Photo: Goji Smart Lock
It’s happened to all of us: you’re walking toward your front door, clutching your phone in one hand as you clumsily use the other to fumble for your keys. A rush of panic floods through you before you eventually feel the prickly metal bit at the bottom of your bag. Relief.
It was after experiencing something similar, many times over, that Gabriel Bestard-Ribas came up with the idea to create the Goji Smart Lock, a sleek device that can be managed with your smartphone. “I would always carry my keys in one pocket and my phone in the other,” he said. “But they’d scratch my phone and they’re too bulky to fit with my wallet.”
And so came the creation of his innovative smart lock, which automatically unlocks a door as the user approaches, thanks to its WiFi connection and Bluetooth technology. The high-tech deadbolt also greets you by name, and features a built-in camera that immediately snaps a photo of visitors and sends it to the homeowner’s mobile phone.
The Goji — which costs $278 US and begins shipping in March — isn’t the first smart lock to enter into this niche market, but rather one modern device out of many that hopes to replace its antiquated metal counterpart.
To better understand the recent evolution of the metal key, just look to The Mircom Group. The company, headquartered in Vaughan, Ontario, is a major player in designing, producing and distributing safety and communication systems around the world. Their manufacturing centre is bustling with assembly-line workers building security products, including fire alarm control panels and smart-home devices.
Photo: The Mircom Group
Flags from all over the world hang from the ceiling of the plant, a nod to the 70 countries to which they export. Of particular interest is Mircom’s TX3 InSuite device, a 10-inch tablet catered to condo buildings. The product syncs to your smartphone and can control your at-home lighting and heating systems, book amenity spaces and send maintenance requests to management. It also features a built-in camera so residents can screen visitors and lock or unlock their door remotely.
Homeowners can access everything within a building using a single credential — from the main condo entrance to the amenity space and their unit. Think of it as a modern-day master key. “People were having one access card for their suite door, but they had a separate access card for the front door,” said Jason Falbo, the VP of Engineering at Mircom. “So for [the TX3], you have one access fob for everything, but beyond that you have the smartphone.”
The TX3 device is just starting to appear on land developers’ radars, with its first full installation set for 36 Hazelton, a luxury residential building in Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood. A few other buildings in the GTA and surrounding cities, including The Cortel Group’s Expo City Condos in Vaughan, are also considering the technology. “While it’s more expensive, some developers are realizing that now, just like they’re advertising hardwood floors or granite countertops, they can advertise high-tech features,” said Falbo.
The security features on this form of entry system are another big advantage. Whereas a metal key can be easily duplicated, a swipe card or fob can be disabled immediately. Falbo jokes about that crazy ex who refuses to return your key. “Before, you’d have to call a locksmith and get the lock replaced and change all the keys — it’s a nightmare. Today, one press of the enter button and you can eliminate it,” he said.
“Some developers are realizing that now, just like they’re advertising hardwood floors or granite countertops, they can advertise high-tech features.”
Schlage, a lock manufacturer based in Carmel, Indiana that sells residential and commercial security products across the globe, is also helping to push this movement forward. The company, founded in 1920, introduced electronic locks in 2006, and recently developed the Touchscreen Deadbolt, a lock that involves punching in an access code to gain entry.
“Think of runners leaving the house. They don’t need to tuck a key in their shoe or carry anything — you just need to know that six-digit code,” said Ann Matheis, Brand Director of Schlage.
The device also features a built-in alarm system, which can detect even the slightest door movement and sends a text alert to the user. It holds up to 30 unique codes that can be programmed for certain days and times of the week. If you have a cleaning lady who comes every Wednesday or a friend visiting from out of town, they can program in their own temporary code.
As people begin to appreciate the need for better home entry methods, a number of other smart lock devices are beginning to hit the market. Phil Dumas was first to develop the touch-to-open smartphone lock with UniKey Kevo, a product that involves tapping the deadbolt with your finger to gain entry. The Kevo debuted on ABC’s Shark Tank in April 2012, and is now being installed in more than 27 countries.
“It made sense to make your phone the biometric identifier because it’s something that everybody always keep on them anyways and they feel naked without it,” Dumas said. “What we’ve done is you can actually walk up and touch your door. It’s a more seamless approach to inserting your key or pulling out your phone.”
Once a user downloads the Kevo app, they can send virtual keys to family members or visitors, and disable them just as quickly. In terms of security, Dumas said the product provides the same level of encryption as military installations.
But the future of key technology is about more than enhancing security and convenience. It’s also about modernizing design. Compare the household key to vehicle varieties (like the super sleek BMW i8 key pictured below), where the metal instrument gets made-over just as often as the cars themselves.
“That automobile experience is great, and I believe we’ve mimicked it to an extent, although the technology is completely different,” Dumas said. The product has a modest design that, at first glance, looks like your traditional deadbolt. It’s only when you touch the lock that it flashes blue. “I think sometimes people over-design things,” he said. “Our product is pretty simple looking, but still extremely powerful.”
Bestard-Ribas went for a bolder approach when developing the Goji Smart Lock. The circular device looks sleek and futuristic — far from your everyday deadbolt. “When you think about hardware electronics, some of them are so cool in their features, but so ugly in how they look,” he said. For this reason, the team settled on an ultra-modern design that still looks clean and simple. “We wanted to make sure the whole product was an experience that you feel good using.”
Yet despite these advancements, each of these smart locks offers a mechanical key and fob as a security safety net. According to Falbo, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it gives people more comfort. “I see devices like this replacing the functionality of the key, but not the key itself,” he said. “The advantage we have today is that you don’t have to completely eliminate the key, now it’s just a good backup plan.”