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Piper: Security Camera and Home Automation in a smart little bundle

- April 11th, 2014

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More homes are not only getting more secure, they’re also getting much smarter, thanks to the availability of affordable and easy to set up security and home automation systems like Canadian-invented Piper.

Piper, which got its kick-start through crowdsourced funding on Indiegogo, is the brainchild of Ottawa-based BlackSumac (just acquired by California based iControl Networks earlier this week). The Piper solution revolves around a multipurpose camera unit and a multifunction downloadable app which together provide an all-in-one home awareness hub rather than just a typical security camera.

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The Wi-Fi enabled camera shoots 1080p HD video. It’s equipped with a fish-eye lens that offers an impressive extremely wide 180-degree field of view.  The 10x digital zoom supports pan and tilt functions giving you the ability to zoom in and look around the room.  It also has an infrared motion detector to detect intruders (up to 10m), a built-in microphone and a piercing 105dB siren – loud enough to almost rival a chainsaw. More than just acting as your eyes and ears, it also has four additional sensors that measure indoor temperature, ambient light, and relative humidity. You’ll see why the last four are not just “nice to know”.

Set-up is very easy but expect to potentially spend about 10 minutes or more getting totally up and running. You don’t need a computer to control Piper as it relies on a mobile device, like the iPhone 4S running iOS 6 or later (which is exactly what I used to test Piper) or an Android device running at least OS 2.2.3.

Plugging Piper in and turning it on causes the front LED to turn a myriad of colours. Eventually it’ll go blue and a robotic voice alerts you “Piper is ready. “ Download your app and take a moment or two to set up your account.  Upon first Wi-Fi set-up only, Piper creates its own little mini Wi-Fi hotspot, which you’ll need to connect to. (Once you’re set-up don’t look for it again, like I did after a power outage; it won’t be there.) You’ll then need to confirm the local network you want to connect to and enter your password.

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At that point, Piper will actually do the rest – even check for software and firmware updates. (This is where it can take a little extra time).

Once complete you’ll want to provide Piper with some information.  Where you live, your phone number whether you have a pet and contact info for others in your trusted circle in case of emergency and more.

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The app has a clean and simple interface. The Dashboard has a pie-shaped icon cut into the four pieces representing Piper’s four program modes: Stay, Away, Vacation and Off.  I consider OFF a mode as Piper does offer select functionality even when the security is turned off. All additional functions are easily accessible.

The power of Piper is its ability to program alerts based not only your needs but also your rules, when and even how – e-mail, text messages, and push notifications or by phone. For example, if Piper detects motion while I’m at work, sound the alarm, record video and send me a text message.

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And the four sensors add even more functionality.

For example you can tell Piper that if the temperature drops below 14C when I’m on vacation, send me a text message and call my brother, a member of my trusted circle.  Since Murphy’s Law prevails, this can be handy when you might be off sun tanning on an island in the middle of the Pacific. A very low internal temperature reading in the dead of winter may indicate that your furnace has stopped working. There’s little you can do if you are 10 time zones away, but perhaps your brother can come to the rescue to help prevent your water pipes from bursting.

There’s more.

Another feature is its connectivity capabilities and seamless integration with 3rd party accessories, specifically Z-Wave home automation devices. These include accessories like door sensors, wall switches, plug in modules and many others.

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I found the plug-in module particularly functional because you’re able to program and control, for example, a device like a lamp. And it’s easy to set up right from within the Piper app. To pair the plug-in module, plug it into a wall socket nearby your Piper unit, plug in your lamp, make sure it’s on, select the control in your app and push the button on the module. It’s that easy.

You can turn your lamp on and off manually via the app, but also at predetermined time intervals or depending on the environment.  For example, you can program it to turn on when it gets dark and turn off when it gets light outside. However, where it really shines, pardon the pun, is the ability to control your device in the event of a pre-programmed alert.  For example: If Piper hears a loud sound, like the smashing of a window, while I’m home, turn the Hallway Lamp on.  Or if you’re plugged into a fan, turn it on if room temperature gets above 25C or turn on the coffee pot when the sun rises.  The possibilities are endless.

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Many people will likely get Piper for security, especially the video.  At any time you can securely access the live video feed through the option on your Dashboard app. Using gestures, you can pan and tilt; pinching in and out allows you to zoom.

Tapping your screen brings up the controls. You can adjust the brightness of the image with a slider control or switch to quad-view.  In that mode, you get four separate views you can adjust independently giving you multiple views for the same area.

