You walk up to your apartment building, arms overflowing with groceries, maybe your dog on a leash, backpacks, etc. Then you have to fumble for your key fob (or worse, an actual hardware key) just to open the door and get inside your own home. Disrupt Europe 2013 Battlefield Finalist Kiwi.ki wants to bring the same convenience that’s available to car owners via keyless entry to residential multi-unit complexes, making it possible for anyone who lives at one to just walk up to the door and open it, thanks to an RFID device carried in their pocket.
For a few years now, it’s been remarkably easy for car owners to gain access to their vehicles. More and more manufacturers are designing key fobs that let drivers simply approach their car door, and have them open instantly when you reach out to pull the handle. Yet no one has really built the same thing for residential housing. Kiwi.ki is doing that, and has already partnered with Deutsche Post in Germany to make it easy for mail carriers to gain access to apartments for simpler delivery of letters and packages. Long-term, the vision is to have keyless entry systems built into the entries of a majority of Berlin’s many residential complexes, and then to expand internationally, as well.
“We are the exclusive partner of Deutsche Post to install our system in these multi-storey buildings, and there about 3 million of those buildings in Germany alone,” Kiwi.ki co-founder Dr. Christian Bogatu explained in an interview. “Obviously, we are not stopping in Germany – we are also going to launch in other countries soon.”
It’s not only a solution that makes sense for apartment buildings; Already, Kiwi.ki has some corporate clients, including Allianz, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, and Factory Berlin, a campus and shared workspace for startups here in Germany. Bogatu says that despite those clients and a few others in the business world, the focus for the startup is firmly on residential customers – they don’t want to spread themselves too thin chasing multiple markets at once.
I asked Bogatu why there’s even a need for Kiwi.ki, when others like Lockitron are already offering connected home lock hardware, and companies like Schlage seem pretty well-poised to introduce their own similar solution and crush the market. He said that in fact, they’re partnering with Lockitron, and want to work with them to deliver a complete solution to users that offers both main door entry and individual unit locks. And big companies like Schlage are potential partners, too; Kiwi.ki doesn’t make the locks, just the hands-free wireless entry technology for existing installs. Offering Kiwi.ki services alongside its products would actually be an additional selling opportunity for Schlage and others, Bogatu says.
The technology itself doesn’t seem all that difficult on the surface, but it’s actually very hard to get it right and still preserve privacy and security. Bogatu says that Kiwi.ki has recruited the very hackers who would normally exploit a system like this to build it, charging them with making it resistant to their own attempts. They’ve done so, he says, and have also made it so that there’s no way to use a Kiwi Ki (the official branding for their RFID ‘keys’) as an identifier; each time it communicates with a lock, it sends a randomly generated number, meaning you can’t track it reliably from one moment to the next.
“In our system, because our hackers were really proud to develop a system that’s really anonymous, you don’t even have to take our word for it,” Bogatu says. “We’re making our source code open, so any part that is security and privacy-relevant, we’ll put up on the Internet and make it available for hackers around the world to really prove its level of security.”
The security aspect, combined with Kiwi.ki’s distribution model through mutually-benefited partners like the Deutsche Post, and a flexible direct-to-consumer sales model that Bogatu says will offer some customers a large, one-time lump sum payment, or charge others a small monthly fee, are all what he says set the startup apart from the competition.
Since they’re working with Deutsche Post to do the roll-out of their initial system and defray the cost for users, that’s going to roll out starting in Berlin along mail routes. They also want to make it available direct to home owners and renters, and plan to launch that within a couple of weeks.
1. Why isn’t this the same as a thousand other things on the market?
A: We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just making this far more convenient, adapting technology already used in automobiles.
2. Do you have paying partners? You need partners to pay for this because end users won’t.
A: Yes, we have partners in residential housing management and Deutsche Post, etc.
3. How much time to recoup the cost invested?
A: Two to three years to recoup the cost of setting up a system, but it differs depending on the situation.