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.
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.
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.
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.
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.