Image: Cernium's Archerfish Solo
The Archerfish camera, roughly the size of an iPhone but about three-times as thick, monitors and records video and the footage can then be accessed online through a customized Web portal. It should be available in June.
updated 5/24/2010 6:59:12 PM ET 2010-05-24T22:59:12

Traditionally, home security came in one of two flavors: Fido, or thousands of dollars in surveillance equipment. Now, advancements in technologies could allow for foolproof security that lets individuals watch their homes remotely without draining the bank.

These home security systems range from do-it-yourself types, to more advanced setups that are ready out-of-the-box, to professional systems like the ones supplied by companies such as ADT.

But all of them rely on technologies such as high-speed video cameras, computer vision and cloud computing.

At its most basic, today’s home-security technology entails a video camera, recorder (DVR), and plug-and-play cable. These can be purchased from a specialty on-line store, such as The Home Security Store, which sells a range of cameras, cabling and recorders.

For a twist of “smartness,” motion-detection capabilities can be added to the mix. Some cameras have the software built-in to do this, while others rely on separate software running on a computer that detects movements.

While it's certainly a step up from a guard dog, this DIY system has several drawbacks. For starters, the homeowner won't know something has occurred until he or she gets home and watches hours of video.

“Typical home security requires a lot of effort and time on the part of the homeowner or the business owner because you have to actually sit there and watch video in order to catch something that’s going on,” said Debbie Shuey, director of product management at Cernium, a video-technology company.

“It can be very frustrating and time-consuming.”

Pre-made systems
For homeowners who don’t want to bother with buying and assembling separate pieces of equipment, there are systems that come ready to use right out of the box.

One such system is Cernium's Archerfish Solo, which is expected on store shelves in June. Roughly the size of an iPhone but about three-times as thick, the Archerfish camera monitors and records video and the footage can then be accessed online through a customized Web portal.

The Archerfish system will alert you — via text, e-mail or video message — when your children come home from school, a package is delivered, or if something out of the ordinary occurs.

The Archerfish camera uses a technology called computer vision to extract information about the objects in a video and it is even smart enough to identify your children.

Computer-vision technology analyzes video or photo pixels and flags any interesting objects, said Robert Collins, professor at Pennsylvania State University. What's considered "interesting" is determined by the user and the software driving the computer vision.

“It’s actually smart enough to watch the video for you and understand what’s going on … because it can tell the difference between a vehicle, a person, and even random motion,” Shuey said.

“You can set Archerfish to say, ‘I only want to know when my kids come home from school between 2 and 4 p.m.; if the cat runs across the street, or a car pulls into the driveway, or a ball rolls around, don’t let me know,’ ” Shuey said.

Another pre-made system is the Vue — a set of wireless cameras that stream video through any Internet-connected device, including iPhones and laptops. About the size of an egg, these miniature penguin-shaped cameras come two to a box for $299.

To lose the plug, the company developed a low-power wireless protocol called Frame Mesh.

“It’s not like Wi-Fi where you have to understand what SSID (wireless router name) you have for setting up any other Wi-Fi device in your home; we completely get rid of that,” said Gioia Messinger, founder and CEO of Avaak, the company that developed the Vue system. This protocol was developed under funding from DARPA, the research and development office for the U.S. Department of Defense. It’s our “secret sauce,” Messinger said.

The Vue cameras can be used inside or outside, for security or fun. “One cool thing about this technology is that you can share live video from these cameras with your friends and family; so you can invite them to a sort of video conference that’s going on in your house. But instead of having everyone in front of the Web cam of your computer, you can have a bunch of little cameras around your house and you can share a birthday party (for instance),” Messinger said.

Professional systems
There are also systems for homeowners who would rather have a professional come to the home and set up the cameras and Internet connection. Companies such as ADT will install premium systems consisting of dozens of cameras, whose video can be accessed on-line similar to the pre-made DIY systems. Video can also be connected to specially installed Flat-screen displays — allowing access from any room in the house.

While today’s home-security systems are mainly used to watch the home while you’re away, in the future these technologies could keep an eye on you when you’re home.

“Having cameras in your home is not only for security or surveillance,” Pen State's Collins said. “You may not be able to afford 24-hour nursing care for an elderly person but having their home ‘be aware’ of what that person is doing and even eventually how that person is feeling would actually be a big assistance."

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