Journalist Mike Wendland, Roadtrek RV evangelist and self-confessed gadget hound, is a popular source for information and trends related to "the small motorhome lifestyle.” To keep up with his blog, his Facebook Group, and his podcast, he loads his van with lots of computer, photography, and recording equipment. Last month, burglars broke into his motorhome while it was parked for less than an hour at a busy upscale shopping mall in broad daylight. Over $12,000 of electronic gear was taken, and Mike's insurance company may deny his claim because there was no sign of forced entry.
I have to admit that I had not thought about this possibility at all, and we have left our motorhome parked in all sorts of much less trafficked locations for much longer periods of time. Our Sprinter-based van conversion is very similar to Mike’s Roadtrek, and there are an increasing number of reports of how thieves are using electronic devices to gain access to vehicles with remote entry systems. We may not be traveling with all of Mike’s electronic gear, but surely any Mercedes Benz-branded motorhome will look like a higher value burglary target than the passenger cars in the same parking lot.
So I started to explore whether modern home security devices could work well in a motorhome, and I think I’ve found a good solution that requires no custom installation or monitoring service fee. It's the Piper NV, a combination of a motion detector and a webcam. I have it plugged into one of our motorhome’s inverter-powered outlets, and I just have to remember to switch on the inverter before leaving the van. An iPhone (or Android) app remotely arms or disarms the device, and the app is also the gateway for monitoring any unexpected activity. If the Piper’s motion detector is activated, the built-in high definition camera with a 180° lens begins recording what’s going on inside the van. Simultaneously, you are alerted on your phone by your choice of push-notification, text message, email, or automated call. With the app, your smartphone lets you see and hear in real time what the Piper is recording inside the van, and you have the option of activating a 105 dB siren. Meanwhile, the video recording is being uploaded to (free) cloud-based storage in case you want to share information with the local law enforcement. The “NV” in the name stands for night vision, made possible by built-in infrared illumination that is automatically activated in low light conditions.
I’ve compared the Piper NV with its chief competitor, the Canary, which is nicely designed but lacks a motion detector. Instead, the Canary relies on camera detection of motion in the video, and that’s the weakness: when I tested the Canary, any visible movement outside the windows (such as cars or pedestrians passing by) or changes in interior illumination (from reflections, shadows, or headlights) activated the alert system. The Piper NV motion detector eliminates those false alarms. Both systems require that you have access to WiFi for uploading the video and sending an alert to your phone; for this, I use the “Personal Hotspot” feature on an iPhone or iPad that stays in the van.
Is this system necessary, or is this just my paranoia showing? Frankly, I’m not sure – I do have good insurance on what we carry in our motorhome, and we don’t travel with much that would have high resale value. Furthermore, my computer is always backed up wirelessly and can be “wiped” remotely. I have to admit that I like the idea of being able to activate an ear-splitting siren and scare away intruders before they go rummaging through our stuff. That said, I hope I never have to use that feature.
Update (April 29, 2018): Unfortunately, the Piper NV has been discontinued after acquisition of the company by Alarm.com.