Aura is a Security System for the Camera CautiousBy - 01/17/2017
The recent hike in the number of connected home security devices has spurred a debate: Have we sacrificed privacy for convenience? A lot of people are concerned about privacy, and rightly so. The very devices we use to protect our homes can be turned against us. A new security system aims to protect your home without being intrusive by eliminating one typically crucial component–a security camera.
Cognitive Systems, a company consisting of experts in wireless signals and radio frequencies, has discovered a way to detect intrusion using only wireless signals. This isn’t a new concept. A company called Hi WiFi launched a similar idea at CES three years ago. But what’s different about Aura is that Cognitive Systems owns the IP for using wireless for motion detection, they have actual hardware, the hardware includes their own silicon chip, and was recently updated to version 2.0. In short, the difference is that Aura is more than vaporware.
How Aura Works
Imagine that your floor is full of empty soda cans. If an intruder, not knowing about the cans, walks in, what would happen? Most likely, the cans will make noise. It’s basic home security.
Aura works the same way, but instead of soda cans, it scatters invisible wireless signals around your home. The signals come from two devices: the Hub and the Sensor. When placed at two opposing ends of your home, these devices release wireless signals that can cover an area of up to 700 square feet. Add a few more Beacons, and Aura will be able to cover an entire 2,500 square foot home. Of course, this assumes that you have an open floor plan.
Any movement within Aura’s coverage will disrupt the signal, triggering an alarm. But what about movement that happens naturally when you aren’t home? Aura is tuned only to detect motion it understands. Using a patented technology, it can distinguish signal disruptions caused by humans and nonhumans by analyzing how the patterns of the wireless signal change allowing for more reliable motion alerts. According to its creators, it can distinguish humans from pets from moving mechanical objects such as fans.
Hardware and Installation
First things first, Aura can be placed anywhere you have an outlet. As pictured, the first version of Aura featured a cube-shaped Hub that drew power from an outlet via a power cord while the Beacon was a slimmer device that plugged directly into an outlet. When V2 launched, Aura released a Hub and Beacon that look identical. Both devices plug directly into power outlets.
As Aura relies on wireless signals, choosing the right spot for the Hub and Beacon is critical. As all homes are unique, placement of the Hub and Beacon will vary from one home to the next.
To get started, you must first download the Aura Home app to your iOS or Android device and create an account. The app will ask you to provide information about your home, including how many floors you have, the size of each floor, how many Aura devices you own, and whether or not you have pets. If you do have pets, you will be asked to input their weight.
After analyzing your home, the Aura Home app will suggest a place to install your Beacon and Hub. However, general placement suggestions prevail. First, the Hub (the one with the yellow sticker on top) must be placed closest to your router. The Hub’s LED light will flash purple once it’s ready. The next step is to connect your Hub to your router. To do that, simply disconnect your phone from your home’s wireless network and connect it to the Aura network. Next, navigate back to the Aura app and look for Wi-Fi settings. There, you’ll see a list of available networks. Select your network and enter your password.
The next step is placing your Beacon or Beacons. If you have one Beacon, it must be placed no more than 60 feet away from the Hub. If you have two or more Beacons, they must be placed diagonally from each other, and if possible, pointed towards one another. If you have multiple floors, your higher-floor Beacons must not be placed directly above lower-floor Beacons. You must also avoid placing your Beacons near large metal objects.
Finally, you can add multiple users so that you and your family members can all have access to Aura. From the app, go to Settings and select Members. Tap on the Plus symbol, fill out the details, select a permission level, and tap “Add Member.” The new member will receive an email notification and instructions on using the app.
The app plays a major role in functionality. While we haven’t tested Aura, we received a demo of the app and its features at CES 2017. It delivers push notifications to your phone whenever and wherever you are. It also allows you to arm and disarm your system, change the settings, and access other monitoring features.
In some ways, using Aura is no different from using a security camera. For example, you can use the app to get a “live view” of your home, sans video of course. Aura uses wireless signals to detect where people are within your home. For example, if a person walks in, Aura will detect his presence, and a round icon will appear on your screen showing where he is currently located within your home.
In addition, Aura uses geofencing to detect who’s home. For example, if your kids get home, assuming that they have their smartphones with them, round icons with their names will appear in “live view.” Also through the help of geofencing, Aura can automate itself. If at least one family member’s smartphone is within 300 meters from your home, Aura will swap to Home Mode. If everyone is away, Aura will swap to Away Mode.
The app also records a history of detected movements and activities. The Weekly Motion History feature shows all unauthorized motion, or motion triggered by non-users. On the other hand, the Activity Timeline shows all activities, like who came home at what time and who was where and when.
Finally, you can use Aura’s motion detection abilities to automate your home using third-party devices.
First of all, you can use Aura alongside third-party devices to automate your home via IFTTT. Using IFTTT, you can create Applets that trigger Aura based on actions from other connected devices or vice versa. The Aura v2 has two IFTTT Triggers: “Motion detected while Aura is set to Away” and “Motion detected while Aura is set to Night.” The first version of Aura has one additional trigger: “Motion detected by Aura.” Aura also has several IFTTT Actions. The Aura v2 has three Actions: “Set to Home,” “Set to Away,” and “Set to Night.” Aura v1 only has two: “Arm Aura” and “Disarm Aura.”
Aura also works with two other big names in the automation industry, Amazon Alexa and Google Home. You can ask either of the two voice assistants to change Aura’s mode to Home, Away, Pet, Monitoring, or Night.
Soon, Aura will also work with Philips Hue. The integration will take advantage of Aura’s motion sensing ability and geofencing feature to control Hue’s color-changing smart bulbs.
During our CES experience, it was also mentioned that the Aura might somehow join forces with Scout Alarm. However, the system will use different hardware and will be a Scout-branded solution. Though details are fuzzy, it sounds like the goal is to eventually integrate the Aura system with Scout’s backend, which includes integrations with Nest, Amazon Alexa, and even professional monitoring.
Some might argue that Aura is just a glorified motion sensor, but it’s actually a clever device. In fact, Aura has advantages over traditional motion sensors. First, it has a greater “line of sight.” The starter kit, which includes
just two pieces of equipment, can protect a small home. With traditional motion
sensors, you’ll probably need 3 or 4 sensors to do the job, depending on the
sensor’s viewing angle. Second, Aura works reliably during the day and at night
because it doesn’t rely on light to detect motion.Third, it uses technology that is much more advanced than traditional motion sensors.
My only concern when we met Aura at CES 2017 was its price. The starter kit retails for $499. Alternatively, you can purchase a full-fledged DIY security system for the same price. Thankfully, Aura v2 has a smaller price tag. The starter kit, which includes one Hub and one Beacon, sells for $199. Additional Beacons are available for $99 each. Supposedly, the starter kit can cover a 700 sq. ft. home. Adding one more Beacon will expand the coverage to 1,500 sq. ft. and from there, each additional Beacon will expand the coverage by 500 sq. ft. However, if your home has multiple enclosed rooms, you’ll probably need to add even more Beacons. To learn more or to purchase Aura, you can head over to Aura’s website.