Budget Security: Using old digital devices as home crime cameras

Budget Security: Using old digital devices as home crime cameras

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Smartphones, tablets - they keep the digital world spinning.

"We're living at probably the fastest rate of change of technology that America has ever seen," said professor Kim Jovanovich, an engineer serving as acting assistant dean in the College of Engineering at the University of New Orleans.

Because digital technology is constantly changing, what we rave about one year may be labelled outdated the next. But now there are ways to give your old smartphones and tablets new life and add peace of mind in the process. And it's simple.

"It took me longer to find an old cell phone that I could use to interface with mine because I had put it in drawers and everything else, than it was for me to actually get the system up and operating," said Jovanovich.

If your old camera-equipped cell phone or tablet can still be turned on, it can become an "electronic spy," -  in a legal way, of course.

"I've downloaded this particular app, and so I open up Presence," Jovanovich said.

It allows him to turn an older phone into a security camera without spending a penny. The same app has to be on the phone or table he will take with him when leaving his home or office.

"I put here I want this one to be my camera and notice recording motion in 30 seconds," Jovanovich said.

The older phone that had been dormant in a drawer begins capturing video of the engineering lab he is in.

"You can see I'm holding the phone up, you can hear the audio coming through and there it is," he said.

Video streamed via the app appears on both phones simultaneously.

"Let it help you protect your home or your business," said Bryan Lagarde, a criminologist who founded ProjectNOLA, a system of cameras that has helped capture crimes in progress.

He showed some of the security camera apps on giant monitors in the headquarters of ProjectNOLA. Some apps are designed to work with Apple products, others with android devices.

"Salienteye, Alfred, over here we have ManyThing, we have Secure and Spycam," he said.

Some apps can even send sound, email or text alerts to users when motion is sensed where a camera is pointed while still capturing video and still photos.

"This is certainly going to help you, especially if have latchkey children and you want to go ahead and see inside, if you got yourself a new puppy and you want to see if he's ripping up the sofa yet," said Lagarde.

And you do not have to re-activate service with an Internet provider for the older devices.

"You have wi-fi at home, well your phone has wi-fi, so you just connect your phone to your home and you're good to go," Lagarde said. "The magic is the wi-fi. Realistically, if you have a new router you can put a whole bunch of these - you can connect a number of different devices to wi-fi."

"You would load an app on each one of those phones and set those phones up as the remote camera," said Jovanovich.

Allowing for a network of electronic eyes.

"Watch your automobile parked in the driveway, you could watch what's going on in a nursery," said Jovanovich.

People on the street who were told of the new technology had mixed reactions.

"I think it's a neat idea, I think it would come in handy especially for people that travel a lot," said Haley Haymes.

"I don't care about surveying my room, or my house. I don't own anything really worth much," said Margot Marks.

"I think the technology is neat that you could do that, but I'd feel like you'd see the old cellphones in your house somewhere, they'd be kind of unsightly unless you had them hidden in some fashion, or manner," said Jared Guerin.

For anyone open to trying it, Lagarde warns that placing a smartphone or tablet camera next to a window can be tricky in terms of video results.

"During the day it's going to see okay, at night it's really not going to see well at all, so go ahead and put it some place it can work 24/7," Lagarde said.

It is budget friendly security that can aid police if your property is burglarized.

"You're out of harm's way and you're actually watching the bad guys and you're able to give them real time information - what they look like, full description," Lagarde said.

"As he thinks I'm stealing your cell phone, he's actually taking it with him, and the whole time he's picking it up and looking at it and deciding whether he wants to do it or not, he's transmitting his picture to your host telephone," Jovanovich said.

The surveillance from old phones and tablets may be beneficial even where alarms systems are installed, especially in communities where police response times lag.

"When an alarm company calls it in, it goes in as a 62-A. If you see someone breaking into your house and you're looking at it on your phone and you call 911, they're going to put it out as what's called a 62-R in progress, a residential burglary, or a business burglary in progress, and it gets a whole different type of response," said Lagarde.

If there is a downside to using surveillance of this type, it would be the toll video streaming would have on your device's battery.

"So power can be an issue, but you keep the phone plugged in on a charger and the battery draining issue goes away," said Jovanovich.

And some apps even anticipated the power drain.

"You can have a motion detector placed on these Apps which means the only time the phone is actually powered, if you will, is to transmit that signal to your host phone is when there's motion detected within the field of view of the camera."

Still, where the Internet is involved, there is the possibility of digital intruders.

"So don't put it in your bedrooms. Put it in your common areas facing toward your back door, your front door, something like that," said Lagarde.

But the threat of hackers aside, it is technology that appears to have much promise for the future.

"It's going to get to the point where small devices are going to be doing this without the need for a second cell phone as long as that device has wi-fI associated with it," said Jovanovich.

Still, Lagarde believes external security cameras still have a place.

"And that way, that camera is helping to protect that homeowner, but really other people on the block," said Lagarde, whose program of conventional security cameras has expanded. "We have the loaner cameras to where people don't even have to buy them anymore, we go ahead and we loan them out."

But in terms of the app-based surveillance, he finds it useful.

"I wouldn't say get rid of your alarm system, but this is something that can definitely give you additional peace of mind," he said.

Some experts say to keep your cell phone or tablet camera stable, buy a smartphone tripod or stand.

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