Using computers to keep your home secure might once have been the stuff of science fiction, but smart technology is becoming an increasingly common feature in homes around the world.
And with good reason. While home security is at its heart, it also offers a host of extra benefits such as convenience, peace of mind and the potential to improve your home insurance options.
Rachel England (@Rachel_England) talks to some home security and smart ‘techsperts’ to find out more.
There are dozens of smart home security gadgets on the market, but they all operate in largely the same way: via your smartphone. Smart locks, for example, replace the traditional lock and key with an automated lock activated with a smart key or a PIN code.
‘Only people with the right code will have access to the property,’ explains Sanjay Parekh (@sanj_parekh), co-founder of smart security brand Cocoon (@cocoon). ‘This is useful if you have people coming and going, such as dog walkers or builders. You don’t need to get keys cut for them or worry about how they might use the keys in the future, as you can simply change the code as and when you need to.’
This type of technology also provides a solution to the age-old worry of whether you locked the door or set the alarm before you left the house (or got into bed). ‘You can just check their status on your phone and operate everything remotely,’ says Sanjay.
Another popular smart security technology is connected CCTV, which builds on old-school video surveillance systems with smartphone alerts and artificial intelligence. This technology live streams footage of your property to your phone wherever you are and will send you a message if it identifies anything unusual.
‘Smart CCTV systems will learn the difference between a real security issue and ordinary triggers, such as a passing cat,’ says Sanjay. ‘You can also save all of your footage, unlike simpler systems which only store it for short periods. You never know when you might need it again.’
An extra welcome benefit of smart locks and CCTV systems is that they allow people to manage day-to-day life.
‘These alerts and livestreams are a very unobtrusive way of checking whether your kids have come home from school, or if the cleaner has been yet,’ says Sanjay. He adds that a lot of people also like being able to watch their pets when they’re out of the house.
‘And if they do something funny, it’s already pre-recorded!’ he says.
Smart security doesn’t stop with locks and CCTV, though. Many homes have window sensors installed, but these only identify if a window is being forced open, rather than smashed. A glass break detector works by monitoring the shockwaves associated with glass shattering, then raising an alarm when it identifies a security breach.
Digital peepholes are becoming increasingly common, too. Here, a tiny camera on your front door connects to a high-resolution screen inside your home, so you can see who’s at the door before you open it – and, you guessed it, many peepholes can be linked to smartphones.
Some technology is particularly futuristic. One company has developed a lock that works via vein recognition.
‘The system identifies unique vein patterns in your fingertips,’ explains Roberto Fiorentino, CEO of Croma Security (@Cromasecurity). ‘The locks will work with your dominant fingertips, but they can also be programmed to identify your other fingers. So, if there were intruders in your home, you could use this feature to raise a silent alarm.’
According to Adam Fleming, chief technical officer at app development company Apadmi (@apadmi), the use of these smart systems is on the rise, although mainstream adoption is slower than other technologies because people tend to only think about changing their locks when they move house, or after a break-in.
‘People are also concerned about cybersecurity, thanks to a lot of movie plots showing bad guys opening super secure locks with magic boxes made of flashing lights,’ Adam says. ‘In reality, most losses from cyberattacks could be prevented by users taking proper precautions.’
This means keeping software updated, changing default usernames and settings, and having strong passwords.
‘Just apply the same rules that you’d use with your bank details,’ he says.
As smart security becomes more commonplace, we’re likely to see even more sophisticated and wide-ranging technologies emerge.
‘We predict it will become so advanced in the next couple of years that connected systems will be able to recognise faces and learn occupants’ regular movements,’ says Anthony Neary, managing director of safe.co.uk (@talkwithsafe). ‘There could also be some form of bio-recognition, such as an iris scan via your mobile, for example, which would unlock your front door as you approach it.’
One day, we might even see connected homes operating like a ‘digital neighbourhood watch’.
‘A significant proportion of thefts from homes are opportunistic. If there's a sign that someone is targeting homes in an area, other houses in the vicinity could trigger a heightened security protocol, alerting owners to open windows and unlocked doors,’ says applied futurist Tom Cheesewright (@bookofthefuture).
However, there are still some issues with getting the technology into the mainstream, says Tom. ‘The tech is still a bit clunky in places. Some wireless devices have limited battery life, for example, but this will improve. Beyond that it's about ease of use, and confidence. People will need to get used to the idea of not carrying a key around, even though they have been commonplace for centuries.’
On the face of it, this smart technology works much like traditional security measures with locks, alarms and CCTV; the big difference is that it keeps you in the picture at all times from your pocket. You’re constantly connected to your home in a way that’s useful and convenient, protects you from theft, and, most importantly, gives you greater peace of mind.
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