High-tech security makes a mark at CES show

From night vision to protectice data safes, CES digs into high-end residential security


Someone out there thinks you're nervous, maybe even paranoid.

They hope that concern about things that go bump in the night will have you lusting for military-grade night-vision cameras to guard your home.

They're sure the fear that Fido, Grandpa or little Jimmy will slip out the back gate and wander off has you primed to buy a clip-on GPS tracking device.

And they have no doubt that the threat of fire has you wishing for a fireproof external hard drive for your computer.

Whether worry will lead consumers to purchase high-tech protection remains to be seen. But it was all there for the taking at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The four-day tradeshow for the $155 billion consumer electronics industry had about 140,000 attendees and 2,700 electronics manufacturers.

Thousands of products and prototypes debut at the show each year. A few, such as HDTV, become blockbusters. Some enjoy moderate success. Many never make it to mass production.

FLIR Systems, a military and corporate security company based in Oregon, was at the expo to debunk the idea that night-vision technology, developed for the military and law enforcement, is out of the reach of homeowners. The cameras FLIR will be displaying have dropped into the $2,500 range.

"Three years ago, these were $15,000 cameras that we sold to airports and other facilities with special security needs," said FLIR spokesman Bill Klink.

Lately, he said, the company has been looking for new markets, initially targeting smaller businesses such as marinas that want security without being lit up like used-car lots.

"We've been surprised by the amount of interest in residential security," Klink said. "Mostly it's been higher-end residential."

The cameras produce a black-and-white image of people and buildings. Technically known as thermal-imaging cameras, they produce images in daylight as well as in the dark.

In a video on the company's Web site, flir.com, a figure walking across a street is clearly seen to be a man, though facial features, skin color and other details cannot be discerned.

Klink said that lack of detail is sometimes an advantage. The company sold thermal-imaging cameras to a celebrity who wanted security and privacy but not cutting-edge pictures.

"He didn't want video from his security system turning up on the Internet," Klink said.

The movement of electronics companies into the home security market is supply-driven more than demand-driven, said Mike Paxton, an analyst with Arizona-based market research firm In-Stat.

"I don't think consumers feel less secure than they did two years ago," Paxton said. "During the last six months, we've seen an emerging trend of corporate security vendors pushing their products toward consumers."

Paxton said it's too soon to know whether industrial security companies will be successful in the consumer marketplace.

San Diego resident Glenn Busch agrees that the current crop of security gadgets probably reflects falling prices of technology. But he said changes in society's comfort level also are in play.

Busch is head of investor relations for Location Based Technologies of Anaheim, Calif., which has introduced a small tracking device that can be clipped onto a child's coat or a pet's collar.

"I think it's a combination of the technology and the times we live in," Busch said. "When I was growing up, we would ride around on our bikes all day and I'd go home when my mother rang a bell. Today, with two-career families, parents want to know where their children are at all times."

Busch said recent independent research suggested that 44 percent of parents would pay for a location service for their children.

The company's PocketFinder products also can be placed in a car to alert parents if a young driver is going faster than 65 mph.

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