Genius tweak for security cams is just the start of Wyze’s COVID-19 response

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Wyze Cam
This Wyze Cam can be converted to a webcam.
Photo: Wyze

A company that makes low-cost home security cameras doesn’t sound like an organization you’d call for help in the fight against COVID-19 as it sweeps across the United States.

Wyze didn’t wait for a call.

Located in Kirkland, Washington, close to where the first U.S. cases surfaced, the company used its worldwide connections and ingenuity to help the local medical community fight the coronavirus pandemic. But it also helped consumers stuck at home better use Wyze’s iOS-compatible security cameras as webcams.

Wyze ideas in a pandemic

First, Wyze acquired 2,000 masks and promptly donated them to the University of Washington Medical Center. Then the company developed a program to give free security cameras to shuttered small businesses so owners could look after their shops during the coronavirus crisis. (Wyze makes two models, the Wyze Cam V2 for $20 and the Wyze Cam Pan for $30.)

Engineers went further, updating its firmware to convert Wyze Cams into webcams, which have been as scarce as toilet paper since the coronavirus landed in the United States. Over the last few days, the firmware has been downloaded more than 17,500 times.

Wyze shipped hundreds of no-touch thermometers to medical facilities.
Wyze shipped hundreds of no-touch thermometers to medical facilities.
Photo: Wyze

On Monday, the company introduced the Wyze In Response program to assist hospitals and clinics across America who need help expediting shipments of much-needed supplies from overseas. A recent shipment of hundreds of iHealth no-touch thermometers sold out in three hours.

Learning to leverage strength

“The brainstorming continues,” Scott Wilson, director of marketing for Wyze, told Cult of Mac. “We have three million users and a lot of our projects and features are suggestions from our customers. I would love to solicit ideas on what people see as our strengths that we don’t see. Maybe we can leverage that.”

A Zoom group photo of Wyze employees working from home
A Zoom group photo of Wyze employees working from home.
Photo: Wyze

Company leaders got inspired as they watched the fashion industry making medical masks and distilleries switching to making hand sanitizer.

On March 24, Wyze dropped off 2,000 masks to the University of Washington Medical Center.

Free security cams for closed businesses

Two days later, the company rolled out a free camera offer to small companies that apply. Wilson said the company had several refurbished units and “open-box” cameras that had been inspected for quality control and could not be sold as new. Since March 26, more than 450 businesses have requested cameras, he said.

Wilson said the idea to create firmware to convert the Wyze Cams to webcams came from looking at sold-out and back-ordered listings for webcams, which many desktop computers don’t have. Users can reverse the webcam feature once they don’t need it anymore.

“We’re proud of how quickly we were able to pull that together,” Wilson said. “A lot of us worked at Amazon and we check Amazon all the time. We saw webcams were out of stock and we were trying to figure out to help people working from home.”

Wyze works from home

Wyze CEO Yun Zhang was watching closely how the virus impacted China. He sent employees home to work prior to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s order.

Wilson said Wyze operates like a family, even eating lunch together each week on “Wyze Wednesdays.” As Wyze employees embrace the new norm, they miss the in-person connections.

Ideas for assisting the community came from employees on walks who saw “closed” signs on the neighborhood businesses they frequented. During a Zoom conference, an employee showed a picture of a business with craft paper on the windows and a sign, “Closed indefinitely.”

“It was a hard message to read,” Wilson said. “From that, we decided to double down.”