Home alone & safe with alert gadgets

Two decades ago, if a parent left their child home alon with an ayah or a carer, there would be a slew of instructions: Make sure you keep the door locked; don’t let strangers in....

    Fast forward to 2010. When Delhi HR manager Jyoti Gupta and her chartered accountant husband head for work leaving their two children alone at home with the nanny, they are relatively unworried. “There is a fire alarm and an intercom in our high-rise apartment. But as our children are young, we have installed video surveillance cameras in the living room and bedroom to see what the nanny is up to. We can watch the images online,” says Jyoti.

    Then, there is Sameera Singh, a TV anchor in Mumbai. Singh is single and lives alone in a studio apartment in Dadar. She has installed an “electronic watchdog” to keep intruders at bay. “This gadget, which I got from Bangkok, can sense if someone is approaching. When the person is within 20 ft, it makes a barking sound like that of a large dog,” she says. “The fun part is that the barking gets more intense as the intruder comes closer. And if, for example, it’s tampered with, it can even send messages to my phone number as well as to my parents. My parents laugh at my ‘Chinese dog’ but it works for me!”

    Welcome to the world of high-tech home security. The expansion of the Indian middle-class has meant small families and more working couples who love to travel. Unsurprisingly, Indians increasingly need surveillance gadgets to protect their homes while at work or away on holiday. The market has surged and the current estimate of Rs 800 crore is expected to grow 20% annually.

    This is in line with the worldwide market for such products and services, which is estimated to be $7 billion, says Gurudas Parwani, CEO of Smart Guard Systems, one of India’s first manufacturers of security gadgets.

    Architect Jayanta Dutta says builders and people who are building their own homes generally ask for security gadgets to be installed during the construction stage, especially in metros.

    “As for offices and retail outlets, it’s become a must now to have wiring and sockets for automated safety devices such as digital locks, swipe-card readers, CCTV cameras, etc.”

    But are these gadgets foolproof ? Do they really prevent break-ins? Dutta remembers the strange case of an office complex in Bangalore where the fire alarm didn’t work last year because “the electricity had tripped at the time of the eventuality, and the entire system collapsed. For the same reason, theft alarms too don’t work sometimes”.

    Manufacturers and security companies admit that most of these products need uninterrupted power supply, making it difficult to keep them in a state of constant ‘alert’ in a country like India.

    A technical analyst from a leading security gadgets company in Delhi, said on condition of anonymity that “many of the gadgets used in India are bulky and consume a lot of power. Some have a longer ‘dwell time’, due to which timely action gets delayed. Moreover, Indians prefer to buy stuff from the grey market, which is cheap and has no credibility or warranty.”

    Parwani says there is yet another problem with ‘hightech’ security in India. “Many places in India use the earlier generation of CCTVbased passive surveillance systems, but these just record. Most western countries have switched to the IP (Internet Protocol) based systems that provide ‘anytime, anywhere’ monitoring, including from handheld devices. Coupled with intelligent video solutions, they also offer automatic alerts and enable real time responses. These systems also provide superior image quality as compared to CCTVs.”

    Many gadgets imported from the west are unsuitable for Indian conditions. “Take fire alarm systems. Outdoor use is not successful as the weather here changes so frequently that the system becomes vulnerable to false alarms, due to which many people keep them switched off,” says Dutta.

    Given the nature of surveillance, miniaturization is the next frontier, says Parwani, making for devices and systems more suitable for India because they will “need less power.”

Video surveillance:
Used in homes, offices and stores. CCTVs register images and beam them to the monitoring agency
Security alarms: Made up of input devices such as panic switches, motion detectors and glass-break detectors. Output devices include speakers, sirens and alarm panels
Fire alarms: Sensitive to smoke particles or visible products of combustion. A fire is detected either by a rise in temperature or increase in light intensity. Handy for currency chests
Access control: It restricts uninvited guests. It has three components – reader, controller and electric lock release indoor phones. Identity is validated through swipe cards, etc
Audio/video door entry systems: Outdoor and indoor phones (intercoms) enable access and centralize surveillance and communication without the door being physically opened