Idea: Virtual Neighborhood Watches

By John Honovich, Published Aug 02, 2012, 12:00am EDT

Neighborhood watches have become a hot topic. And while the press now is overwhelmingly bad, such watches, done right, can help keep neighborhood safes. However, it can be hard and time consuming to do so. In this note, we propose an alternative - the ‘virtual' neighborhood that leverages surveillance and VSaaS technology as a next generation solution.

Challenges with Neighborhood Watches

Neighborhood watches can be challenging to organize. Either they are based on volunteers, requiring coordination and time donation, or significant payments to guard services. With the former, unless you have a strong organizer and many neighbors who are will to dedicate many hours per week; the watch can either break down or blow up. With the later, a critical mass of homeowners needs to pay regularly to keep the 3rd party service funded.

Challenges with Video Surveillance

While many neighborhoods consider deploying a surveillance system, traditionally it is hard:

  • If you build a singular system, all the cameras need to be connected together, needing either a complex wireless system or establishing remote connectivity to each camera at different homes across the neighborhood.
  • Accessing the video can be problematic without special configuration that most homeowners do not know how to do or maintain.

While individual homeowners may set up cameras, pulling them together into a neighborhood is historically impractical.

Using VSaaS for a Virtual Neighborhood Watch

Using VSaaS, or cloud enabled cameras, can rectify both of the main challenges to using surveillance:

  • Homeowners overlooking key spots in the neighborhood can install VSaaS cameras. Those cameras can phone home to a service provider, freeing them from any IT configuration.
  • Cameras in various spots throughout the neighborhood can be brought together in a single interface / virtual network. While each camera is deployed independently, the end result is a system that looks like one.
  • Virtual patrols can be run from the comfort of neighbor's homes - expanding the number of people who can monitor and the time they can spend. Elderly people that need to stay home can become monitors. Parents that need to watch children can become monitors. If someone hears a noise in the middle of the night, they can jump on, etc.

A fairly sophisticated and broad system could be deployed at a very low cost. The cameras themselves are fairly inexpensive ($150 - $200) and monitoring without recording can be free to monitor. Even with a few days recording (likely all that would be needed) they would cost less than $10 per camera per month. It would be far less expensive than a 3rd party monitoring service and only modestly more than volunteers walking the street.

Limitations

We do see some limitations:

  • Having a person on the street can be a deterrent. A person on a computer is less so unless and until they call for help, the police etc.
  • VSaaS is still immature and there are few strong offerings and limited models/cameras to choose from.
  • Privacy concerns from shared viewing of cameras could be a problem. Each camera would have to be positioned to look at public / street areas and away fro private entrances.

Future

Virtual neighborhood watches have greater potential as a low cost alternative to municipal surveillance systems and difficult to organize neighborhood watches.  Using VSaaS allows independent homeowners to band together, using technology, to better monitor their neighborhoods.

While some virtual precedents exists, we see an opportunity for service providers to customize VSaaS systems for neighborhood watches. For example, in the UK, a service called Internet Eyes created a gaming infrastructure for people to watch stores and, in the US, a site named Blue Servo created a monitoring solution for the US / Mexico Border. Similar approaches could be adapted by VSaaS providers for the neighborhood watch market, adding in functionalities to flag suspicious events that may be occurring and log who is monitoring the system, etc. Tens of thousands of neighborhood groups exist and these could be prime customers for such solutions.

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