Monday, 2 June 2014

Smartocks - crowdsourcing timed access control

Four years ago our start-up LEAPIN Digital Keys first started working on a smartlock. Back in 2010 there was no such things as smartlocks, and so when we gave people our elevator pitch we were often met with blank looks. Nobody believed us when we said that it would soon be a billion dollar industry.

This recent report which featured in a Forbes article, has valued the smartlock market at $3.6 billion. 

The poster boy of smartlocks right now is Kevo by Kwikset. In the first three months of this year, Kwikset shipped over 100,000 smartlocks to people’s homes, mostly in USA. It is estimated that around 1 million homes in the USA have had smartlocks installed in the last 4 years (see Forbes article and report for reference).

The Home smartlock poster boys

In a simple sentence ‘smartlocks’ can be defined as locks that are able to grant or deny access remotely from a smartphone app.

Here is a great website that gives comprehensive reviews of many of the smartlocks currently available in the marketplace. 

Over the last few years whilst many start-ups and leading lock manufacturers have developed their smartlocks for use in a private setting (ie. the home) our start-up has developed a smartlock for use in public settings. The public settings we’re been focused on is 'any space where many people require access for a short time period'. Examples include hotels, sporting facilities, car rentals, lockers, community facilities, and public institutions such as Universities (where students access rights to rooms often change from term to term). 

Providing access rights for many people for many spaces (often grouped in one location, such as in a hotel) for short periods, involves Human Resources. In the past somebody has had to manage the keys. Whether they are metal keys, or whether they are key cards - the equation is simple - more people in one place wanting access for short time periods, means more key management. 

Our smartlock has removed humans from the equation. Humans are great, don’t get us wrong, we love humans, but humans can make errors. And humans cost money. And in access control, errors can not only be costly, but they can also be dangerous. We've installed our smartlocks in hotels and short term accommodation in Australia, where essentially the properties are managing themselves, with little or no human interaction at most times.

Many have criticized our product offering by saying that "we take away jobs from Reception desks at hotels" for example. But we believe the opposite – our product can increase jobs in the local area. For example you can set our smartlock self check-in system to work from 5pm to 9am (after hours when most smaller hotels don’t have staffed reception desks anyway). During these times our system can enable anyone to use their smartphone to view an available room, book and pay for a room, check-in to their room, and open their room door, without any interaction from hotel staff. The hotel reservation systems can update in real time. And you can do all this in less than 30 seconds whilst you are getting out of a taxi, or walking past the hotel. Without the reception desk staffed overnight, and without our smartlock system in place, the hotel wouldn't be able to take these last minute bookings and check-ins, so it means lost revenue. With more money in the local economy, means more spending, which means more jobs right? 

Think about how smartlock self check-in could increase revenues for hotels, which don't normally staff reception desks overnight, for late night revelers. Late at night, when you can’t find a cab, get our your smartphone, pull up a map which shows available rooms near you at various hotels, look at the room, book the room, pay for it, go straight to the room with your map, plan, instructions, and open the door to the room with your smartphone and go straight in and sleep. Do all this in 30 seconds.

Another advantage of our smartlock self check-in system is that it can be translated to any language, so it makes the travel experience more user friendly for international tourists too. Therefore it can increase tourist numbers to regions, injecting more capital into the economy, and creating more jobs.

Perhaps you could call our smartlock system a ‘crowdsourced timed access control system’.  For example in a large University setting, students need to access rooms such as computer labs for a term at a time (say 10 weeks). With thousands of students needing to access many different rooms throughout a term, it would be nearly impossible for staff to manager tens of thousands of metal keys for students for 10 weeks at a time. Staff could manage the digital keys for smartphones easier, but it would still be a difficult and cumbersome job to be generating keys and emailing/SMS them to tens of thousands of students every 10 weeks. So why not crowd-source the timed access control process for students? Students access rights (rooms to be accessed, and the times they can be accessed) can easily be pre-programmed in advance into software by the University staff, and the students can then log onto our system and download their digital keys straight to their smartphones which will only work for the term or semester. 

But our crowdsourced access control solution is not only about removing humans in public settings, it also about removing onsite PC's. For example these days many locker banks have onsite PC's to control access and times to the lockers. By why have PC's built into the lockers, when we have PC's built into our pockets? Yes, the pocket PC's are called smartphones. 

Access control in public sporting facilities?

So why would we want to remove the onsite PC's? Because my removing the onsite PC, it opens up the applications for so many new uses. Think about locations where installation costs are an issue, or even examples where tampering with buildings are an issue - such as drilling holes into heritage buildings to put all the wires that link PC's to the locks. What about outdoor places where weather and vandals can be issues? For example lets say you wanted to rent some cricket nets to practice on at your local cricket club, which are normally locked, and you are not a member, so you don't have a metal key. And there is a gate with a padlock to access those cricket nets, and you have to bring all your own pads, gloves etc, each time you play, and you have to be a member of the club to get a key, or you have to meet a member of the club to get a key and pay money to that member to get access. It would be too expensive and impractical(weather. vandals etc) to install a PC at the gate of the cricket nets. So with our system you are getting your time-sensitive digital key on your smartphone, your rights are granted by making a payment (or being approved as a user in advance) and you can even have a locker in there that stores your equipment too (pads, bats etc).

If you are interested in our smartlock solution for your public property, please get contact with our sales rep Steve - email steve@digitalkeys.co 

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