Bosch shuts down its app store for AI-powered Internet-connected cameras • TechCrunch

In 2018, home appliance conglomerate Bosch created a startup, Security and Safety Things (or “SAST” for short), whose stated mission was to develop a platform to help developers build software for AI-enabled cameras. SAST was to host a moderated and controlled “app store” for Internet-connected cameras that would allow developers to build software on an open standard, software primarily focused on security and “business intelligence” use cases.

SAST successfully launched the app store in 2020, later renaming it (and itself) to Azena and opening a headquarters in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. But after tens of millions of euros of investment from Bosch, SAST – now Azena – apparently never achieved the success its parent company hoped for.

TechCrunch has learned that Azena is closing its external operations and focusing on internal projects at Bosch. In a statement, a Bosch spokesperson said that partners and customers have been notified and that Azena will “fully comply” with its existing contractual obligations.

“Going forward, Azena will focus on Bosch’s internal business and stop developing external business. This includes a transition to maintenance and support for only [Azena’s software]the spokesperson said by email. “All components of Azena’s platform remain operational for now…We are actively working on a transition plan.”

Azena’s market was relatively robust by the standards of the IP camera market, with around 100 apps at its peak. Like popular smartphone app stores, it allows developers to sell their apps to customers and provide demos for pilot projects. The app store will handle the backup and restore of settings and ensure that configurations remain consistent between cameras.

Azena

Image credits: Azena

Prior to its partial shutdown, Azena had also developed a camera operating system that allowed supported cameras to run multiple AI-enabled apps simultaneously. Based on Android, manufacturers including Qisda/Topview, AndroVideo, Vivotek and Bosch itself have sold cameras running the firmware, which has powered apps for heat mapping and queuing analysis in retail stores. automated payment processing, license plate recognition and more.

As of September 2021, Azena had over 120 employees spread across its offices in Munich, its facility in Pittsburgh and its R&D center in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The startup’s clients included the NHL hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who used the Azena platform to monitor crowding at stadium entrances, recognize license plates and identify overcrowding near fan merchandise outlets.

Azena generated controversy earlier this year when come to light that the startup was just doing a basic audit of the software hosted in its app store. Under the company’s terms of use, responsibility for the ethics and legality of apps rested squarely on the shoulders of developers and users. Some apps claimed to accurately detect weapons and analyze human behavior, applications that according to many ethicists are beyond the capabilities of even the most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems.

In a public response at the time, Azena noted that it required developers working on its platform to commit to ethical business standards set by the United Nations. But the startup admitted it didn’t have the ability to verify how Azena-powered cameras were being used, and it didn’t verify whether apps sold in its store were legal or compliant with developer agreements.

A investigation by the Intercept also found evidence that Azena was years behind patching security exploits that could allow hackers access to cameras running her operating system. Azena disputed the suggestion, but acknowledged that Azena’s firmware allowed users to port apps outside the app store to supported cameras.