The Nicolas family lives in what they consider to be a safe neighborhood. But for peace of mind, they wanted to install a security camera to watch their daughter inside, and any approaching strangers outside.
That's not unusual, but Elija Nicolas says the type of security system they chose is anything but traditional.
“You really don't have any set up at home… You literally plug it in, connect it to your WiFi and you're done." Nicolas said.
He uses Dropcam, a do-it-yourself, relatively inexpensive security system that lets a user not only review recorded events on a computer, phone or tablet from anywhere for a subscription fee, but also live stream the camera, which has a built-in speaker and microphone.
"You can have a two way conversation," he said.
Dropcam is just one of many WiFi, do-it-yourself home security products now rushing to the market. Some consumers are choosing to bypass traditional alarm companies, which are often perceived as costing more and requiring a long contract, according to Dropcam Co-Founder Aamir Virani.
“When you compare us to big security companies, we don't have the long term contracts, we are not trying to force you to call the police," Virani said. "We are trying to give you the awareness so that you can make the decisions.”
Dropcam was started by two young entrepreneurs after a relative complained they wanted to catch a neighborhood dog that was fertilizing the family lawn.
Virani said all the do-it-yourself home security products at the time seemed really complicated to set up. So they set out to invent a simple plug-and-play device, which they eventually decided to sell publicly.
This new wave of technology is working to get a piece of the $28-billion home security industry by offering low cost products in an age geared towards social media.
Almost immediately, Dropcam started getting unexpected but welcome free marketing when users began recording, then publicly sharing events other than burglar break-ins, including:
- An impromptu office dance party
- The view from the shell of a giant tortoise
- A near miss on the street
- A beautiful beach in Anguilla
- And a toddler escaping his chair and taking his first steps
These do-it-yourself systems aren't perfect, though. WiFi-dependent devices can't operate in dead spots. Many won’t work if the power is out, and even when Internet monitoring is password protected, there's concern a camera could be hacked by a stranger.
Computer security expert Jim Stickley said established security companies, even if more expensive, may still offer more protection – for now.
“When you have the full bells and whistle of those alarm systems. They are tied in to the police," Stickley explained. "They are set up that if power is down in your home, you are going to get notified. There are many things that generally will make them a stronger solution.”
Perhaps, but Dropcam’s popularity could still force traditional alarm companies to reboot their industry if they want to capitalize on that side of the business. And it is a good business.
Google just agreed to buy the 5-year-old Dropcam company for $555 million.
And yes, company founders did record and identify the neighborhood dog that was fertilizing the family lawn.