Viewing quality isn’t too bad but it’s certainly not broadcast quality. The more you zoom, since the zoom is digital and not optical, the grainier it gets which might be a hindrance if you’re trying to identify an intruder. This becomes even more difficult in low light conditions. Unlike other cameras like the DropCam Pro we reviewed a few months back, Piper doesn’t have infrared LED sensors to give you night vision, although one could possibly switch on a lamp.

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Furthermore, you can securely access any recordings triggered by alerts right from your dashboard. They’re limited to 25 seconds but you can store up to 1000 clips before it overwrites the oldest ones.  Sadly there’s no ability to adjust the settings, download the videos or view them on-line, like other units such as Y-Cam, which stores them free for the first seven days or Dropcam which will store your videos in the cloud for a monthly service fee.  On the other hand, Piper’s videos are free; you get a 180-degree view (Dropcam Pro is 130-degrees) and neither of the other two offers the extended home automation services.

Other features include the ability to get weather alert by setting your location. You can also set a pet motion detector which adjusts the sensitivity of movement so fluffy won’t set off the alarm. You can also adjust the video bandwidth settings for both Wi-Fi and Cellular access and finally, you can also set a delay when setting modes to allow you enough time to lock up and leave.

Pricing

Piper comes in either black or white is reasonably priced at $239 or $359 bundled with 3 Z-Wave devices. You can also get a multi-pack bundle of 3 Pipers for $649 or  $849 with 5 Z-Wave accessories. All prices are in U.S. Dollars and available from GetPiper.Com.

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Bottom Line

Overall, Piper is an incredible little multi-purpose security and home automation solution especially at the current price points. You get more than just video monitoring for just a little more than the price of the camera along with free secure video clip storage.  The almost endless ability to program alerts, integrate Z-Wave accessories and be notified the way you want, makes for a very valuable solution for any home.

I thought the quad-view and the ability to adjust each of the four frames was a definite plus. This might have been even better if Piper had the ability to set up multiple zones on a single camera in the same frame, a feature found on the y-Cam. So for example, to ensure your pets don’t trigger false alarms, you can set motion detection to trigger at the front door only above four feet.

The lack of night vision I thought was a miss and I’d like to have been able to get sharper video when zooming. Also the ability have control over the videos, maybe have web access and the ability to trigger recording on demand would be helpful, especially if you wanted to hand them over to the authorities.

I also could not find a way to manually control the siren, which would be handy in the event of a false alarm or emergency.

New Features, New Owners

Two days ago, after I had completed my review, the company added two additional features to Piper.

It now allows for multi-Piper capability, which provides the ability to support additional units and create multiple security zones. Two-way audio capability has also ben added so you can communicate through Piper. So not only can you talk to and scare off possible intruders, you can also use Piper like a two-way baby-monitor to sing to your toddler or talk to your dog Rex during the day while you’re away at work.

Acquisition of this humble Canadian startup by iControl Networks, seems like a good thing.  While it appears the Piper team will be remaining in Ottawa, iControl’s longevity and extensive experience in home security, energy management and home health care and access to new markets, including rental properties and multiple-unit properties gives the Piper’s creators more resources to help fuel future development.

Rating: 4 / 5

 

Selected Photos courtesy BlackSumac/ iControl Networks.

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Greg Gazin is the Real Canadian Gadget Guy.

Follow me on Twitter @gadgetgreg or Empire Avenue (e)GADGET1.

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"Piper: Security Camera and Home Automation in a smart little bundle", out of 5 based on 1 ratings.
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4 comments

  1. JC | April 15, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Seems pretty amazing. This makes me wonder if this is the way home security moves over the next little while and makes actual home security companies more and more obsolete. In many cases, the most basic home security from a monitoring company is about $30/month. You want advanced features like a live feed and other features? The monthly fee quickly escalates to $50-80 (depending on features and company) and when you add tax and look at it on an annual basis, it quickly adds up.

  2. Greg Gazin | April 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I think that maybe a combination of monitored and self-monitored might be the way to go. The home automation features are sweet. What I’d like to see are Stove left on monitor and garage door. Those are the two culprits.

  3. Mark Clair | June 3, 2014 at 7:08 am

    Thanks for introducing about Piper! Its really great.

    But I have already installed a security system at my home. It keeps a record of whoever comes my home when I am not there. It alerts me with an email also. What I have installed is actually a videorelay unit. I got it installed from Alarmforce videorelay at Mississauga, Ontario.

    Piper is also a great solution. I will recommend it to my friends. I think the advanced uses of home alarm cameras is what it brings them popularity.

  4. Tou che | August 21, 2014 at 12:28 am

    Great comments by people who don’t have Piper systems! Too bad that it fails to connect for many, many people but the company won’t tell you which routers it actually works with. Back to the traditional proven alarm system I already have. I can live without the app and the hassles.

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