Startup’s free software taps old gadgets to monitor your home

Perch, which is part of Samsung’s accelerator program for startups, uses your old smartphones and other devices around the house to check on your kids and make sure your home is secure.

Looking for a cheap way to monitor your kids when they’re in a different room or to make sure your dog’s not sleeping on the couch? Perch may have the answer for you.

The company, developed as part of Samsung’s accelerator program for startups, takes gadgets you already own and turns them into simple home-monitoring devices. The free software, released in beta Wednesday, is initially compatible with PCs and standard USB webcams, as well as with smartphones, tablets and digital cameras running Android 4.1 or higher. In the coming months, the software will spread to iPhones, iPads, smart TVs and traditional security cameras.

“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 the latest company to emerge from Samsung’s New York accelerator. In 2013, the South Korean electronics giant established two centers, one in Manhattan and the other in Silicon Valley, to help entrepreneurs get their products out the door. In return, Samsung owns a stake in the companies and gets easier access to their technologies. So far, no big hits have emerged from Samsung’s accelerator.

Cohen and Perch hope they can change that and do so in smart homes, an area getting a lot of attention from Samsung, Apple, Google and other tech giants. Analyst firms project that in 2018, people will spend $100 billion on smart home technology and 45 million smart home systems will be in use. It’s a major part of the concept known as the Internet of Things, which links not just computers and phones to the Net, but also doors, washing machines, cars, traffic signals, security cameras and sensors.

Perch isn’t the first company that lets you monitor your home via old gadgets. Cohen said what sets Perch apart from rivals is its video technology and what it lets you do, such as turn on your lamp by tapping on a video image. Perch also is working on technology that can tell the difference between a pet and a person, preventing false alarms common in home monitoring, Cohen said.

Many home-monitoring video services have a slight lag between the time an action is happening and when it’s broadcast to your phone or computer because they use Netflix-style buffering technology. Perch uses technology akin to a persistent video chat service, like Microsoft’s Skype or Apple’s FaceTime, which means it operates with less-than-a-second lag versus up to a 10-second delay from other video monitoring services, Cohen said.

And because what you’re seeing is in virtually real time, you can also take timely actions. You can set a zone that triggers a reaction, like automatically turning on the TV every time your dog settles in for a nap on the couch. Or if you see your kids goofing off, you can initiate a video chat with them through the device in the room where they’re playing.

“On a lagged connection, if you do a conversation, it’s more like a stilted walkie talkie,” Cohen said. “With our system you can have a very natural video chat conversation with your children.”

Perch integrates with home automation software like Wink and Samsung’s SmartThings to let you control your Internet-connected appliances. You can turn off a smart lamp in your living room just by clicking on an image of the light in the video.

Perch will also sell a premium subscription service that lets you access videos saved on a cloud-based DVR. You can schedule recordings and turn them off whenever you like, letting you do things like record the nursery while a babysitter is watching your kids or monitor your pool while you’re inside the house.

Cohen declined to provide details about the premium plans, including what they’ll cost, but said Perch is offering free video storage for seven days’ worth of footage to the first beta users. All video shot through Perch is encrypted, and the company deletes footage from its servers after a specified time period, initially seven days.

Perch is available as a public beta at GetPerch.com. After downloading the software and choosing your settings, you point the gadget’s camera at what you want to see. A computer is required to do tasks like set notifications, integrate with smart-home automation systems and draw zones for monitoring. Users can view footage through their mobile devices, but other functionality initially is limited to Chrome browsers on Macs and PCs.

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