Move over Lockitron, there’s a new smart lock contender aiming to connect your door handles to the Internet so that you can lock and unlock remotely, send digital keys to friends and tradespeople (via the companion app), keep tabs on comings and goings, and get into your home without the faff of taking your keys out of your pocket.
More importantly it’s aiming to do all that with a battery life that lasts a year. Yep, a whole year — rather than a couple of weeks, as can be the case with some existing wi-fi smart locks.
That is the Genie Smart Lock vision anyway. Currently its makers are in the “engineering phase” but are taking pre-orders (at $249, with RRP set to be $299) based on their vision — ahead of a crowdfunding campaign launch next month that will aim to raise $100,000 to build the gizmo proper.
The estimated ship date for their smart lock system is “late 2014″. But bear in mind there’s no functioning prototype yet so that sounds a tad ambitious.
A key part of their business development process has been completed, though — in that they have filed a power management patent which covers their twist vs existing wi-fi enabled smart locks.
“One of the main issues facing smart lock developers is power management and ensuring battery life is at an acceptable level,” says founder Joel McAndrew, pointing to the problems Lockitron has had with battery life. “Current devices must play a trade off between the usability of the device (how frequently the device checks for a wi-fi signal) and the battery life.”
A smart lock that checks for a wi-fi signal every five to 15 seconds results in a battery life as low as two to four weeks, according to McAndrew. But the problem with checking less frequently is that degrades the product user experience being as there’s a wait before it will execute a function.
(It’s worth noting that Lockitron has been doing firmware updates aimed at improving its battery life — we’ve asked them for the current battery longevity status for their smart lock and will update this post with any response. Update: Lockitron says its device is currently achieving some two to three months’ battery life, which it is “still working to improve”. It also has “dynamic low power models” in the works.)
The Genie Smart Lock takes a different tack. It’s using a power management system that relies on a secondary device — a wi-fi hub plugged into the mains inside your home — that talks to the connected door handle via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). That comms hand off means the smart lock’s battery drain is kept to a minimum because the thirsty Wi-Fi radio is being powered by the grid, and the batteries inside the door handle only need power BLE transfers.
“The Genie Hub receives the wi-fi signal and converts it to BLE. This BLE signal is sent to the Genie Smart Lock and then a reply is sent to the Genie Hub over BLE. This reply is converted from BLE to wi-fi and transmitted to the wi-fi device (smart phone or computer),” says McAndrew.
“This efficiency means that the Genie Smart Lock will be able to achieve a realistic battery life of 12 months. Users can adjust settings to further increase this battery life if they are happy for the device to scan for a signal less frequently.”
The device can also function without the hub — as a Bluetooth only lock, for keyless entry with a smartphone (or with a Bluetooth fob, or indeed via a traditional key if the battery has died completely). But, without the hub, the Genie won’t be able to offer wi-fi enabled functions such as remote unlocking and provisioning digital keys for others.
The Genie Smart Lock’s other twist vs the smart lock competition is that it is actually a whole replacement door handle, rather than a deadbolt (as Lockitron is). It’s been designed to replace all “standard” door handles, according to McAndrew, fitting a traditional 54mm door hole.
Installation is apparently easy enough for the user to do (see component diagram below) and the device is said to remove without a trace, meaning renters could potentially make use of it, not just home owners. Although your landlord may take issue with you changing the locks.
Whether it’s an advantage to have a smart door handle vs a smart deadbolt depends on your requirements. But judging by the design renders of the Genie it’s not going to win any elegant door fixture design awards so owners of period properties are probably not going to be clamoring to replace their antique door handles with such a utilitarian bauble.
The Australian startup behind Genie has primarily been bootstrapping development of the smart lock thus far but McAndrew notes it did also win a $10,000 grant from St George Bank in Australia, as part of a startup competition.