Aura's 'Invisible Ripple' Next Gen Intrusion Detection Tested
Aura Home is a startup intrusion detection system, but it claims new, high-tech sensing that monitors the 'invisible ripples' movement creates, showing up as spikes in a line in the main app:
We tested the platform to see how well it stacks up against traditional alarm systems, and other 'next gen' detection systems like Xandem. Our testing found numerous problems that will hinder its adoption and competitive positioning.
The test report inside covers key points:
- Aura's Strengths and Shortcomings
- Irregular Detection Zone Shapes
- Performance and Installation vs Competitors
- Lack of Movement Location Mapping
- Pricing Comparison
- System Status and Reporting Overview
- App and Web-only Operation
- Company Overview
Aura Home's Potential Impact
Our test shows while Aura uses a similar 'next gen' detection monitor similar to Xandem, the system lacks core features and is a weaker performer compared to traditional, incumbent intrusion providers like Bosch, DMP, Honeywell, and Tyco.
While detection performance is solid, the lack of ability to shape detection areas to fit the areas of a house, the lack of ability for users to 'see' where movement is happening, no ability to arm/disarm the system with local keypads, and an undeveloped integration to existing intrusion systems makes Aura an interesting gadget, but not a complete product or competitive offering.
Key Test Findings
Aura's tested performance was reliable, but several shortcomings make it a bad fit as an intrusion system. Our results include these keys:
- Big Blindspots: The two-piece hub and sensor arrangement left large blindspots in our test house, and Aura is not expandable for multiple sensors to cover them. Of a ~2000 sq. ft. area, about 700 sq. ft. of that area simply was not 'seen' by the system that included windows and offset doorways of our test house.
- Good Range: Detection range distance was good, and we tested and varying distances - 40', 50', and 75' apart with no missed detection between them, but blindspot gaps on the perimeters grew with increased distance.
- No Maps: No target mapping is supported. Either the system detects movement or nothing, but no clue is given where the movement is in the detection zone. This makes alarms rudimentary and too basic to be practically useful.
- Long Latency: System latency was between 5 and 20 seconds on a typical DSL-type connection, and even when the only system using the connection, latency in detection was often seconds behind actual movement.
- Not Outdoor: Aura is rated for indoor use only and cannot be exposed to precipitation or harsh temperatures, limiting potential and even otherwise ideal placement locations.
- Weak Siren: The onboard siren is weak, and even when fully alarming, the system alarm may be lost next to loud TVs or may not be heard throughout the entire detection area.
- No Zoning or Partitioning: The system itself still lacks fundamental features available in basic intrusion alarm systems, like zoning, conditional/area arming, partitioning, and central station integration is only supported through IP, but not cellular or other channels.
- Solid App: Overall, Aura's app was dependable and contains all the features and displays in the web portal. The app notifies the system when a registered user arrives in the area, disarming the system, but this was not dependable.
- Internal Battery Backup: Unlike Xandem's basic 'Home' version, both Aura's Hub and Sensor includes an integral backup power source. In our test, the battery duration lasted more than 6 hours.
- High Pricing: At $500, Aura Home will not deliver intrusion detection utility that is matched or exceeded by small intrusion platforms or even DIY products like Simplisafe.
The primary difference between Aura Home and traditional intrusion is the system monitors a wireless field created between two device install points for fluctuations that are translated as movement. The manufacturer's overview video explains the concept and features of the system, which the company describes as monitoring 'invisible ripples' in its emitted field:
Like similar 'next gen intrusion' Xandem, Aura Home's different approach means that the system sensors can 'see through' obstructions like walls and furnishings, instead detecting only organic mass movements.
The image below shows the two system components, a shelf-mounted hub and companion sensor powered by plugging it directly into a wall outlet:
The hub connects to an internet router, and the primary method of interacting with the systems is through a web portal or smartphone app.
The biggest structural difference and potential weakness compared to tradition intrusion systems is the detection zone is a fresnel zone between the two system devices. While incumbent intrusion systems are designed to detect intrusion at the perimeter of a building, Aura Home is only able to detect movement within a portion of the space inside.
Aura monitors for movement within the zone emitted between the two system devices. The movement frequency and magnitude is displayed in a general column or line chart, expressed as 'live' near real-time, day, or weekly periods. For our test environment, a day's detected movement appears like this:
Buildings Do Not Match Detection Zones
However, as the image from company's installation guide below, sensor-hub placement is tough to optimize given the location of available outlets and network drops.
Because the shape of many apartments and houses is not square or equilateral, large blindspots of even entire rooms or doorways may not fall into the coverage zones, a point emphasized in our test:
The fixed position of the hub and single sensor is the biggest drawback to the system, a limitation that is compounded by only being able to pair one sensor per hub. Detection outside interior walls is possible, but diminished by brick construction, and if installed per recommendations the areas are minimized as alarming in 'bleed-through' areas essentially could be false.
