Cognitive Systems’ Aura is a unique idea for a home security system: instead of cameras it uses a wireless signal to detect intruders. Better yet, it’s super easy to setup and use, and it sends out timely alerts to your phone.

Unfortunately, it has a long list of shortcomings, like the small area of coverage and the lack of integration with other devices such as smart locks. What is a deal-breaker, however, is the price. At $500, it’s just too expensive for what it offers, as well as the demographic its performance suits best, namely those who live in small homes or apartments. If you’re serious enough about home security to spend that much, or if you have a medium or larger home, check out one of these alternatives.

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The Aura includes two hardware pieces, a hub (right) and a sensor.


Dong Ngo/CNET

How it works

The Aura system comes with two pieces of hardware, a hub that’s about the size of a coffee mug and an even more compact palm-size plug-in sensor unit. When placed up to some 50 feet away from each other, the two link up using a proprietary 2.4GHz wireless signal — similar to Wi-Fi — to form an invisible, elliptical zone of motion detection. When a person or object enters this sphere the disruption to the signal will trigger an alert to your phone motions will be detected, alerts will be sent to the owner’s phone and — if enabled — the hub’s built-in alarm will sound.

In short, the system will tell you if something is moving inside your home, for how long and the intensity of their movements. It also retains the log of detected events with graphs, similar to a quake detector. Keep in mind that since this is a wireless system, it can be susceptible to jamming devices.

What I like about it

Easy setup: The setup of the Aura is like that of a Wi-Fi system. You download the Aura mobile app, sign up for an account and then follow through with the onscreen instructions. The whole process took me less than 10 minutes. To put this in perspective, it took me half an hour to mount just one security camera alone.

Part of this ease of use is the fact that, unlike camera-based systems, you won’t need to look for any particular place to place the Aura’s hardware units and there’s no mounting involved. Basically you just need to connect the hub to your home’s Wi-Fi network, place it at one end of the area that needs to be monitored and then plug the sensor unit into a wall socket at the other end.

The Aura app delivers timely alerts and provides a detaled event log.


Dong Ngo/CNET

Easy and fun to use: As long as your home is connected to the internet, the system is easy to use and you will get a notice via the app in almost real time (there’s a delay of a few seconds). You can also view a detailed log of what happened in the previous seven days using the mobile app or its web portal.

The owner of the system can also add more users by inviting them via email. These users can then download the Aura mobile app, login and also monitor the system as well as get identified by the system itself via what Cognitive Systems describes as “geofencing.” Basically, when you login with using the mobile app, the process registers the phone you used with the system. When a registered phone enters the protected sphere, the system will recognize it and behave accordingly, such as automatically disarming or sending an alert that an user has come home etc. Similarly, when the user leaves the sphere, the system will record the departure and can automatically arm itself.

Another cool thing is, similar to SimpliSafe, a competing home-security system, the Aura doesn’t require line of sight to work. This means the two units can monitor a fixed area with multiple rooms, on multiple floors, that would otherwise requires multiple cameras cover.

Long battery life: Each unit of the system has a built-in battery that lasts a long time. In my testing, after working unplugged over night, the hub still had some 5 percent battery life left. Generally you can expect the Aura to work through a four or five hours of power outage.

And what I don’t like

Limited coverage: The size of the protected area depends on the distance between the two units, the longer the distance, the larger the coverage area. In testing in open space the best distance I found is about 50 feet. Further out, up to some 100 feet, the system might still work but its detection rates are no longer reliable.



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