Eighteen months ago, Phil Cleary met with a new client. The billionaire had just survived a brutal home invasion, where a group of criminals beat him to try to find out where he stored an expensive watch. The thieves had seen him wearing it in a magazine and resolved to steal it.
They bypassed his existing cameras, scaling a wall at his 30-acre country estate without alerting the on-site security staff. The client “was very, very lucky to survive”, Cleary says, and he now wanted to make his home impregnable.
Cleary suggested Daleks. Not the villains from Doctor Who but, rather, a fleet of miniature, CCTV-enabled robots with an aggressive affect that remind him of the sci-fi mutants. Positioned at strategic intervals around the perimeter, these battery-operated sentinels patrol their turf 24/7; they’re primed not so much to exterminate as intimidate.
Cleary’s robots sit inert until their attention is piqued by unexpected movement. Then they swing into action, blazing a spotlight at a would-be burglar while blaring an announcement that the police and security team have been alerted to their presence. With a dozen of these devices dotted around his property, the billionaire client hasn’t been troubled at home since.
Cleary runs a company called SmartWater, which offers a suite of security solutions including those “Daleks” — though they are actually called VideoGuard 360 units, and are part of SmartWater’s Perimeter Intruder Detection systems.
His is not the only company specialising in cutting-edge home-protection tools. The world of domestic security has evolved far beyond motion- activated burglar alarms bolted to the side of a house, or even doughnut- chewing security guards staring blankly at a screen. Today, it’s as likely to include invisible, motion-activated sensors, unbreachable zones or Minority Report-style predictive surveillance.
Cleary’s robots have already received international endorsement: 100 of them were deployed as part of the protection around the recent G7 summit in Cornwall. Many clients use them as temporary upgrades to a home system, perhaps when they’re at another home or on vacation: dot a few around a classic car collection, for example, or to keep an eye on thoroughbreds in a stable.
“You can plonk them anywhere, as they operate on 2G, and they act like an electronic sentry standing guard while you’re away,” Cleary says. They are affordable, too: the robots come in different sizes with prices ranging from £50 to £150 per unit per week.
His next step is to combine them with another of his company’s products, its namesake SmartWater. This is an invisible, UV-detectable liquid that is water resistant enough to survive on skin for weeks, and that contains a blend of synthetic DNA-like markers; the blend is unique to each client. Spray it proactively on to precious items, Cleary says, and it will allow categorical identification when a stolen watch is recovered.
More intriguingly, why not include SmartWater in a motion-triggered sprinkler system, which will coat any intruder in this ersatz DNA? If you do, even burglars who manage to evade arrest on site can be identified later. Turn a UV light on to their skin, and any SmartWater will glow bright yellow. Take a sample of that residue, and if the DNA-style markers match, it places that person on site beyond reasonable doubt.
Cleary plans to add misting nozzles to the VideoGuard 360 units so that would-be intruders are trackable even after they’re scared off a property.
In case someone manages to breach those fortress-like measures, though, clients can commission a refuge inside the home — just don’t call it a panic room. Instead, think of it as a “serenity zone”, says Philips Dowds, managing director of Okto Technologies. His company has worked on several such projects in London, often costing £1m or more.
In the past, panic rooms were more like prison cells, but Okto will rather repurpose a large, existing room — the master bedroom suite, for example — and outfit it with concealed details that allow it to transform from everyday use to an intruder-proof zone.
Think Kevlar walls, with bulletproof, steel-reinforced doors plus multiple communication channels, from 5G to satellite, so that anyone inside has fail-safe ways of reaching the outside world, including a security team.
“A panic room was quite small, and probably had no windows in it, and was probably a bit of a reclusive space,” Dowds says. “Nowadays we want to keep people as relaxed and calm as possible in the event a family is attacked, so a larger space is better.”
It must be as beautiful as it is functional, too, a speciality of Agresti. The Florence-based company started out more than 70 years ago building high-end cabinetry but pivoted towards safe rooms after trialling strongboxes in its armoires. It introduced its own high-design, high-tech riff on the idea at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 2018.
Chief executive Paolo Agresti explains the USP of its serenity rooms: why not combine fine craftsmanship — Italian leather, wood veneers — with cutting-edge technology? Fingerprint-operated locks, for example, that can be accessed using more than one digit; such entry panels are programmed to sound a silent alarm and summon security if, say, the index finger is used to open the door rather than a thumb. Agresti’s serenity zones start at about €150,000 but often cost far more.
Such refuges, of course, become vital only after a problem occurs; better, perhaps, to prevent invasions before they happen. That’s the focus of Fortecho Solutions, which has a niche focused on protecting artworks and other precious objects against theft.
“Once a picture is out of a building, and it hasn’t been tracked in the first few hours? It’s gone,” says chief executive Robert Green. Fortecho uses various chips, including ones it designs and manufactures itself that are just 4mm thick, and that can be invisibly attached to any artwork.
These battery-powered sentinels contain several sensors, all aimed at protecting a masterpiece; they’re programmed to send regular readings back to the central system and alert when anything changes.
There’s an accelerometer that flags movement, but these miniature computers also contain sensors for temperature and humidity. If the latter tracks past a certain level, for example, it will also alert Fortecho’s team.
“One of our clients got a leaking pipe behind a stud wall, and within an hour, we knew something was happening,” Green explains. For a Degas pastel, he says, such protection is as important as preventing its theft.
Fortecho started in museums, working with the National Gallery in London two decades ago. Now, Green says, around half its clients are institutions, while the rest are high net worth individuals. For both sectors, it has developed pressure-sensing plinths for sculptures, relying on piezo crystals which can detect minute changes in weight as low a few grammes. Any slight shift in the pedestal and the sensors sound an alarm.
Fortecho has also installed infrared lighting behind paintings, measuring the time it takes for the light to bounce off the back of the picture. “If you move it even 5mm forwards, that time of flight changes and the alarm is alerted.”
Fortecho is often asked to deploy its technology beyond artworks, although Green says he had to decline the brief from one client who wanted his Ferrari collection protected. “He wanted to know if a car was on the move, but he also appreciated that his son might jump into any one of them at any time, and whisk a girlfriend out,” Green recalls. “Sometimes you can’t have your cake and eat it.”
That client could instead have opted to work with Michigan-based Dice Corp. It specialises in safeguarding software, in particular, a new service its co-president Avi Lupo dubs “anticipative security”. Put simply, Dice Corp’s system uses AI to chew through data — weather reports, CCTV camera footage, news events, social media posts — and predict problems before they occur, Minority Report-style.
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“Say you know there is going to be rain on a holiday weekend, when there’s also a parade,” Lupo says. “You can allocate resources differently than you would if you didn’t take all these other factors into consideration.” More guards, for example, or suggest a family spend the weekend elsewhere.
Lupo says its systems aren’t limited to detecting danger. They can also be used in more mundane ways — in a gated community, perhaps, footage from CCTV cameras could be processed by Dice Corp’s AI. The pool-maintenance team, for example, might be expected at a certain time every week, and to perform a series of tasks; its AI can flag if they’re late, or if they fail to complete their assignment.
“The same infrastructure you have for security can service you for a lot of other things,” Lupo says. “That $100 camera installed by the pool can become the Swiss Army knife of security.” Just don’t mention it to the Daleks.