Coming home after a 10-day vacation with his family, Adam Sager suddenly got the sense that something was terribly wrong. “As I approached the house—I was about a block away—I got this feeling of trepidation, almost a feeling of vulnerability, because I had no idea what had happened in my house while I’d been gone,” says Sager, who formerly worked as a corporate security adviser to Fortune 500 companies. “I’ve been thinking about security for a really long time but never really thought about it for my own house.”
As it turned out, Sager’s house was unharmed, but he resolved to get a security system. As a renter, he didn’t want to install sensors all over the house, which eliminated the normal options provided by stalwarts such as ADT. Unsatisfied by various DIY systems sold at Best Buy (BBY) and elsewhere, Sager finally decided to found a company and build his own device.
In the U.S., one home is burglarized nearly every 15 seconds. Even so, few Americans install security systems. Of those who do, many never turn them on because false alarms are common and can result in steep fines. Aware that the majority of home alarms go off needlessly, police can be slow to respond; too bad if the problem really is a burglar.
Teaming with two partners, Sager created what he says is a smarter home alarm system. Canary—also the name of the company—has a wide-angle lens, an HD camera with night vision, a motion detector, an accelerometer, a microphone, and sensors that track temperature, humidity and air quality. When Canary picks up an irregularity—a fire, intruder, or something else—it alerts customers via text message and sends them on-the-scene video footage so they can see for themselves if something is amiss
The device, which Sager and his co-founders built mostly on their own dime for an undisclosed amount, requires a few weeks to learn what’s regular and what’s not. “If you have a pet, for instance, it’ll learn that, and it won’t notify you every time the pet walks in front of the camera,” says Sager. Canary learns these patterns by sending questions via text, which you can either confirm or deny.
If Canary can’t get through to a customer via text, it can be programmed to alert a second tier of users such as friends and neighbors. The company is also working on setting up a call center option. The device can be switched on manually or programmed to go on whenever it detects, via geolocation, that you’ve left your home. Customers can coordinate as many as four of the devices to work in concert.
On July 22, Canary launched a campaign to raise $100,000 in manufacturing capital on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. It met its goal in a day; so far, the campaign has raised more than $1 million. The device, roughly the size and shape of a 24-ounce beer can, can be pre-ordered on the site for $199, with an estimated delivery date of May 2014—a timeline, Sager says, that includes third-party testing and bringing the device into compliance in U.S., European, and other markets. So far, the company has built more than 24 prototypes.
Canary, obviously, isn’t great for everyone, including owners of huge houses with multiple entrance points. Still, says Scott Alswang, a retired U.S. Secret Service agent and vice president of an international full-service security agency, Canary holds a lot of promise: “It incorporates a lot of remedies for a lot of different security needs, and it requires very little installation. It’s almost idiot-proof.”
As for the creepiness factor of having a smart device such as Canary tracking your home environment, Alswang says most people are willing to sacrifice a lot for security. “For most people, safety and security outweigh the negatives,” Alswang says, and then adds: “I don’t know if Anthony Weiner would have been O.K. with this.”