Your door lock may be getting smarter
NEW YORK – Jan. 14, 2014 – Smartphones are no longer phones first and foremost. They’ve become command centers for the high-tech demands of day-to-day life. Everything from Web browsing and picture-taking to instant messaging and credit card transactions can be done from one little device.
But one holdout of the analog world has innovators and entrepreneurs scrapping for a digital solution: the centuries-old lock-and-key. Why not fuse those three most essential personal possessions – phone, wallet and keys – into a single device?
Unlike the phone or wallet, though, the challenge here is to replace not just a single house key, but your entire key chain. If you add smartphone functionality for just one or two locks, all you’ve done is complicate your key situation.
For this reason, many analysts foresee slow market growth, especially when it comes to domestic use of smart locks.
“Locks and doors (have) long life cycles,” says Aapo Markkanen, a senior research analyst at ABI Research. “Apart from newly built places, the addressable market is going to expand rather slowly.”
Despite an uncertain outlook, the market is rife with competition. Kevo, Bitlock, Lockitron, UniKey, Goji, KISI, ECKey and August Smart Lock are a few of the start-ups attempting to improve on the house key.
In New York City, KISI has developed a virtual key system that allows apartment tenants and office workers to monitor and control door access through a mobile app. The problem is that it requires a substantial installation process that may discourage landlords from upgrading.
There are other issues, too. Tenants using KISI are still left with “dumb” keys for their bikes, cars, safes or offices. Then there’s the question of what happens if the battery on your phone dies. This doesn’t seem preferable to a one-and-done magnetic card lock for the office or even a set of hard keys.
Another product, Goji, is like a virtual, remote-control peephole. It features a camera that sends real-time images to homeowners, allowing them to see who’s at the door, and to lock or unlock doors remotely. Since Goji-enabled doors also include a normal deadbolt, users don’t have to rely entirely on their phones.
But you still haven’t solved the key chain issue. And is real-time remote monitoring of a front door crucial?
Advocates for smart lock technology maintain that the issue is increasingly a matter of security. Keith Brandon, director of Residential Access Solutions for Kwikset, makers of the Kevo smart lock, says such devices cater to rising safety demands among consumers.
“Understanding that consumers want to be able to control everything virtually, it is imperative that brands align with those expectations,” Brandon says. “As the trend in home automation continues to rise, homeowners are looking to control their entire home from their smartphone, including who has access.”
In a fully automated home, a smart lock system would be essential. But such homes are still a long way away, and in the meantime, is it wise to entrust the most vital aspect of home security to a nascent technology?
“There’s an extra layer of security enabled by digital authentication,” Markkanen says, “but on the other hand, smart locks can be hacked; plus, they also rely on data connectivity for updates and power for operation.”
Existing electronic locks are a case in point. Last year, a hacker demonstrated how a simple, low-cost tool could breach keycard locks on about 4 million hotel room doors. Instructions for building such tools were all over the Web. Such incidents could increase as billions more people come online in coming years.
The problem isn’t confined to hotels. At this year’s Def Con conference in Las Vegas, a team of hackers demonstrated the vulnerability of an average smart home by successfully breaching not only the front door lock, but also the hub that coordinates home-automation devices.
Despite all this, Markkanen is cautiously optimistic about smart locks. He points to the fact that, when it comes to break-ins, intruders don’t often give up because of a tough lock. When it comes to the security differences between digital and physical locks, he says, “It’s pretty much the status quo.”