Bosch shuts down its app store for AI-powered, Internet-connected Cameras

Bosch, a leading provider of Internet-of-Things (IoT) products and solutions, has recently announced the shutdown of its app store for AI-powered, internet-connected cameras.

In 2018, Bosch (an appliance conglomerate) created a startup called Security and Safety Things with the intention of helping developers create software for AI-equipped cameras.

SAST planned to create a moderated, safe “app store” for internet-connected cameras that would allow developers to build software using an open standard. The main focus of the software would be security and business intelligence use cases.

SAST originally launched the app store back in 2020 but decided to change its name (and the name of the store) to Azena afterward. They also set up a new HQ in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Despite all this, and after receiving tens of millions from Bosch, SAST/Azena never quite managed to reach the level of success that was initially hoped for.

Our sources say that Azena is shutting down its storefront and transitioning to in-house projects for Bosch. In an official statement, a spokesperson for Bosch said that notifying partners and customers has been completed and that Azena will “fully honor” any agreements.

The spokesperson emailed their statement-

“Moving forward, Azena will focus on Bosch internal business and stop external business development. This includes a transition to maintenance and support only for [Azena’s software]. All platform components of Azena stay operational for now … We are actively working on a transition plan.”

With over 100 applications at its peak, Azena’s marketplace was fairly strong compared to other IP camera markets. Just like popular app stores for smartphones, it allowed developers to sell their apps and provide demos for potential customers. The store would also manage saving settings, as well as restore them later on, and make sure configurations were similar throughout all cameras.

Azena had also been developing an operating system for cameras that enabled supported models to run multiple AI-enabled apps simultaneously before it was forced to partially shut down.

Android-based manufacturers including Qisda/Topview, AndroVideo, Vivotek, and Bosch sold cameras with firmware that powered apps for heat mapping and queue analysis in retail stores, automated payment processing, license plate recognition, and more.

As of September 2021, Azena had more than 120 employees in its offices located in Munich, Pittsburgh, and its R&D hub in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

The startup’s clients included the NHL hockey team the Pittsburgh Penguins, who used Azena to monitor entrance crowding, recognize license plates, and find out overcrowding near fan merchandise retail locations.

Earlier this year, Azena created controversy when people discovered that the startup was only auditing the software in its app store superficially.

The company’s terms of use state that any app’s developers and users are responsible for the ethics and legality of said app.

Some apps profess to accurately detect weapons and analyze human behavior–something that many ethicists believe is impossible for Artificial Intelligence systems, no matter how sophisticated.

Azena responded to the public, remarking that any developers working on its platform must agree to follow the ethical business standards set by the United Nations.

However, the startup confessed that it couldn’t monitor how Azena-powered cameras were implemented and didn’t confirm if apps sold on its platform abided by developer agreements.

According to the Intercept, Azena was accused of being years behind on creating patches to fix security exploits that would give hackers access to cameras running its operating system. Although Azena denies this claim, they do admit that their firmware allows users to sideload applications from sources outside of the app store onto supported cameras.

Despite its difficulties, Azena made a name for itself in the IP camera space. The company’s market share was estimated to have grown by 10 percent last year alone.

With Bosch now deciding to close down Azena’s public app store and refocus on internal projects, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the company and other developers who rely on it. It’s clear that this change will have a significant impact on the IP camera industry, and it remains to be seen what implications this decision will have for the future of tech-enabled surveillance.

For now, all we can do is wait and see where Azena will go from here. It’s clear that their decision to shut down the public app store is not one to be taken lightly, and hopefully, they can still find a way to continue in this ever-developing sector.  Nonetheless, we certainly wish them all the best on whatever path they decide to take.

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