Home Security Technology In The Digital Age

By Rick Laezman | Jan 15, 2014
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On a similar plane, the evolution of digital technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives, from the work environment to the home, from professional to personal. These days, nothing seems untouched by this trend.
 Looking at one industry in particular, home security has undergone its own technologically driven transformation. While retina scanners are not widely used at home, some science-fiction-like qualities are rapidly becoming the norm. In short, those looking at home security technology in the present will be surprised to learn that this is not your mother’s old alarm system.

Some features of home security remain and probably always will. A home security system will always include several essentials, such as a brain or panel, an interface or keypad, detection sensors for doors and windows, motion sensors, and other detectors for things like broken windows, floods and excessive levels of carbon monoxide. Finally, a security system will always include a means for communicating an alarm to a central station when any of these devices has been triggered. That communication will then be relayed to the appropriate emergency responders and the homeowner.

While this basic structure endures, a number of home security system features are now different. These changes are both technical and aesthetic.

The gooey interface

Perhaps the biggest change to home security systems is the integration of other features and elements of home life that would not have been considered previously in the realm of security. With the advent of digital technology, homeowners can now control myriad types of electronics in their home. This need to control runs the gamut from technical operations, such as thermostats and sprinklers, to more intimate and personal aspects of the homeowner’s day-to-day activities. Experts refer to the former as “home automation,” while the latter is frequently described as “lifestyle control.” In either case, the home security system has become the central means by which both of these domains can be mastered.

Kirk MacDowell is the residential sales leader for Interlogix, a security company that manufactures a host of products in the home security line that include control panels and keyboards, sensors, communication devices, sirens and strobes, intrusion products, access control and video. He calls the evolution in the home security market a “convergence of life safety and lifestyle.” The consumer interacts with the system using (what he refers to with a chuckle as) the “gooey interface.” It’s a convenient play on words, as gooey also refers to GUI, or graphical user interface. Still, one can almost see him peeling strings of goo from his fingertips as he talks.

All kidding aside, he makes a point. Home security isn’t just making people feel safe. It’s making them feel good.

Regarding the home automation component, consumers want to take control, MacDowell said.

“They are demanding this,” he said, frequently referencing the encounters he has with customers, as if they are sitting next to him in the room, tugging at his arm while he speaks.

Whether his experiences are anecdotal or a tip-of-the-iceberg kind of thing, product manufacturers have taken notice and are making the changes. Security systems are now being designed to fill the role of master controller. So a homeowner could purchase any one of the many talking thermostats now on the market—e.g., one of those enabled with wireless (Z-Wave) communications capability—and the security panel will be able to speak with it, giving the user the ability to control it remotely and, in the process of doing that, making temperature control one of the components of the overall security system. In other words, the home security system has become the information center in the house.

Everything and anything

So what else can a home security system do? Certainly, there is more to the convergence than just using a security panel to warm up a room.

Tim Myers is product line director—intrusion for Tyco Security Products, another manufacturer of security systems and their various components. He said that the sensor—while one of the basic elements of a home security system—is still and always will be an integral feature. However, how those devices are now being used has changed in ways even Jules Verne might not have imagined.

The changes reflect the trends mentioned earlier, especially pertaining to lifestyle. It may seem like a stretch, home security systems are even entering the health monitoring field. 

Where occupancy sensors have historically been used to detect motion in an otherwise empty room, now they may be used to detect lack of motion as an early warning sign, Myers said. For example, in the home of a frail or elderly person, if no motion is detected after a period of time, this could signify that something is wrong. Similarly, a sensor installed in a medicine cabinet can be used to detect if someone has not opened that cabinet with the usual and prescribed frequency, also signaling an alarm.

The possibilities are not limited to health monitoring. A home security system could be used to alert working parents when their children have arrived home from school—or if they have not arrived when they are expected. In a third scenario, coupled with in-home cameras, the alert could allow the parent to confirm that it is the child who has entered the home and whether or not the child has entered with someone else.

Experts in the field describe myriad other scenarios, ranging from the simple and expected, such as locking the doors, turning on the sprinklers or setting the alarm remotely after you have gone to work, to the micromanaging, like creating rules and using sensors to turn on a light as soon as the front door is opened. In another example, one expert described a parent of a teenage daughter who installed Z-Wave-enabled switches in the girl’s bathroom. With customized rules, the security system would shut off the power to those switches after she went to school in the morning because she always left her flat iron on. Getting into the positively idiosyncratic, Tyco’s Myers described the use of zone detection to monitor heat in a chicken barn.

To be or not to be installed professionally

Of course, the big question is, if security systems are undergoing such a profound transformation, what implication does this have for their installation? Anyone who takes even a passing glimpse at an online, big-box store catalogue search of home security products will notice a flood of products that fall into the do-it-yourself (DIY) category.

Furthermore, one of the other new features of home security systems is the availability of user-friendly touchpads and free apps that allow users to control their system through their smartphone or tablet. Ease of use and passive control are two recurring themes, which also help fuel the notion that the new security systems have eliminated the need for any sort of professional installation or hardwiring.

While this may be the case with some systems, it is not the norm. Steve Shapiro is vice president of product solutions for ADT, which manufactures the ADT Pulse home security system. He said that, while the new systems have helped change home security from a pricey toy for the rich to an affordable product for the masses, it has not eliminated the need for a professional to install it. He said that the installation of the new systems creates many opportunities for partnerships between the security company and the professional installer.

While the former employ low-voltage installers, electrical contractors do that and higher voltage work, and this will always be a part of the equation. Shapiro said that many installations progress incrementally, with the customer starting with a home security system and adding components later, and, like the talking thermostat mentioned earlier, these often require a high-voltage, hard-wired installation.

Similarly, while many of the new systems incorporate wireless technology, that too, has not displaced the need for hardwiring. Using Shapiro’s “step up” scenario, a customer who retrofits their home with a wireless home security system may also want to add some wall lighting that can be integrated into and monitored by that system.

Myers of Tyco echoed that sentiment.

“There will always be a need to pull some wire for some aspect of the home security system,” he said. “The need for wire may be reduced, but it is not eliminated.”

Another role for the electrical contractor in all of this is as a professional consultant. Consumers may be able to purchase attractive-looking, off-the-shelf products that they can install themselves, but they risk sacrificing the service of a professional, 24-hour monitoring provider. Through education and awareness, EC’s can position themselves to advise clients which products will give them the best quality monitoring to go with their hardware. When all is said and done, that is still what a home security system is for.

the best science fiction is prescient, the most imaginative sometimes eventually coming true. Whether it’s a Jules Verne novel about undersea exploration in a submarine or a Tom Cruise thriller featuring a secret agent gaining entry by scanning his eyeballs, the fantasy qualities of these visions almost always seem to eventually become mundane.

Kirk MacDowell calls the evolution in the home security market a “convergence of life safety and lifestyle.” The consumer interacts with the system using (what he refers to with a chuckle as) the “gooey interface.” It’s a convenient play on words, as gooey 
also refers to GUI, or graphical user interface.

About The Author

LAEZMAN is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at [email protected]





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