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Smart Home

Turn your old smartphone into a new security system with Rico

Got an extra smartphone lying around? Startup MindHelix wants to transform it into a smart-home security system.

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Rico. MindHelix

Rico is a cute, colorful dog-shaped device packed with motion, temperature, smoke, carbon monoxide and humidity sensors. The companion Android and iOS apps let you view sensor-related stats at-a-glance and receive alerts based on security, safety and environmental triggers.

There's more behind Rico's adorable facade than built-in sensors, though.

You can also stick an old smartphone inside this plastic puppy-hub to tack on HD camera, microphone, loudspeaker, 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities. Startup MindHelix says these features should work even if your phone has a broken screen.

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Live streaming on the Rico app. MindHelix

Starting at $99 (at the current exchange rate, that's £60 in the UK and AU$110 in Australia), Rico is compatible with Android 2.2 and higher and iOS 6 and higher. And, supposedly, it's large enough to accommodate a max screen size of 5.7 inches. That's just enough space for the larger Note 3 and iPhone 6 Plus.

This blend of sensors and smartphone functionality takes Rico from a sensor kit to a more complete, Piper -like all-in-one home security system. But MindHelix isn't the first company to think up a smartphone-repurposing plan; we've seen a handful of other companies reuse Android and iOS devices for clever smart home applications.

The Manything app is one example. This free iOS app takes an old iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and converts it to a security camera in minutes, complete with "night vision" (thanks to your phone's flashlight), alerts with motion detection zones and an IFTTT channel -- features I wouldn't have expected to find in a free app.

The free Presence iOS app is pretty similar to Manything. It doesn't have its own IFTTT channel, but it does provide details on energy usage to help you save money on your monthly bill.

There's also Wise Labs' Bemo . If you have an old Android or iOS device collecting dust at home and happen to be in the market for a new thermostat, you can remove your current model and replace it with Bemo's wire port panel. Then you can mount your smart device over the panel to act as your new, touchscreen thermostat display.

Turning a smartphone into a smart home device is a really intriguing option, particularly for folks who don't want to spend hundreds on a security camera, security system or thermostat. But that does make Rico seem a bit pricey, especially since it's really just a (decidedly endearing) housing for your phone. The sensors are a nice addition, but your old phone is really doing all of the home-security heavy-lifting.

Still, it's half the price of Icontrol's Piper, so it's definitely a less expensive option if you want a security camera, an app with alerts and a whole bunch of sensors -- and maybe the Rico exterior will mask the contents inside from any would-be smartphone thieves. Maybe.

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Smart Sockets. MindHelix

MindHelix is also working on Rico-compatible plug accessories called Smart Sockets. You can use the same Rico app to control Smart Socket-connected lamps, coffee makers and other small electronic devices a la the Belkin WeMo Switch .

There's just one day left on MindHelix's Rico and Smart Socket Kickstarter campaign, but it's already exceeded its $100,000 funding goal. Prices for a single Rico unit start at $99, and $110 for one Rico unit and one Smart Socket (converted, that's £70 and AU$125). MindHelix expects to send production models to early backers in November 2015; additional fees apply for international shipping.

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