Blink, and see the future of home security

Immedia's Blink home security camera.
Immedia's Blink home security camera.

There’s not a lot at my home worth stealing, but I’d still advise against trying. I’ve got a new home security system from a local company that just might become Massachusetts’ next big consumer electronics firm.

Boston’s already a big player in home security thanks to local hero SimpliSafe Corp. At a price of $230 and up, SimpliSafe offers an array of motion sensors, building entry detectors, smoke alarms, and other lifesaving gadgets, all of it simple enough for do-it-yourself installation.

But SimpliSafe lacks a video surveillance option, so it can’t record images of an intruder, or let you see an image of the kitchen, to ensure you turned the oven off. Chief executive Chad Laurans told me recently that the company’s planning to add a video camera in the near future.

They’d better get a move on. Here comes Blink, an impressive new video security system from an unlikely source – a microchip maker in Andover.

Immedia Semiconductor Inc. was founded in 2008 to design video processing chips for other companies’ consumer products. Then they created something special – a high-definition video chip that can run off a couple of standard AA batteries. With it, a company could build dirt-cheap wireless security cameras that could work for months or years without recharging.

But Immedia executives knew it might take a couple of years to persuade a major manufacturer to make such cameras. “The cycle time to get from innovation to end product is very long,” said Don Shulsinger, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

So Immedia decided to go it alone. In June of 2014, the company logged onto the Kickstarter crowdfunding service in search of investors, a money-saving ploy that also could reveal whether anyone would buy such a device. When nearly 6,900 investors ponied up a million dollars in a couple of months, Immedia had its answer.

Fifteen months later, Immedia has shipped Blink devices to its early investors, and to me. I’ve got one glued to the front door and another propped on a living-room shelf, silently and subtly watching everything.

My setup sells for $140 and includes two camera modules and a small wireless control module that plugs into any wall outlet; a single camera and control module costs $79. The control module talks to the Blink cameras, and relays their images to the home’s Wi-Fi network. Now I can use an Apple or Android smartphone app to see my home videos anywhere in the world. Each camera module has a bright LED light for illuminating dark rooms, as well as a motion sensor that’ll kick the camera to life if anything moves. They even contain a sensor to track room temperature; not especially useful, but kind of slick. Additional camera modules cost $60 apiece, up to 10 per control module.

By comparison, Alphabet Inc.’s Nestcam costs $200 and needs to be plugged into a wall outlet.

When the Blink system is armed, I get frequent high-def video clips of my wife settling in before the TV or strolling to the fridge. The videos are stored in Blink’s free Internet cloud service. If my house gets jacked, I can forward the images directly to the cops.

The app pings you when the Blink’s batteries are about to die. But that might take awhile. In the month since I installed them, the Blink cameras have been activated maybe a couple hundred times. But according to the app, their batteries are still at full power.

Blink‘s biggest weakness is its dependence on your home Internet connection. Any crook with sense enough to cut the cable will have nothing to fear. By contrast, SimpliSafe’s control module connects to the Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile cellular network, and has battery backup so it’ll work even if the power is cut. The company charges $14.99 a month for this feature, which includes a round-the-clock monitoring service where human beings stand guard on your home. The Wi-Fi-connected Blink carries no additional fees, and the only monitor is you. But Immedia’s Shulsinger tells me they’re planning a fee-based cellular version of Blink, for greater security.

Shulsinger also hopes to integrate Blink with other smart devices, as part of the up-and-coming “Internet of Things.” For instance, its motion tracker and temperature sensor might someday sync up with the lights, thermostat and TV, so when a user walks through the door, the lights come on, the furnace fires up and the TV switches to “Family Feud.”

Until then, Blink’s a pretty good way to make sure your stuff stays put, even if you don’t have a lot of stuff. When home security is this cheap and this simple, why take chances?

Hiawatha Bray is a technology reporter for the Boston Globe. E-mail him at h_bray@globe.com.
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