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Fires that start in vacant properties like this house are a problem for the city of Louisville. They often start in the middle of the night when neighbors are asleep. By the time someone notices the fire, it's grown so large that there's a risk it will spread to neighboring homes.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

In 2015, the city of Louisville's Office of Performance Improvement & Innovation turned to civic hackers to solve the problem of vacant property fires. This led to the creation of the Completely Autonomous Solar-Powered Event Responder, aka CASPER -- a wireless device you put in vacant homes that listens for the sound of smoke detectors going off and sends text messages to let the city know there could be a fire.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

The device contains a microphone, a 3G cell modem and a solar panel and battery.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

One of the biggest challenges with CASPER is finding the best spot to mount it so it has consistent sunlight to charge the solar panel that keeps it operating.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

The microphone in the CASPER listens for the sound of a smoke detector, which emits a unique frequency that CASPER is designed to identify. If the mic hears a smoke detector, it sends that information to the cloud which, in turn, sends out a text notification to designated people to let them know that there could be a fire in a home.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

CASPER sends text message alerts if it hears a smoke detector.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

Each CASPER costs about $150 to make, and plus a $10-a-month charge for the data plan for the cell modem.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

This is one of eight abandoned, city-owned houses in Louisville that has a CASPER as part of a pilot program to test the system.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

The CASPER hasn't made any false alarms during testing. There was one close call -- a smoke detector that was in one of the test houses had a dying battery, which made the detector emit a sound that the CASPER picked up.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

The pilot program runs through March. Then the city will decide how well CASPER works and if it's worthwhile to extend the program to more houses.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET

Nathan Armentrout, one of the creators of the CASPER, said he'd like to keep developing CASPER to listen for other sounds such as broken glass or animal noises so the system will send notifications to the appropriate city department.

Caption by / Photo by Chris Monroe/CNET
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