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June 23, 2017

Arlo: DIY Home Security

We already have a traditional home security system; but I’m a nerd so can’t resist the new gadgets. The sandbox for my experiment is Mary’s currently unprotected vegetable garden. Despite a fence, it is subject to immediate attack by critters unknown whenever a leaf pokes above the dirt. Nothing can survive there except weeds (critters don’t eat weeds), grapes, and raspberries. Obviously we need a crittercam to identify the culprit.

I bought Arlo (see picture below) because it’s double wireless: runs on lithium batteries and uses WiFi to talk to its base station. Software nerds try to avoid wires. The camera includes a motion detector so it only records video when it thinks something is going on. Video clips go immediately go the cloud where they’re stored free for seven days with more time available at a premium; the critter won’t be able to destroy anything to cover its video tracess. Arlo supports IFTTT (If This Then That), which lets me program connections with other devices. It comes from Netgear as does my router making me think (correctly) that setup would be easy, Arlo got pretty good reviews on Amazon. I did not do a thorough search of competitive devices – too many of them.

The starter kit comes with one camera and a base station, which can support up to 5 cameras on the free plan. The base station is physically connected to your router with an included Ethernet cable; does mean you must have a port available on your router. You put batteries in the camera and turn it on. You pair it with the base station by holding it close and pushing the pair button on both devices. Easier than Bluetooth. However, this tells us that the camera is communicating directly with the base station by WiFi and is not actually part of the WiFi network managed by your router.  You won’t like this limitation if you have used multiple routers to extend the area of your home WiFi network; the cameras will still all have to be in direct range of the base station and you may need multiple base stations.

You use the Arlo smartphone app (iOS or Android) to set up the camera and then the app is the best way to monitor what’s going on. First I put Arlo on a table in the living room. Every time I walked by, my phone promptly buzzed. The app let me view the latest recording (me shambling by), earlier recordings, or a “live” view – whatever the camera sees now regardless of whether motion has been detected. There is also a browser-based version of the app for use on your computer. If you want it to, Arlo will send you an email when he detects motion. Most intriguing, Arlo triggers IFTTT events; this means IFTTT scripts could be written to do almost anything when motion is detected including setting off an alarm (or perhaps a sprinkler in the garden). Will blog about that when I do it.

Once Arlo passed the living room test, it was time to install him as crittercam. The base is a metal hemisphere which attaches with one screw (even I can do that). There is a magnetic indent in the back of Arlo which gloms onto the hemisphere so you can angle the camera in a good range of directions. We angled him towards a collection of lettuce we’d put out as critter bait.

Arlo (2)

I may have angled Arlo too high. He reported a couple of intrusions but there was never anything to see. I do expect some false alarms; things move outside. Then I went out to take Arlo’s picture for this post. I thought he’d take a video of me taking a picture of him. But he didn’t notice me until I was latching the gate on the way out. I could need an Arlo Pro with advertised better sensitivity, a wider angle lens, and sound; nerds are suckers for upgrades.


Haven’t caught the critter yet but it won’t be long.

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