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Operational Security

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10/2/2017
11:35 AM
Simon Marshall
Simon Marshall
Simon Marshall

Sunflower Security Mixes Lights, Drones for Safer Buildings

A new security company may change the way we think about residential security.

Arnold Schwarzenegger learnt in Predator that he could overcome an invisible enemy. Now it's time for wannabe Schwarzeneggers (or Red Sonjas) everywhere to do the same in their own backyards.

Sunflower Labs has developed a home security system it claims will "give us the ability to enjoy our homes again." The San Francisco startup contends that today's home security systems don't really bring peace of mind: in fact, they do the opposite.

It claims many systems are prone to false alarms, alerting police departments that have grown skeptical due to too many false positives, and will fine the owner if the alarm turns out to be bogus. Or perhaps not turn up. It's all a bit too worrying.

So, many people take security enforcement into their own hands. Homes in the US can use, alongside their regular intruder detection system, lights in the front and backyard and in some cases, cameras with fixed views on the exterior. Sunflower Labs places sensors in the lights, and puts the camera up in the sky.

The concept is that lights are positioned around the property -- they offer illumination of course -- but they also contain sensors that learn the usual pattern of movement within the property boundaries. Detection is pretty sophisticated because it differentiates between human footsteps and animals. If anything falls outside of that pattern, the owner is alerted via an app, and an autonomous quadcopter (a.k.a., a drone) is launched and can fly around the house and take a closer look.

Owners of the Sunflower Home Awareness System can see live streamed footage from the drone, and can then decide if they need to take further action or not. Because that decision is up to the owner and not to a regular automated detection system, the hope is that the average false alarms rate of 95% can be reduced, law enforcement is better positioned to react, and consumers feel more empowered.

Can you, as a sword-wielding ex-governor of California, get your hands on one? Not just yet. Sunflower is still conducting internal trials and is currently asking consumers to sign up to be the first external trialists in a limited run in early 2018. Even consumer groups have not got their hands on it yet.

When it comes out of trial, Sunflower hopes to distribute widely throughout the US and has just signed a partnership with the world's second-biggest home security manufacturer, Stanley Black & Decker.

"The team at Stanley reached out and we spent a fair amount of time together," Alex Pachikov, co-founder and CEO told Security Now. "They visited us to see the demo, and we flew out to visit them to work out the details of our partnership and within a few months we had a terrific deal."

Pachikov said the concept, as with all good concepts, was developed over drinks with his co-founder Chris Eheim, CTO. "Over a few months we started hacking an early prototype together and doing research -- then we went out to raise some seed funding," he says.

That funding has been conducted over two rounds. In November last year, General Catalyst stumped up $2.1 million seed, and then a few days ago, the same VC partnered with Stanley Ventures to inject $6 million.


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It's a good concept, but because it's new, there are questions. What are the privacy issues that stem from flying your own drone around the neighborhood? Pachikov is bullish.

"We designed the system to only look in the direction of your house and property. We will explicitly go out of the way to avoid looking at the neighbors. If the neighbor complains -- you can show them the footage," he says. So, the drone is designed to fly autonomously in a pattern where it centers only on the house.

What if the drone fails to spot an intruder and there is then damage to a property or worse?

"We are looking into insurance options."

Related posts:

— Simon Marshall, Technology Journalist, special to Security Now

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