Growing up, Sai Reddy spent much of his time in the swimming pool. By college, his “hobby and passion” turned competitive. At the same, Reddy developed another interest – technology. Today, he’s combined both with CamerEye – a company he founded in 2019 that makes AI-driven pool safety monitoring systems.
“I got this pool safety idea in 2014 when I was in France doing laps and I heard horrible stories of people drowning – especially kids drowning and dying in France,” he said. “That’s when the idea got started but I did not have the right expertise to do anything with it.”
Reddy would soon gain that expertise as a grad student at UCSD where he worked with a team using AI to improve the nation’s electrical grid. That team eventually became PXiSE Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, which was acquired by the Yokogawa Corporation last year.
New Way to See into Water
While wrapping up the sale of PXiSE, Reddy had already begun applying what he had learned about setting up a business to CamerEye and by 2019 he began testing the first beta system using a camera with a processor to recognize people.
“The biggest difference with cameras in an existing Ring system or SimpliSafe or any other security system out there is those systems do motion detection so if anything moves, they catch it and detect motion,” he said. “CamerEye is unique in its identification only of wanted objects. If you’re only interested in getting alerts for humans – like toddlers, kids, adults, anybody – it will only look for those objects or those events.”
AI video systems that detect people already existed, Reddy said, but only for people on dry land.
“But there was nothing out there that can reliably detect people when they’re in the water because the body is distorted. It’s a completely different ballgame when people are in the water,” he said, adding that detecting people and pets in water is where most of CamerEye’s value and IP is.
The beta systems were set up at local public pools – UCSD, a YMCA, a public pool in La Jolla – to collect the necessary training data for the AI. In March 2020 when the pandemic shutdown public pools, CamerEye used the data it had collected and launched a pilot program testing the system at 32 private pools and by the end of summer had created a version of its app that could give alerts to a cellphone and set off an alarm when a drowning hazard is detected with 87% accuracy.
“Today, we have 98.7% efficiency. So out of 100 alerts, only 1.3 will be false alerts,” Reddy said.
Diving into a Startup
Before its official launch in March 2021, CamerEye started raising seed capital in November 2020.
Charlie Ninegar was the company’s first investor. He met Reddy through San Diego Sport Innovators (SDSI), an accelerator program for startups in the sports space and said he was compelled to support CamerEye as a parent of three young girls.
“I’ve had to dive into hot tubs and pools to pull them out and make sure they’re okay at times,” he said. “So it’s an issue that speaks to me as a parent.”
Ninegar, vice president of sales at Encinitas-based watch company Nixon, is not an angel investor but put his money into CamerEye because Reddy’s background as a swimmer and Ph.D in AI and Data Science makes him “uniquely qualified” to develop the technology, he said.
Last month, CamerEye closed its seed-round funding with a total of $1.1 million, with investors from SDSI like Ninegar, several venture capital firms and a multitude of angel investors. Reddy said the company is now looking to raise Series A funds to develop a “smart backyard system” that monitors a whole yard and can recognize specific objects like pets or a pool servicer and count people in a yard and give the homeowner specific alerts.
Safety Regs, Splashy Sales
In addition to raising seed capital, CamerEye has also seen increased revenue from sales. The company officially launched in March 2021, taking preorders that were shipped out from the company’s Oceanside manufacturer in June. Since then, CamerEye has sold over 200 units. Systems retail for $800 and include a hub and one camera; additional cameras cost $50 and the system can operate up to four cameras for larger pools.
CamerEye systems can be ordered direct from the company website, but its main sales outlet is through pool builders and servicers. Sales to new pool owners is boosted by new safety regulations now in most states that require both a fence and an alarm system for backyard pools.
Reddy said the company is doing “very, very well” with builders in several states, not only because of the new safety requirements but also because CamerEye’s AI only looks for people in drowning distress and is not triggered by things like wind or objects rolling by.
“Builders now understand this concept of AI and how it is very particularly detecting humans and they like the fact that customers are not upset with false alarms,” he said.
CamerEye also has another selling point. The company is actively involved with standards groups like U.S. National Water Safety Action Plan and National Drowning Prevention Association (NDPA), providing a voice and expertise on advanced technology for water safety.
CEO: Sai Reddy
Location: Pacific Beach
Funding: $1.1 million seed round
Notable: Sai Reddy was honored as a water safety champion by three-time Olympic gold medalist and “Swimming’s Greatest Ambassador” Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines.