Piper bills itself as a home security system and a home automation hub. It falls into a growing category of do-it-yourself home security systems that use the Internet and your smartphone as a replacement for a central monitoring center. Piper provides an option that relies on our “always connected” world to help avoid a monthly fee normally paid to a security company that alerts authorities if the alarm goes off.
The Piper unit ($199) is an over-sized webcam-looking device, about the size of a soda can. The overall package is quite attractive with a black or white glossy finish and soft edges. The unit comes with a silver table-top stand, a wall mount bracket, extra-long power cord, and internal battery backup.
At first glance, you may think of Piper as a webcam that will alert you when something changes at home. Once you get it connected and start to play with the unit, you realize that it’s a whole lot more than a webcam— there’s an impressive collection of sensors and technology packed into this sleek little unit.
The Piper unit includes the following hardware features:
- 180° fisheye camera to monitor in many directions.
- Motion sensor
- Temperature sensor
- Humidity sensor
- Light sensor
- Sound meter / microphone — you can listen to what’s going on in the room remotely
- Internal accelerometer — to tell if someone is tampering with the Piper unit
Using Piper as a Home Security System By Setting Security Rules
You install the unit in your house, dorm room, rental apartment, summer cottage, or million dollar house in the Hamptons. It monitors the environment according to rules that you build and then when a rule is triggered, it contacts you via a push notification on your Android or iPhone, a text message, a phone call, or email. Trigger criteria include motion, a loud noise, or change in temperature.
For example, you can set up a security rule for motion. If motion is detected, record a video, and send a notification to my phone. If you’re away from home and get a notification, you can instantly pull up the app, see the recorded video, watch live video, trigger an internal siren, or talk through the Piper to whoever is in your house. Yes, Piper is a 2 way system! Piper’s YouTube channel has a helpful video for setting up security rules.
If Piper is monitoring your ski house at Tahoe, you can set a rule to send you an email message if the heater dies and the temperature in the house gets below 50°.
Piper’s smartphone app also has a dashboard where you can view your home’s vital statistics, a screen showing the last 24 hours of indoor and outdoor temperature, indoor humidity, light, sound, and motion. The screen is pretty to look at and moderately useful, but it’s definitely a clue into the kinds of data that Piper collects and how you might be able to use that for home security or home automation programming purposes.
There are several features about Piper that set it apart from other home monitoring systems. These include Piper’s camera, the integrated Z-Wave hub, and it’s lack of a monthly fee.
The Piper unit comes with a fixed camera, but it’s a 180° HD camera with a fisheye lens. While there are no motors to change direction of the camera, the Piper team decided instead to let you use software to move around in the image. Through the mobile app, you can change the view of the camera, looking extreme left, then right, up, and down and zoom in. There’s even a quad-view pane where you can split the recording window up into 4 quadrants and have each quadrant record a different direction.
I placed Piper on the mantle above the fireplace and it had a 180° view of the living room. Using the mobile app, I selected the quad-view and set one view to look at the door to the living room, another to look at the double-window, another to watch the TV and entertainment console, and the last one to watch the couch (and the window behind it). I had 4 different vantage points from the mantle, to record someone entering the living room, touching the stereo cabinet, coming in through the windows, or to see if the dog was sleeping on the couch while I was gone.
Speaking of the dog example, with the mobile app, I could pull up the couch view and then tap the microphone button to shout “Hey Oliver, get off the couch.” While our dog’s previous owner taught him to stay off furniture, many other aren’t so lucky. Maybe you have a puppy that likes to eat couch cushions or destroy your shoes while you’re away? Piper can help reinforce for the dog behavior you expect via motion rules that alert you to undesirable behavior and serves as a way to provide a verbal command from the 2 way system even from afar.
Expandable with Z-Wave
Another feature of Piper is that it can communicate with other devices with Z-wave. Z-Wave is one of the home automation standards that exist for having devices talk to each other. This means that there is a whole marketplace of external sensors that you can hook up to your Piper unit. Today, Piper supports window and door sensors and a variety of light controls. Maybe Piper can only monitor a piece of your home with it’s 180° camera, but you can connect sensors to your front and back doors, and windows. This gives the little Piper the reach of a commercial alarm system.
With the light switches, you can have lights turn on and off according to schedules or according to whether you’re home or not. Many home alarm systems use Z-Wave as well but only authorized technicians can add or delete devices, meaning you have to pay a service call to change anything.
Piper features a Piper + Z-Wave Pack from their online store that includes the camera and 3 different accessories of your choice for $339. Choose between the Door/Window Sensor, Smart Switch, Micro Smart Switch, Range Extender, and Smart Dimmer.
No Monthly Fee
In a world where everyone is trying to sell you a subscription (Netflix, Hulu, Microsoft Office 365, AT&T Wireless, HP Instant Ink, even my local car wash), it’s refreshing to see someone bucking the trend. Piper has the potential to be a disruptive technology among the behemoths of home security vendors. For large alarm companies, the money is made on the monthly monitoring fee, not selling you the system.
Along comes Piper with easy self-installation, expandable Z-Wave compatibility, “self monitoring” via smartphone, text, email, phone calls, and now it starts to get interesting. Even some of the products billed as “DIY home security solutions” have monthly fees but Piper does not.
If you live in a large home, multiple Piper units can be associated to the same account and monitored through a single instance of the Piper mobile app. This would give you the ability to position cameras near the front door, back door, and near your valuables, perhaps the entertainment center and the computers in your den without a monthly fee.
If you’re in need of a whole-house system, start with the Piper + Z-Wave House Kit ($799). It includes one camera and up to 5 Z-Wave accessories of your choice (Door/Window Sensor, Smart Switch, Micro Smart Switch, Range Extender, and Smart Dimmer).
Possible Future for Piper
With Z-Wave, it’s possible that Piper could communicate with your home thermostat. There are a variety of Z-Wave thermostats on the market, and if Piper could talk to them, it opens the door for rules like “If I’m away, lower the temperature by 5 degrees,” regardless of the normal programmable thermostat schedule.
The data being collected about indoor and outdoor temperature and indoor humidity could potentially be used to create complex energy saving programs to control your heating and air conditioning systems. Piper appears to be working on an API to allow application developers to tap into the data being collected to enhance the system. If third-party developers start to extend Piper’s capabilities and tie them in with other home automation tools, then Piper could become a hub for all sorts of services in your home.
Piper is an exciting platform that performs many different functions in an attractive package at an affordable price. It can be a Z-wave hub, webcam, nanny-cam, pet-watching cam, programmable light-timer, home temperature and humidity monitoring system, or a whole-house security system.
Starting at $199 with no monthly fee, you can start slowly and add more components at your leisure. If you’re into home automation and you can see the value of a home security system or remote-webcam, it’s easy to justify the purchase.
If you’re interested in learning more about the various Z-Wave components that Piper offers, I’ll be sharing our experience with them in a future post!
I received compensation from Piper for my time testing out provided components and sharing my thoughts. All opinions are my own and based on personal experience.