Unlock Your Door With Your Phone, Text a Key to a Friend – Lockitron is Awesome (video)

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LockitronIt’s time for your front door to go high tech. The aptly named Lockitron is an electronic door lock you can control via your phone. You may never need keys again, but the Lockitron is more than simply a way to empty your pockets. Not only can you open the Lockitron using (as they claim) “any phone with internet access” no matter where you are, you can also pass an electronic key code to your friends or family. When they text the code to a specified telephone number the door opens. You can cancel the digital key at anytime, making it perfect for out of town guests, business acquaintances, or questionable lovers. Watch Lockitron in action in the video below. I had a chance to speak with Cameron Robertson, one of the startup’s co-founders: the company has installed 60 Lockitrons so far, serving over 400 users, and they’re looking to keep expanding. Their electronic lock may be easing the strain on your keyring but it’s also adding another utility to the already impressive mobile phone toolkit. Some day soon your smart phone will be the only thing you have to carry with you.

Starting at $300 plus $5/month for text message service, Lockitron isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s less expensive than other high tech keyless entry systems we’ve seen. It’s not clear in the following video, but there are four models available: a deadbolt, a round handle doorknob, a lever doorknob, and a buzzer friendly apparatus for buildings that already have a remote entry system.

There are many selling points to the Lockitron system, but the greatest has to be the flexibility in letting people in. Open the door while you’re miles away while you’re talking to someone on the phone. Give your friend access through a unique text message code. Give dozens of people long term access through the main web portal. A web-based dashboard allows you to establish which phones have access, and to decide when text key codes expire. Robertson tells me that a single door can handle 20 users easily, and that a single user could open 20 doors easily as well. (Actually, there’s been no established upper limit on the number of users on a given door, it could be very high. For a single user, having to select from a list of doors to open sets a practical limit, but technically you could probably handle quite a few more than 20 doors). The flexibility in access makes Lockitron ideal for small businesses with multiple entry points. Textable key codes also make Lockitron ideal for vacation rentals (or for real estate sales). Among the many groups that have shown interest, Robertson says that these applications are among the most anticipated.

Things could even become more flexible as Lockitron grows. Right now you have to either access a (touch interface enabled) web portal through a smart phone or use a text message. Soon Lockitron will have native apps for iPhone and Android. As you saw in the video, a NFC tag can be used with the Nexus 6 phone. The NFC tag actually just tells the phone to automatically contact the web portal to open the door – the tag isn’t a key itself. NFC will arrive in the next quarter or so for Nexus 6, and the Android app (when it arrives) should support NFC as well. iPhones if they should get NFC, will be included when they do.

Lockitron NFC

NFC tags would give commands to your phone, not serve as keys themselves...which makes the door more secure and versatile than with RFID cards.

The hardware behind Lockitron is fairly simple but heavily dependent on internet access and electricity. A small wired transmitter plugs into your router, and is then placed within range (~15 feet) from the door. When you use your phone to access the Lockitron web portal, or when your friends text their code to the Lockitron phone number, a signal is sent to your router then on to the transmitter which communicates via RF with the actuator in the lock itself. The entire process from you pressing ‘unlock’ to the door being open only takes 0.5 to 2 seconds. Not bad at all.

Of course there are some limitations: if your internet connection or electricity give out, the door has to be opened with a key (or RF key fob) by hand. The 4AA batteries in the Lockitron (they operate the actuator that opens the door) give out eventually, though Robertson says they last for at least six months, perhaps more depending on usage. While unlocking a door only takes 2 seconds, starting up the app to select which door to open adds on more time (~5 seconds depending on how fast your fingers work). None of these limitations, however, are going to kill Lockitron, and are fairly acceptable in what may become their main application space: small businesses and rental properties.

At the moment, Lockitron is fairly small. Co-founders Cameron Robertson and Paul Gerhardt form the entirety of the company. Things are looking good so far, however. Just a year into their company they have 60+ working sites with 400+ users, and plenty of interest from other sources. Ycombinator picked them to receive $20k in funding – perhaps more useful for the prestige that comes with that selection rather than the cash itself.

Whether or not this particular startup grows into a major industry competitor, the idea of phone-entry doors is too good to lose (Black&Decker, Schlage and other big names in the field are pursuing similar tech). Non-remote systems are already here. Add in emailing or texting a key to a friend? That’s just cool, and it works really well  in commercial applications. It may even go over in the home retail market, especially because we are embedding so many features in our phones. We may soon rely upon our smart phones to make payments, open cars, and serve as a our gateways to the digital world – adding building keys to that lineup just makes sense.

[image and video credits: Lockitron]
[source: Lockitron]

Discussion — 4 Responses

  • Ivan Malagurski May 24, 2011 on 9:41 am

    Cool, but you can still lose you phone :)

  • digi_owl May 24, 2011 on 11:05 am

    XKCD indeed :P