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December 2015

Startup helps homeowners create home-monitoring system with old smartphones

Old smartphones and other devices can be repurposed as a home-monitoring system using free software from a New York startup called Perch.

The software, recently released in beta, is initially compatible with PCs and standard USB webcams. In the coming months the company plans to add iPhones, IPads, smart TVs and traditional security cameras as reusable devices for fashioning a live-streaming security system.

The beta version is available at GetPerch.com. Once the software is downloaded, the user chooses settings to configure and customize, then points the gadget's camera at the area to be viewed. A computer is needed to set notifications, integrate with smart-home automation systems and draw zones for monitoring.

Using the Perch app, homeowners can view video feeds or archived footage through their mobile devices.

Eventually, the software will work with smart TVs and home automation systems.

Perch integrates with software like Wink and Samsung's SmartThings so homeowners can control their Internet-connected appliances. For example, a lamp could be turned off simply by clicking an image of the light in the video, or loud music could play if a pet jumps on furniture that's off limits.

The company is working on technology that can tell the difference between a pet and a person to prevent false alarms that are common with many existing home monitoring setups. That distinction and Perch's use of technology akin to "a persistent video chat services," instead of a Netflix-style buffering technology, are features that help set Perch apart from rivals who also enable home monitoring via old gadgets. With Perch's system, parents could initiate a "real time" video chat with their kids if they observe them misbehaving, a feature that isn't possible with lagged connections.

"Our goal is to be the easiest way to get started doing home monitoring," Perch CEO Andrew Cohen told CNET. "You're able to set up in a matter of minutes and take a device and keep an eye on your kids while they're playing in the next room."

Perch is part of Samsung's accelerator program for startups. In return for helping entrepreneurs launch their products, Samsung -- a South Korean electronics giant -- owns a stake in the companies and gets easier access to their technologies.

The company plans to offer a premium subscription service that lets subscribers access videos saved on a cloud-based DVR. That would allow scheduling recordings and turning them off whenever desired, or monitoring a swimming pool from inside a home. All video shot through Perch is encrypted, but subsequently deleted from its servers after a specified time period.

Analyst firms project people will spend $100 billion on smart home technology and 45 million smart home systems will be in use in 2018.