Home Monitoring: Yet Another Tech Mashup

May 1, 2006

Technology, Wireless

Some of the coolest technologies that exist today are re-packaged versions of things that have been around for quite some time. For example, the Apple iPod is a mashup of MP3 and music technologies that existed years before the first iPod surfaced. But Apple took lots of pieces and re-assembled them into a compelling new package.

Two weeks ago, my wife came to me with a challenge. Since our neighborhood is in an established part of the county (i.e., we are in an older neighborhood), there has been a substantial increase in the neighborhood crime rate over the past six months. After reading story after story of garage thefts that have occurred recently, my wife asked me if I could put together a good surveillance system. “That should be easy,” I mused to myself. I would need: a) a web camera, and b) a monitoring application/platform.

So with this simple mashup in mind, I thought I could sling together something that would work quite nicely. So I ran out to the store and bought a couple of Logitech webcams. And I ran home and downloaded some monitoring applications to test. So far, so good. I fired up the cameras without a problem. Then I launched the monitoring app. I configured the alert subsystem to email me whenever any motion was detected. Then I set the tool to start monitoring after everyone left the house.

The next morning, I got 600 messages during the first four hours of operation. My delight quickly changed to frustration. So I looked at some other tools. Different web monitoring software allowed me to set the “sensitivity” of the motion detection. Apparently, simple light/shadows moving through the room (as the sun moved through the sky) had triggered false alerts.

So new software would be better, right? Well, the new software had its own problems. After trying two or three differents apps, I decided to take a different tack. In the end, my wife and I sat down and listed a much more complete set of requirements. Yeah, OK. I’m a technologist, not a systems analyst. But I know enough to document real requirements. So that’s what we did. Our requirments included:

  • A camera with a minimum of 320×240 resolution. Actually, we wanted 640×480. But we also wanted to be able to see it on our cell phones. So the camera needed to support both resolutions.
  • Wireless connectivity so that I could place the cameras in different locations based upon changing monitoring needs.
  • A web server that would stream the video feeds to a computers located outside the household.
  • The camera/video browsing tool should be able to pan, tilt and zoom the camera from a remote location. And it needed to be a web app.
  • A monitoring tool that could be set to start and stop monitoring based upon a predefined calendar.
  • An alerting system that would send emails to outside accounts.
  • A recording system that would store video that was captured.

And the list began to grow even larger. So I began to realize that a simple mashup wouldn’t work. I wasn’t just going to be able to blend a couple of pre-existing tools on-the-fly. I needed something that would solve all of these needs – and then some.

So I started looking into a more robust camera (or monitoring platform). And I found the Panasonic BL-C30A. This device is fabulous. It meets (or exceeds) all of the video requirements that my wife and I had outlined. More importantly, the camera had all the management features we wanted as well.

This camera has a web server. And the web server is very comprehensive. It provides monitoring and alerting capabilities that matched our needs. And the software can be updated as new capabilities are added. In short, the camera has a small, purpose-built server that provided the surveillance and control features we were after.

So while I did not do the mashup myself, Panasonic did it for me. They served up a product that was a camera, a web server, a monitoring application and an alerting sub-system. And the system is performing admirably thus far.



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