Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

Canary’s “Smart” Smoke Detector Alerts Your Smartphone When Things Get Hairy at Home

Admit it: You’ve wanted to smash your smoke alarm with a baseball bat.

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That’s where the Canary smoke and carbon monoxide detector comes in. This concept gadget propels a decades-old device into the new age of Wi-Fi-connected, “smart” homes.

Created by a New York-based startup of the same name, Canary connects to your at-home Wi-Fi network and alerts you to alarming levels of smoke, carbon monoxide or even air pollution via your smartphone. It will also ring your landline or smartphone directly to tell you when things are getting hairy at home.

Perhaps most conveniently, the smoke and CO monitor can be turned off via the smartphone app, as well — so, no more insistent chirping while you stand on a chair trying to quiet your smoke alarm.

The idea for the smart alarm came to Mark Belinsky, one member of the six-person Canary team, during Hurricane Sandy. He couldn’t get in touch with his Russian-speaking grandmother in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, so rode his bike from Williamsburg to check on her. He found that not only she but other residents of her apartment building were heating their apartments with their gas stoves.

“I thought, this is terrible,” Belinsky said. “They were all at acute risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Inspired by the experience, Belinsky put together a team, who built the first Canary detector.

It supports seven different languages, including Russian — a nod to Grandma.

However, as Gizmodo points out, right now Canary is only a prototype — which means you can’t buy it just yet. The company said it’s likely going to submit the project to a crowdfunding site, like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, to raise money for an actual rollout.

The Android and iOS apps are still in the works (a Web dashboard is being used while Canary is in test mode). And it’s still undetermined whether the device will be compatible with X10, Zigbee or Z-Wave wireless network protocols, which means, basically, that it’s hard to know whether this will play nice with existing home-automation systems and gadgets.

Still with all of the “smart” home appliances popping up out there, it’s nice to see something emerge that is dedicated to a legitimate home safety concern, as opposed to multicolored lightbulbs and tweeting refrigerators.

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Most smoke and CO detectors are still “dumb” in that they don’t offer Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity. Of course, one would hope that a smoke detector is already “smart” enough to properly alert someone when there’s a fire.

But high carbon monoxide levels can be harder to detect, and CO poisoning often strikes the elderly. According to the CDC, fatality from CO is highest among Americans 65 and older. A remote alert system that works in conjunction with smartphones seems like a no-brainer.

On a broader scale, a few years ago the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched an initiative to put poison-and-chemical-reading sensors directly into cellphones. This would potentially alert users to individual threats, such as CO poisoning, as well as to mass threats, like a gas attack.

But it’s unclear where that project currently stands. The Department has not yet responded to a request for an update.

Belinsky and the Canary team also see an opportunity in air-quality data sets. “We’re looking at creating a whole platform for indoor air-quality information, so this can be something people just know,” Belinsky said. “Let’s say you’re looking at buying or renting a house. Wouldn’t you want to know what kind of air you’re breathing? We see that as a huge opportunity.”


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