Canary: Security device so smart it ‘can think for itself’

NYC startup company offering Canary so far has raised more than half a million dollars in just three days using crowdfunding—getting financial support via the Internet—to bring the device to market
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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

NEW YORK—Canary is the name of a security startup here—and like a canary in a coal mine the company has been testing this week to see if it could raise enough money through crowdfunding to launch what has been dubbed as “the first affordable home security system that can think for itself.” The answer is a resounding yes.

The company had a goal of raising $100,000 when it initiated its crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo on Monday. But Canary CEO Adam Sager, one of its three co-founders, said the company quickly reached that goal by noon that day, and it had garnered $500,083 by Wednesday afternoon as customers eagerly signed up to pay as low as $169 for the affordable devices, which will be shipped in early 2014. And there’s plenty of time remaining in the 35-day crowdfunding campaign on the international site.

“We’re overwhelmed by the positive response,” Sager told Security Systems News. “We knew we were on to something great and of course it’s nice to have the market validation as well.”

Sager said the company’s new smart home security solution, also called the Canary, is “so different from everything that’s out there.” It comes with a professional monitoring option, and is ideal for renters because it’s affordable and portable, he said.

Unlike other systems that involve sensors placed around the home, the Canary is a single device about the size of a can of soda that you can just sit on a table and plug in to your Wi-Fi and interact with from your smartphone or the Internet. But the little device has some big capabilities. “We’re trying on one hand to simplify the hardware experience and on other hand to make the software much more intelligent that what is traditionally used in security,” said Sager, who said he has 15 years of security experience, first with the Israeli military and then in the United States as a security consultant.

Technology sites on the Internet were abuzz this week about the Canary. For example, Popular Science magazine described it as “the first system we’ve seen that’s designed to learn your habits and improve over time.”

“At 6 inches tall and 3 inches in diameter, Canary contains multiple sensors that gather data from its surrounding environment to learn the patterns and rhythms of your household,” the company said in a news release. “While other home security systems rely on binary sensors that can only tell users if a door or window is open or closed, Canary applies complex algorithms to the data it collects to understand what qualifies as a notable event, and then communicates to the user why that event happened and what action should be taken. Canary is a learning system; the longer the device is owned, the smarter it becomes.”

The system learns on its own and also by asking the user questions, Sager explained to SSN. For example, he said, “what it starts looking at is patterns. If something happens three times, if your cat jumps on the table in front of the Canary three times, it can ask you if this is an animal or is this something that is normal in your house and you can verify it, so next time … it won’t be alerting you for similar activities.”

He said that while the Canary will appeal to homeowners who don’t want or can’t afford a traditional security system, “one of our strongest targets is people that rent.” He said the nation has 40 million renters, and it’s “a market the large security companies have ignored for so long.”

Although some DIY companies are targeting renters—Sager stressed the Canary is not a DIY product but a “consumer product”—DIY security systems are too involved for most people, he said. “Very few renters will put up sensors and install door locks,” he said.

With Canary, he said, “we’re building a solution that you literally can put on a table and plug in and then if you want to move rooms or move apartments or change countries, you just pick it up and take it with you and it’s really as simple as that.”

At the start of the crowd-funding campaign, a limited number of the devices went for little as $169 in an early bird special before selling out. Others were selling for $199 in an early adopter promotion and people could also find savings by buying two or three of the devices to cover other rooms in their homes. Sager said the final retail price has yet to be set but won’t be lower than $199. The devices still need to be manufactured but their shipping is promised next May and June. Ten people paid $1,000 to be part of the beta testing of the device this February before that offer sold out.

Users who purchase the device get such features as live streaming alerts and backups for free. A user’s designated family and friends can function as backups, receiving the alerts if the user doesn’t respond within a given amount of time, Sager said.

There are no additional fees unless users choose options like increased storage of all their video or other data, or 24/7 monitoring that will be available from a third-party monitoring center, Sager said. The company is still talking to some of the country’s top monitoring companies to determine which will provide the service. Information and pricing will be available when the product is on the market, he said, but monitoring will be “very inexpensive … because the alerts go to the user first, so few go to a call center.”

He said the Canary name was chosen because the new product is a type of “canary in a coal mine” when it comes to security, but also to convey that the device is a friendly addition to the home.

Sager said the founders have invested their own money in the company and are working with other investors but chose crowdfunding first because “we wanted to get the involvement of the community around this and go to the community for this new type of approach and new way of looking at security.”  The additional funds will potentially enable the company to add more features to Canary, he said.