If multiple sensors could be added, the irregular shapes of houses and tenements could conceivably be accommodated for, but this feature is not imminently available. Aura tells us 'it is on the roadmap', but for now the blindspot issues remain.
Aura vs Xandem Size
Because both systems use a similar approach, comparisons between the two garner natural attention. The biggest physical difference: Aura's kit comes single large plug-in sensor, while Xandem's uses multiple smaller plug-in nodes, often 10 or more:
Aura's sensor is physically larger than a Xandem node, but both have an onboard status LED, an manual configuration button, and are plugged in to a standard power outlet.
Aura's two components are significantly fewer when contrasted to Xandem, that may use up to 10 or 15 outlets to power nodes. Aura's sensor uses one, and the central hub can be connected via standard extension cables or ethernet cables to be located on a bookshelf or countertop.
System Coverage Areas
The detection zone for Aura is configurable into four basic levels:
In our testing, our ~2,000 sq ft home best performed using the 'Level 3' setting, with 'Level 1' covering ~600 sq ft. In general, increasing the detection level increases the sensitivity of motion detection, and using a 'Level 4' setting in a small apartment may trigger on small pets, while a 'Level 1' setting may not.
We tested link strength up to 100' away from the hub, and the pairing quality did not fail. However, increased distances made detection weaker, with system registering smaller 'spikes' even when the mass size was equal. The sensor link strength is reported in the app and web portal to assist in placement and to optimize performance.
Kit Pricing / Comparison to Xandem
Aura is available as a single 'Buy Now' kit for $499 online. No other accessories or system variations are offered, although future systems may include the option to add sensors or hubs to base platforms. [link no longer available]
Similar offerings from Xandem cost essentially the same at $495 [link no longer available], but result in better detection granularity through the irregularly shaped mesh created by the multiple nodes, and report in real-time location of movement on user-configured maps, both features missing in Aura.
In our test, the total time needed to install and set the system up was ~ 5 minutes. Once the sensor and hub are plugged in and paired, users are able to see system activity through Aura's app or web portal. Compared to Xandem, the sensor is larger and will fully occupy two duplex outlets unless adapters are used:
Aura's App-Only Arm/Disarm Control
As we discovered during testing, all Aura control must be done via the app or web portal, and no local hardware buttons to control the system are included on the hub or via keypad.
System state is determined by a single slider button to either 'Arm' or 'Disarm' the system, with no additional PINs or passwords required to access them if a phone or web page is unlocked:
System alarm states are reported through smartphone popup alerts or via local siren sounder in the hub, although the modest output sound intensity may be obscured by other noise from TVs or music systems.
System Status and Logging
The information Aura collects and displays is basic and rudimentary, and does not clarify 'where' motion is detected, but only 'if' it is detected.
Unlike Xandem's basic floorplan map that triangulates where movement is happening, Aura only uses two devices and cannot determine location. Barring a basic display of movement location, a graph simply increases in magnitude as movement frequency and mass increase.
This animation below shows how detected activity appears in Aura's interfaces:
Over time, activity is stored and displayed in several 'reports', like the example heatmap chart below that shows movements over the last week:
Events accrue in message form as well, which show specific timestamps when activity like arm, disarm, or triggered events occur:
"Who's At Home" Performance Mixed
A differentiating feature of Aura: when registered owners or users arrive in the detection zone, the apps on their phones (presumably being carried on their person) disarm potential alarms. However, the feature only works when 1) a user is registered into the local Aura system, 2) they have and are carrying a phone with an active Aura app, and 3) the detection zone is properly setup and the GPS location of the Aura system is properly registered.
Overall, the feature works well and is reliable provided all conditions are met, but given the highly specific nature of those conditions, users should expect common false alarms as no local keypad or card reader to disarm the system is present aboard Aura's devices.
Weaknesses of System
Aura lacks basic features that would be problematic if used as a primary intrusion system:
- No zones support
- Irregular Detection Areas
- No local keypad
- No location reporting of movement
- No partitions
Compared to even basic DIY intrusion systems, Aura does not have commonly used and mandatory features needed for residential or commercial applications alike.
Strengths of System
Aura's best feature is that it can 'see-thru' walls and traditional fixed obstructions gives it an interesting advantage compared to traditional intrusion technologies. Like Xandem, Aura is not mature enough or usable enough to replace traditional systems, but the detection features and technology could be valuable to an incumbent intrusion company looking for a technology edge in its existing offerings.
Aura Home's Company Profile
The company behind Aura Home is Cognitive Systems Corp, co-founded by ex-Blackberry executives Taj Manku [link no longer available] and Hugh Hind [link no longer available], and staffed by several former Blackberry directors. While Aura is the first intrusion system produced by the company, the development team has deep technical product development experience, and veteran technology management that most startups lack outright.