Pocketnow Smart Home: securing your castle with a smart lock

They say a man’s home is his castle, and just like any good castle, a good home has to be secure. The best way to go about securing you home is by using strong, reliable deadbolt locks on your doors. Those deadbolts only work when they’re locked, and to unlock them you need a key. These days, technology makes things super-convenient, but that convenience can also open us up to vulnerabilities that we’d never considered before.

hide-a-keyIn days gone, by if a person wanted to make a copy of a key they’d have to either take that key to a locksmith or someplace with equipment to make copies. Now, many home improvement and hardware stores have self-service kiosks that will make a key for you while you wait – no human involvement needed. There are even services that can make a copy of your key using pictures of both sides, then mail you the resulting duplicate. If you’ve got access to some graphics manipulation software and a 3D printer, you can even print your own duplicates at home.

If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can even make a temporary key by tracing the original onto some sturdy plastic (like a soda bottle), and cutting along the line. Of course, someone who wants into your home doesn’t even need a duplicate key if you’ve hidden a spare under the door mat, under a flower pot, or inside a fake rock.

All that aside, if you want to give someone temporary access to your home, you’ve either got to give them a key – or leave the door unlocked. Neither is a great option. What we need is a new kind of “key”.

New Keys

Over the years, businesses have addressed the need for a new kind of key – one that can be changed when needed, and can be limited to only the people who should have access. Keypads were an easy first step, but were relatively expensive and prone to fingerprints (and finger-grime) which could give away the code. Also, giving a code away was easier than duplicating a key – which negated the benefit completely.

Next up were proximity cards. These systems use a credit-card sized access card with a radio chip inside to unlock a door when the card is held in closely proximity to a reader. These are even more expensive than keypads, but can uniquely identify the card (and presumably the card-holder) to allow (or disallow) access.

Neither keypads nor proximity cards are all that practical for home users, though there have been a few somewhat successful residential keypads which have hit the market. You can even get your hands on a lock with a biometric fingerprint reader.

In addition to their expense, these solutions typically replace your existing lock (requiring a fair bit of know-how and time to install), and they put the buttons or fingerprint scanner on the outside of the door – inviting people to try and bypass them.

Thankfully, high-security keys already exist, and we’re already carrying them around with us: our smartphones.

Open, Sesame

Sesame smart lockThat’s where Sesame comes in. Sesame is a smart lock from Candy House that installs over the top of your existing deadbolt.

First, since you don’t have to replace your existing lock, there are no tools or special skills required. Sesame uses super-strong 3M adhesive to attach to your door, and an ingeniously simple mechanism to turn your deadbolt’s latch. You can still lock and unlock the door using either your key on the outside, or by twisting the handle from the inside.

Next, nothing shows on the outside of the door except your current lock – there’s nothing for would-be burglars see and to try and hack.

Things start to get awesome when we start adding in the tech.

Sesame uses Bluetooth LE to communicate with your smartphone. Fire up the app, run through a quick setup, and you can lock and unlock your door with a tap – as long as your phone is within range. What about WiFi, you ask? The demo unit we were provided didn’t include a WiFi bridge, so we couldn’t test this part out, but the concept is pretty neat. Since WiFi is significantly more power-hungry than Bluetooth LE, Sesame doesn’t have WiFi built-in. There is, however, a little “dongle”, about the size of your cellphone charger, that plugs into a standard power outlet and connects to Sesame using Bluetooth LE and to your network using WiFi. Once configured, you can lock and unlock your doors from anywhere you can access the Internet.

Sesame appUnlike traditional keys, you don’t have to make copies when you want someone else to unlock your door, instead you just add them as an authorized person right through the app. You can even set hours when that person can open the door – and deny them access if they try to get in outside that window. (Teenagers coming home after curfew comes to mind as an excellent use for this feature.) Any time you want to revoke access, you can – and you don’t even have to ask for your key back.

In addition to all that, the app keeps a history of who and when someone locked (or unlocked) your door – so you can see when if your child made it home on time, or when your spouse left for work. The only thing missing here is the addition of manual locking or unlocking in the log. Although you wouldn’t know who was operating the lock, you’d still know when the events occurred.

Currently Sesame is a standalone product, but there are hopes to integrate with various smarthome solutions in the future. Once that hurdle is cleared, imagine a scenario where automatically, every weekday at a preset time, a rule fires on your smart home’s hub that turns off the lights in the house, sets the temperature of the thermostats, turns on the porch light, and locks all the doors. How about a rule that, if your smoke detector senses a problem, the lights toward the exit illuminate and the doors unlock automatically, allowing people in the house to get out (or rescuers to get in) without worrying about a locked door standing in the way.

The Bad News

If you want a Sesame smart lock today, you can’t have one. Like many Kickstarter projects, Sesame is taking a little longer than initially expected. Fortunately, you can head to their site and pre-order your own Sesame today, but it’s not estimated to ship until April 2016.

Sesame. Your Key, ReinventedAlso, if you want to actually use the gadget, you’re going to need an iOS device – there’s no Android or Windows 10 Mobile app – not yet anyway. As far as Android support goes, that’s more a fault of the Android ecosystem than it is with Sesame.  From what we’re told, Sesame is pushing the limits of what can be done with Bluetooth LE, and support from Android (both in the OS and the the various Bluetooth chips OEMs built into their handsets) has been more challenging.

In the meantime, everything we’ve seen with the Sesame smart lock has worked flawlessly, and we can’t tell you how many people we’ve impressed by showing them how we can lock and unlock the door just by tapping a button on our phone. There’s even a button to lock all your doors at once. How cool is that?!

Sure, on the surface it sounds a little gimmicky. In practice, it’s anything but. Ultimately, keeping your doors locked and restricting access through those doors using technology is a very smart way to help keep your castle secure and make your home just a little bit smarter.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.
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