lens is also effortless.  

The result is a sophisticated product that immediately harmonizes with the environment, which is why the MV Series is this month’s spotlight design. The blend of perspectives provided throughout this discussion reflects the close collaboration that occurred for this project between our industrial designers and Meraki’s engineering team.

Here is an in-depth conversation with the Whipsaw and Meraki team members behind this product development project.

How did you approach the conceptualization of this product?

Like with most projects, we needed to first learn everything about C-M’s opportunity and objectives—their technology, engineering limitations, context of use, the end user’s pain points and expectations, project risks, development goals, and more. This information provided a framework from which we could begin conceptualizing. We wanted to create a balance between a unique organic design statement and a simple box that would communicate a “confident software vessel.” Finding the sweet spot between these two design approaches was our goal.

Broadly speaking, cameras are a nightmare. To manage them you need to plug them in physically. It’s archaic. We knew straight away we wanted to create a cloud-managed experience unlike traditional cameras which have a hard drive that lives in the room. We had a big opportunity to do this right, especially since a lot of cameras out in the world aren’t even working…They’re almost decorative. It was also important for us to create cameras that could be installed wirelessly so customers could upgrade from analog without having to rip out and replace all the cabling.

During our early phases we decided to do a whole custom ground-up product that incorporated the latest and greatest tech. The tech would basically function as a smart phone with a ton of storage. We kept users in mind who had the serious task of managing footage from multiple places—like the person overseeing all the Peet’s Coffees from one location. We wanted to solve that.

What are the various use cases for this line?

The MV series was designed with really cool use-cases in mind. Agricultural customers in Australia, for example, use the cameras to monitor sheep grazing in the field. These users care about the heat map; where the sheep were standing, etc. Our ability to provide heat maps is a great example on the analytics front, seeing as no actual video is being watched, but we also have other customers using video to monitor and improve processes. The architecture means a chef can monitor processes in kitchens across the country from one location to ensure everything is being made to standard and gauge what effect new recipes may have on workflow. These cameras are especially good for remote areas thanks to their centralized configuration, cloud management, dashboard viewing, and wireless connectivity. For instance, we have a college that installed cameras to monitor the stables in a remote part of their campus. Now, security officers can monitor that area without having to drive 15 minutes.

Cisco Meraki MV Line of Security Cameras

Can you take our readers inside the design of this camera series?

We were inspired by thin elegant dishware forms and thought that might work for cameras too. We needed a deep container for components and the white bowl idea was perfect. We could fill it with components then cap it with one continuous black surface. It looked like a yummy bowl of dark chocolate ice cream.  Since we really didn’t want to create another industrial-looking and intimidating object for this market, this oddly-inspired approach worked. In the end, we successfully combined art and technology to create a beautiful and functional form.

Our design solution breaks the norm of the outdoor camera. We love that the lower bowl form is clean, simple and organic. It is like nothing we’d seen before. Meraki’s brand is simple and easy, so our design style had to be simple with an organic and unexpected twist. The normal dome camera is a sphere—or a bubble on another bubble, but this camera morphs into a black area with a really organic transition. Overall, the X factor of the design is definitely its shape. You’re not gonna see it anyplace else. With this approach, we encountered a lot of optical challenges. Cameras all have a spherical design. Then you peel away to another sphere to avoid light bouncing back into the camera. In an early version, we had a cup sticking out rather than rolling off, and the light bounced off ourselves and back into the camera. We had to tweak the camera structure because we didn’t know how the light would behave until we tried it.

How does this camera line compare to others in this particular market?

The MV security cameras are one of the most gorgeous camera lines on the market. They work better too, and the quality of every detail is outstanding. They each have a significant weight, like precious stones. Even the sustainable packaging exudes quality. Cameras like these are no longer security tools; they’re business tools. IT people (who represent a good chunk of Meraki's customer base) are therefore more aesthetically minded - hence a high-design solution was required. Unlike others who might put security cameras into oversized enclosures and call it a day, we pushed it hard. We worked with a multifaceted team that included electrical and mechanical engineers and industrial designers to eventually get to the point of offering a full set of outstanding features.

Lens detail of the MV security camera

How do we create a world in which security cameras are being used for our best interests while still affording privacy (and not spiraling into 1984 territory)?

In a day and age where all the talk is over privacy and data security, these cameras offer a semantic to both shop owners and customers that is non-threatening and somewhat fun and playful. The form speaks to a level of sophistication that says, “This shop features high quality merchandise, and we are a high-end establishment. What it doesn’t say is, “We are paranoid and watching your every move.” Security cameras might be a necessary evil, but they certainly don’t need to look evil.

Facial recognition technology is also still being proven and its legality is being played out in various arenas. The GDPR highly regulates and restricts its use in places like the EU, whereas legislation in the US varies state to state. Even in places where formal regulations don’t exist, there are still ethical questions about its use. We decided to use machine learning-based computer vision to detect, classify, and track objects within the frame of the camera, anonymously. This object detection allows the cameras to know how many people there are, and where they were moving while in view, without identifying individuals.

We spent a lot of time considering the privacy of the individuals being recorded, so our first priority was to make sure video access was totally secure. We also created unique logins for each user, and our admins can be set up to have access to all cameras or certain groups of cameras. Permissions can be set to permit viewing and exporting video, viewing only, or live video viewing only. Sometimes ensuring their privacy means blacking out parts of a video frame that contains sensitive information. To do so, we use “privacy windows” which prevent a video from being seen or recorded in a certain area.

Data obtained from this camera line is therefore meant for use only for circumstances such as improving worker safety, locating where people are in a building during an emergency, and enhancing the overall customer experience.

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