We’re still in the early days of the fast-emerging Internet of Things, but we can already identify some areas where inexpensive, remote sensors and other IP-enabled stuff will be transformative. Entertainment is one – and we’re already seeing the emergence of “smart TVs” that upset traditional boundaries between personal computing devices and viewing devices.
Another market that’s being shaken is the one for home security systems. Anyone who has visited an electronics store or discount warehouse has seen packages of inexpensive, wi-fi enabled cameras that can be used to monitor the goings-on in and about your home “Scarface style.” Those DIY systems pose a threat to firms like ADT, GE and Tyco, which have been selling home security systems and monitoring services for decades.
But you’re really setting the “paranoia” bar pretty high if you want to ask someone to install all those cameras, wire them up and then monitor what they record. The bigger threat may come from a new breed of home security company that’s looking to leverage inexpensive, remote sensors, cheap, powerful hardware, the cloud and Big Data analytics to provide “good enough” and inexpensive home security and monitoring services.
These are firms like Lockitron and iSmartAlarm who have come to market with a range of sleek, inconspicuous new products that will have your houseguests asking “did you get that at the Apple Store?” instead of saying “I’m really worried about you!”
How hot is this space? Well, if you consider the startup Canary (Canary.is) to be a “canary in the coal mine,” then the message is: they’re hot. That company’s recent Indiegogo campaign to raise $100,000 to market its eponymous home monitoring system is oversubscribed to the tune of $1.35m, with donations from more than 5,000 people. And Canary still has 11 days left before it closes down its fundraising campaign.
The Canary device is a sleek, black and white cylinder that looks like something Steve Jobs might have come up with if he’d been asked to design Budweiser’s next beer can. But it has a lot packed inside, including an HD video camera and sensors that can track the ambient temperature and air quality, sense vibrations and detect sound, and movement. The device is managed from a smart phone application, and can alert owners to everything from movement and vibrations that could indicate an intrusion to sudden environmental changes like temperature spikes.
The Security Ledger caught up earlier this week with Adam Sager, the CEO (@sagerspeak) and co-founder of Canary about the company’s technology, the security questions around home surveillance tools and the promise of “smart homes.” Sager said that, in contrast to the many varieties of home automation tools, Canary isn’t about connecting smart devices to each other.
“We designed Canary to have the ability to respond to and get accurate information about your environment, whether you’re using it to look after a child or just monitor a physical environment…We’re trying to provide services that can improve your life. There are lots of tools out there to make our homes smarter, but we want to make the individual smarter about their home,” Sager told me.
The device, which stands about six inches tall, isn’t meant to be the all seeing eye. Sager said one device, strategically placed, can do a fine job monitoring a typical apartment. Besides, most home security systems that wire every door and window soon exhaust their owners with false alarms. Paradoxically, the result is that home security system owners get in the habit of disarming their system to prevent the constant annoyance, Sager said. In contrast, the Canary device operates more like a household cat: sitting quietly in a strategic location and watching what goes on. As such, it straddles a couple emerging categories within the “smart home” sector: security, efficiency (alongside the now-famous NEST thermostat), while steering clear of what might broadly be termed “home automation” like all the “get a robot to water my plants and tell me what’s in my refrigerator” products reside.
Sager said he’s skeptical of that space right now. “There aren’t really any standards and even when people choose standards like Zigbee, they can end up causing more problems.”
The Canary device relies on its own, onboard sensors to observe and, according to Sager “learn from” the environments it monitors. “We can see patterns of behavior that are similar and learn from them,” he said. Patterns that seem anomalous generate alerts that appear on a user’s phone and give them options for response – sound an alarm, send a text message, make a phone call –to a neighbor, or the cops. Sager believes that the system makes it a lot more likely that real incidents will be reported, and false alarms will be kept to a minimum. And, unlike home alarm systems, users can dial up or dial down Canary based on their comfort level.
One of the big issues to tackle is how to protect the device and the data it collects – both at rest and on the “Canary Cloud” servers. Sager said Canary has already heard loud and clear from its more than 5,000 sponsors that the security of their data and privacy are top concerns.
“We’ve heard a lot of feedback how important security is for them,” Sager said. “It’s the thing they’re most concerned about.” And that chorus will likely get louder, as a story of hacked wireless cameras being used to spy on children makes headlines. It’s a timely reminder that the same technology we use to monitor our homes can be turned to spy on us.
In response, Sager notes that all communication to and from the Canary, the owners’ smart phone(s) and the Canary Cloud servers is encrypted using SSL, while video and audio are stored and encrypted using AES-256 bit encryption. Beyond that, Canary gives the users lots of options about how they want their Canary to work – what sensors to enable (or not), when the device is recording and whether recorded events should be stored or discarded. “The idea was for us to keep as little as possible,” Sager said.
With just a couple dozen Canary devices deployed the company is still some way from having to wrestle with those problems. Sager said Canary is taking it slow and focusing on quality, rather than time to market and making sure to get the details right.
While the deployed devices haven’t broken up any “B&Es,” they have captured the unexpected visit from a repairman or two and “some more peculiar things,” he said.
Look for the first Canary devices to hit the market in May, 2014.