Monday, February 01, 2016

Apartment Security: Can we make it smarter using smartphones

We love our families and one place it shows up is when it comes to securing our apartments. What are our expectations? With in reasonable limits, we want to prevent unauthorised people from entering our apartment. Specifically we want to answer the following two questions about visitors, before they can step inside:
  1. Who are you?
  2. Are you invited?
We do a good job of answering the second question by enforcing the rule that for every visitor, security should call up the resident and confirm before letting anyone in, assuming we have intercom. But we really don’t know much about 1. At best we ask the visitor to do an entry into the register which cannot be proved or disproved. We just hope it is correct and useful, incase we need it. Inspite of these measures, few important questions go unanswered.
  • What if something wrong happens? How do we help police in finding the culprits? CCTV helps but we know that inspite of CCTC footage, the accused is still absconding after 2 years of Bangalore ATM assault case. VIDEO: CCTV vs Phone Number
  • We do take care of entry of visitors, but are we absolutely sure about what happens between them leaving the flat and showing up on the main gate? How can we prevent visitors from loitering around in the apartment complex once they are done with the primary visit. 
Unfortunately we don’t know much. SiftApps is trying to solve this problem. Most of the time when we bring additional security measures we are faced with the dilemma of additional time that both the security and visitor have to spend in establishing credentials and authorisation. For example to ensure that we have a valid phone number of the visitor, we can come up with a rule that every visitor need to make a call on the security guard’s phone number and it is the responsibility of the security guard to enter the phone number himself in the visitor’s register. Obviously it will increase the time the visitor has to spend at the gate. Moreover we need “better” security guards. This still leaves us with the problem of knowing or preventing loitering by the visitors after they leave the flat and before they show up at the main gate. 

SiftApps has given considerable thought to this problem. How can we make security not only effective but also efficient in terms of time spent admitting any visitor. Another area which we focused on is making the process simpler enough which normal security guards can understand and follow. Specifically we tried to answer the following questions: 
  • Can we use smartphones instead of servers and computer terminals? 
  • How does instant connectivity helps us in becoming smarter collectively as a whole without requiring non trivial effort from any of us?  
The solution that we have come up with solves all the problems that I have described above. It consists of two apps. One app is for the security and the other app for residents.  The two fundamental questions that we want to answer about visitor remain:
  • Who are you?
  • Are you invited?
Resident app allows residents to “invite” visitors. It requires residents to input the visitor details including the phone number of the visitor. Using this information, the app will generate a unique code and SMS it to the visitor. This code is for one time use only and encodes all the information we need for the visitor including the resident who invited him. When the visitor arrives, all he has to do is to share the code with the security guard, who will input it in the app. The security guard’s app will validate the code, record the entry time of the visitor and display the result of validation to the security guard who can then allow or deny entry to the visitor. VIDEO: How Sift Works? Note that we don’t need visitors to have smartphones and nor do they need to install any app. 

At this stage we have validated phone number of the visitor and we have made sure that any visitor can be easily admitted or denied entry in less than 10 seconds by checking the code in the security guard’s app.

We went ahead and created another optional flow which takes care of the other problem I mentioned earlier. Namely how to prevent unwanted loitering of the visitors once they leave the flat and before they show up at the main gate.

We created a notion of exit code in the app, which is very similar to the entry code I explained above. It can be generated via the resident app when the visitor is about to leave. It is also SMSed to the visitor. When the visitor shows up at the main gate, we know how much time he has spent between generation of the exit code and its actual usage. This way we have complete information about the visitor:
  • his validated phone number 
  • time of entry 
  • time of leaving the flat 
  • time of showing up at the gate 
  • and the resident which invited the visitor 
It is not far fetched to imagine how this information can be used to create real time alerts for security to manage security in a proactive manner. Consider how the following will help in better security:
  • Ability to know exactly how many visitors are in the apartment at any point in time
  • Ability to raise alert to the security if a delivery person has not completed the visit within some pre-configured time
  • Ability to notify security if a person has left the flat, but not shown up at the main gate within some pre-configured time 
  • Ability to track multi-flat visitors and tracking of exit time at each of the flats 

It is a very good solution which gives us the information we need, without causing any extra effort on the part of the residents or the security guard. It doesn’t requires any additional infrastructure except may be a smart phone for the security guard. All our visitor information is available in digital format, easy to search and lookup. The privacy of our visitors is maintained as this information is kept securely on servers and not on some paper register which is available to scrutiny of any visitor who is willing enough to read. 

I would love to hear your feedback and would be happy to answer any questions. Please get in touch with us if you would like to see a demo or start your free trial.  Thanks for your time. Looking forward to help you secure your apartment.

Email: iamrohit  at
Watch this 95 seconds video to see Sift in action. VIDEO: How Sift Works?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

One time password

What is the point of hiding one time passwords?

  • Since I am entering it for the first and last time in my life, let me see it so that I don't type something wrong.
  • It is OK for other people to see it. It is anyway useless immediately after use. 
I wish Apple opens up a bank so that banks have someone to copy.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Generosity of the few

For a long time I felt that the only solution to the tragedy of the commons is structure - based on money or authority. I have a new contender now. This one is called generosity of the few.  It doesn't really works always but in many situations, generosity of the few is good enough to keep the system in balance. Few examples:

  • After being stuck in a traffic jam for some time and before the police shows up, someone who is probably not even driving any vehicle, stands up and starts managing the traffic, all the while listening to the shouts of angry drivers.
  • On roads without any traffic lights, someone just stops the car to let some pedestrians cross the road.
  • Some people actually answer questions on StackOverflow.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Original Disputable Ideas on Traffic Management

Air Pollution Control

Make sure that exhaust pipes open in front of the vehicle and not behind them. Essentially they should cause visibility problems for the driver, if the vehicle is polluting.  I will like to believe that most people pollute because they don't even know. This fixes the problem of at least knowing when to get things checked. Also with this approach pollution is no longer someone else's problem. It has some implications for the driver also (reduced visibility).

Noise Pollution Control

This is mostly caused by needless pressing of horns. And the reason some of the people keep pressing them most of the time is because it is so damn easy to press it. The idea is to replace the "button" for horn, with a "voice activated" horn. Essentially if someone wants to honk, he needs to shout. The "voice detector" will sound the horn and the intensity will depend upon the intensity of the "shout". Why does this works? How loud can one shout and how long can one continue to shout loudly? Basically we have made "horn" a finite resource, to be used judiciously. 

Lane Jumping 

Lane jumping is not really a problem unless it requires others to apply breaks. The problem with lane jumping is that the one jumping the lane is likely to end up appreciating his skills rather than being thankful to the thoughtfulness of the one who breaks. We have good breaks in cars and they don't make much noise. If we could add that noise back, may be a bit amplified, we at least let the lane jumpers know what they have caused. The silent breaks make it impossible to provide correct feedback to the lane jumpers. Honking doesn't quite have the same meaning because it has a questionable human element.

Safe Pedestrian Crossing 

Pedestrian crossings are safe when they exist. The problem is the absence of them at so many places, making it very risky for people to cross roads. The solution here is to have coin operated traffic lights for pedestrians - just like "sulabh souchlaya". Some way to generate enough money to justify investments from say pubic-private-partnership.

Please share if you think this makes sense. It might happen if enough people want it to happen.