The story of Richard East is one of 2005's best examples of how technology is changing our lives. When someone tried to burgle his fl at in July, a motion sensor in a £99 Linksys Wireless-G Internet Video camera detected the thief, recorded a five-second colour video clip and sent it to Richard East's email address.
While this is a good example of DIY CCTV in action, Mr East has admitted that a video camera on its own wasn't a perfect solution. 'It didn't stop him from stealing my stuff,' he told The Times. 'I should have got an alarm, which might have scared him off.'
To protect and to serve
For double the price (and then some), Mr East could have bought Motorola's HomeSight starter kit. Not only does this system include a wireless video camera, but it also comes with a sensor to detect when a door or window has been opened. You can also link these two devices to an optional siren. You manage the package with a broadband-connected PC, which can send text alerts, photos or video clips to specified email addresses or your mobile phone.
Although the content of this starter bundle is focused squarely on home security, HomeSight is designed to extend into the hobbyist home automation sector. An optional water sensor can detect flooding, while Motorola plans modules that enable HomeSight to switch your lights on and off. The controller software can also link several devices together. You might want a door sensor to send an alert to a lighting controller, so that the lamps in your house turn on as you enter.
Do you really need it?
Such DIY home control isn't a new idea. You can put something similar together with X-10 technology and Harmony controller software. In its favour, the HomeSight kit is easy to install and use, and the system uses an 802.11g network to manage communication between devices. However, you quickly become aware of its limitations. There's no remote access to the controller software, so you can't view your home from the office, and the camera resolution is a poor 320 x 240 pixels.
Buy the kit as is, and you can do little more than receive alerts when movement is detected, or look at low-res images of your cat. While the HomeSight system is designed to expand, the extras are pricey. Even an extra camera costs another £100. A wireless keypad to remotely arm and disarm the system costs £60, while the siren is £50 - and we're not sure if you can turn it off remotely.
DIY home automation has been slow to take off in the UK. X-10 technology can be unreliable, while Z-Wave modules are scarce. This HomeSight package is a decent effort, but it needs to be cheaper and more flexible before we'll think about buying one.