Alert device designed to tackle rural crime

The new property alert system, part of Saskatchewan’s rural crime reduction strategy, is in the fine-tuning stage and is expected to be available next spring.  |  REUTERS/Chris Wattie photo

A device slightly bigger than a deck of cards could soon be helping to protect rural property.

Two Saskatchewan technology startups have been selected to develop a prototype system of hardware and software as part of the provincial government’s rural crime reduction strategy.

Jeff Shirley, owner of Rivercity Technology Services Ltd. in Saskatoon, and William Topping, founder of Brand X Technologies also in Saskatoon, will work in a joint venture partnership to design an app and GPS device to alert rural residents and landowners of irregular activities.

Topping is already carrying an early version in his back pocket.

Shirley, who lives on a farm, said the device could be placed in a home or cabin, on an electric fence to monitor livestock or on property such as all-terrain vehicles and tractors.

“It’s a small little box that uses a combination of modern cellphone technology, accelerometers, GPSs, a few other cool gadgets inside and it texts you when something is wrong,” he said. “You can actually reply to it.”

He said it requires at least one bar of cellphone service to operate and people in places without coverage could still use the app by manually entering suspicious activity.

The company will analyze data to determine patterns, such as locations and times of suspicious activity.

It would give property owners immediate notification of something out of the ordinary.

“If you’ve got some sheep out in the pasture with an electric fence, you can actually put it on the electric fence and if the fence loses its power, you will know,” Shirley said.

The property owner could then decide if that is normal activity, such as a farm worker entering that pasture.

He expects that if the assets a property owner wants to protect are all close to each other, one centrally placed device with wirelessly connected ancillary devices would do. More widely dispersed assets would require one device at each location.

Development is still underway but Shirley expects the cost will be low.

“We anticipate being able to push this out to rural people in Saskatchewan likely (for) around $5 a month,” he said. “If you can’t afford that, we still have a version that is free.”

That free version is the app in which property owners would manually enter suspicious activity or events.

He said it might also be possible to work with insurance companies to keep costs down.

“My anticipation is because we’re going to be putting a solution in place that decreases crime and provides better protection of assets from being stolen, hopefully we can partner with insurance companies to get some funding there and make it so people can get it paid for by their insurance policy discounts,” Shirley said.

For the next four months the companies will be working with the justice ministry to fine-tune the system.

Economy Minister Steven Bonk said this is an example of Saskatchewan innovation at work.

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