Y Combinator Challenge #15 – Off the Shelf Security

For more information about the Y Combinator Challenge, check out this post first 

15. Off the shelf security. Services like ADT charge a fortune. Now that houses and their owners are both connected to networks practically all the time, a startup could stitch together alternatives out of cheap, existing hardware and services.

My Idea – iSecurity

Editors note: I don’t know the first thing about security systems, so proceed with caution.  Sometimes, though, being an idiot can be a good thing.  For one, it allows you to approach an idea from an entirely new point of view.  If Muhammad Yunus can build a bank, surely I can come up with a new way to do security, right?  🙂

From my understanding, security systems work a little bit like cell phones or cable boxes.  The initial hardware and setup costs are fairly low, but there’s a big catch – you’re required to sign up for a lengthy contract with a recurring monthly fee.  The main cost here is the monitoring system, which is basically a call center that is alerted when any suspicious activity is detected.  The agent can tell what type of emergency it is (fire, break in, flood, etc..) and notify the proper authorities. 

Here’s a thought – what if instead of needing a security system 24/7, you only want something that monitors for break-ins in your apartment when you’re out-of-town?  Or only need a system to monitor for flooding at your summer lake house?  Or what if you want to be alerted if the power goes down in your server room?

My idea is pretty simple – a security system that is easy to set up and relies on real-time notifications to yourself and your friends/family/neighbors in case of emergency.  The hardware would be modular and built using commodity parts, and instead of having a centralized call center, the system would allow users to set up alerts to themselves and others via an iPhone/Android/WinMobile app, text message, Twitter, etc..  The key feature is the ability to get as much information as possible as quickly as possible to the right decision makers, and provide drop-dead-simple options for how to handle the situation (i.e. ignore false alarm vs act on true emergency).  Here’s how it could work. 

Hardware: Users could purchase ala carte low-cost sensors (commodity hardware packaged in well-designed exterior cases) which can be installed without professional assistance.  Each sensor would have wireless networking capabilities built in (wi-fi standard, with cellular upgrades optional) and would cover basic security/remote monitoring scenarios such as door or window monitoring, smoke sensors, water sensors, etc..  Users could also purchase networked cameras that would began recording once a sensor was triggered.  Added bonus: additional components could be snapped onto core modules, similar to the Bug Labs concept (i.e. infrared detector snapped onto camera, alarm and strobe snapped onto door sensor). 

Software:  From the website, users can schedule when they want various sensors to be activated (every day from 8-5, August 15-17, every weekend, etc..) and how they want to be notified.  Ideally this would be via an iPhone (or similar) app, but could also be through other standard communication channels as well.  Also, users could set up secondary notifications for additional people (i.e. friends, family, neighbors) to ensure that an emergency message got through to someone in case the primary user was completely off the grid. 

Once a sensor is activated, an alert would be sent to the primary user, along with a snapshot (or video or sound clip) taken by the camera at the time of the incident.  Users would also be shown buttons to allow for immediate action, such as “Call Police”, “Call Fire Department”, “Call Plumber”, or “Ignore” which would either make a connection via the direct emergency service number (911 would obviously not work for remote monitoring) or remotely turn off the alarm.  Users could also respond via text message (text “1” for Police, “2” for Fire) or direct message from Twitter.  If after a pre-set amount of time had passed without action, the system could then send the notification alerts to the secondary users (i.e. neighbor or friends) to allow them to make the decision on how to address the situation.  Added bonus: users could pre-record a message like “There is a break-in at 123 Fake Street.  Please send police immediately.” that could be sent if the user was unable to respond (i.e. intruder is in the house and you needed to be silent). 

Additional Features:

  • Instead of installing a keypad to disable the alarm (for example, if a house sitter is stopping by periodically), users could text message a security code and time duration to a number which would temporarily turn off any alerts.  A simple sign could be posted on the door saying “To disable the security system, text your secret code and duration to 555-1234” – which would also alert would-be intruders that a security system is in place.
  • The hardware could be compatible with a service such as ADT monitoring, so users could potentially still have high levels of service for break-ins, but also use features such as the remote video monitoring or water detection sensors.
  • The software could utilize new computer vision techniques (such as this research done at the University of Washington) to detect the difference between motion caused by your pets vs motion caused by a person.

What do you guys think about this one?  Also, happy birthday to the most amazing person in the world and the best wife a guy could ever ask for.  Love you!!

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One response to “Y Combinator Challenge #15 – Off the Shelf Security

  1. Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence

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