San Francisco’s Smart Locks, Mobile Tech and Security

Have you ever walked outside your home without your keys? Don’t lie to me; of course you have. Sometimes it isn’t a big deal, because the door isn’t locked and you can get right back in. Other times, though, if someone left after you and locked up, or the door automatically locks, or you live in a building where there is a security door in addition to your personal entrance, that click of the door shutting closed is accompanied by a sickening feeling in your stomach, knowing that at the very least you are inconvenienced, and, depending on some factors, may even be in real trouble.

There are a million situations where our dependence on keys can also be our downfall. We all know how maddening it is to lose a key – that frantic tossing of pillows and rechecking the same purse or pants you’ve looked at a thousand times. Sometimes you find it on the outside of the door, where it had been sitting all night, with the thankful thought of how that could have been pretty dangerous. We rely on keys as one of the few pieces of analog technology with which we still interact nearly every day. But that might be changing. New smart locks and smart keys attached to our mobile technology and powered by the Internet of Things could change the way we look at our security.

Smart locks and keys
With smart locks, this key ring may become a thing of the past.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

What are smart locks?

Essentially, a smart lock is the replacement or augmentation of your normal deadbolt system. It either fits over the latch that turns the lock from the inside or replaces the deadbolt system altogether. This is a growing field, in which August of San Francisco is one of the leading players with their social smart lock system.

Let’s look at the more complicated system, the one that replaces the old-fashioned deadbolt system. Basically, the lock-and-key system is replaced by a code from your smartphone or tablet. There are a few ways to activate the lock. You can tap it with your phone, you can hit a button on the app that activates it, you can send a text, or you can punch in a code.

This is important (and also pretty cool), not just because it allows you to stop worrying about losing keys, but because you can open or lock the door from anywhere. You can see when people are coming in and you can open the door to them, or you can keep it locked from them if they’re strangers. Here are some of the benefits of the smart lock revolution.

Benefits of smart locks

  • It’s safer than a normal deadbolt system, which can be pried open. Smart locks are more mechanical and less susceptible to just raw brute force. A burglar is also less likely to try a door with a complicated mechanical system on it. It might make them think that the door is monitored – and, of course, it potentially can be, if someone comes in without permission.
  • It’s more social. One area in which San Francisco’s August shines is that it recognizes the function of a lock – to keep out those you don’t want while letting in those you do. If you have a party, you can set up a code and send it to the invited guests. They can buzz themselves in – but no one else can. You don’t have to open the door to uninvited guests and it creates a welcoming feeling for your friends when they can just open the door with a few swipes of their phone.
  • Cross-platform = harder to lose. People lose their phones maybe as much as they lose their keys. The difference is that when you lose your keys, you can’t grab a different key ring and magically make the keys reappear. With a smart lock, it’s possible to go to your tablet, your laptop, or a friend’s phone to access your smart lock information and let yourself in. After all, you can’t say to a friend, “Hey, I lost my house keys, can I use yours?” But replace “keys” with “phone” and you’re inside.
  • Emergencies become manageable. If there’s something you need to get from your house, or you need someone to feed your cat because you got stranded on vacation, or any number of scenarios where someone has to be let in, you usually only have two choices: rush back somehow, which isn’t always possible, or hope that the one friend you gave a copy of the key is around. With a smart lock, you can just set a code and send it to a friend who you know is in the area. Problem solved.

Obviously, safety needs to be a priority. A hacked system can allow for homes to be vulnerable, but homes are already vulnerable. This adds convenience and security, two concepts that haven’t always gone hand-in-hand. The lock and key is an amazing mechanism that we take for granted way too often, ignoring the complicated engineering of each snowflake-like system. Smart locks honor that and keep the lock in place, but they bring the mechanics into the 21st century.

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