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A new smart tripwire for the Smart Home

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Sensor-1 brings physical security to the Internet of Things

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The biggest threats to the average device are physical: a stolen phone, a busted lock, or even an Evil Maid attack on your laptop. But while cybersecurity gets more and more advanced, physical security hasn’t changed much. We’ve seen smart doorbells and packaged security systems, but there’s no simple device to tell you if an object has been picked up or a door has been opened. Cameras have gotten cheaper and smarter, but distilling that video down to actual information can be unwieldy and time-consuming. In many ways, the toothpick in the doorframe is still the best solution we have.

Today, a company called Metasensor is releasing an interesting approach to the problem. Called the Sensor-1, it’s a Bluetooth-powered motion sensor about the size of a macaroon, designed to give you an instant alert whenever someone moves the object it’s attached to. It’s currently taking preorders on Indiegogo, so the usual crowdfunding caveats apply: no guarantees on if or when it will arrive at your door, although CEO Nick Warren says they’re planning to ship orders some time this year. But with venture funding already powering the company, Metasensor is bigger than just a pre-order campaign, and the idea is interesting enough to be worth a little uncertainty.

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Startups have been playing with sensors like this for a while, usually for health-tracking purposes, but Metasensor is arriving just as Smart Home systems are coming into their own, which opens up some interesting applications. The simplest setup is a straight alert: stick a Sensor-1 on your laptop or your bike and you’ll get an alert whenever anyone moves it. A settings panel lets you adjust the sensitivity, so you aren’t getting pinged every time a truck drives by.

The open API also lets you communicate directly with other devices over Bluetooth, which opens up much more interesting use cases. If your bike is locked up outside your apartment, you can have that same movement trigger a Nestcam to start recording, or send a message that makes sure the Smartlock on your front door is locked. The Sensor-1 is small enough that it can go almost anywhere. Warren has already played with sticking them to the inside of a drawer or stringing them across an open doorway.

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Warren realized the need for a device like the Sensor-1 after an office he was working at was burgled overnight. If there had been something like the Sensor-1 standing watch, the device could have alerted the front desk immediately, stopping the burglary cold. Without something like the Sensor-1, setting up a simple door sensor like that requires a full security system like ADT or Livewatch, both of which come with a full phone infrastructure and a monthly fee to support it. Warren wanted something more versatile, that he could configure however he wanted. "We realized we could create something that you could stick on a laptop," Warren says.

As the name suggests, the sensors are the most important part. The device packs three main sensors: an accelerometer, a gyroscopic stabilizer, and a magnetometer, each working along three axes to track position seamlessly in space. The Bluetooth antenna can add even more data, as the device uses stationary signal sources to orient itself.

Those sensors have gotten a lot better and a lot cheaper in the past few years, thanks in large part to the demand from smartphone manufacturers. With each generation, those motion-tracking instruments have become smaller, smarter, and cheaper — and the same factories that sell to phone manufacturers are eager to see devices like the Sensor-1 take off. It’s just one of dozens of new ideas made possible by plummeting component prices. "The better large companies get at manufacturing instruments like the ones in the iPhone, the more everyone can benefit," Warren says. "It’s changed the game completely."