The first keys were made of wood and were very large; in ancient Egypt, they were only used to protect the residences of people of the highest social class. The Romans and the Greeks were the ones who popularised them; they were already accessible to almost everyone by then.
Today, technology is part of our lives, so much so that it seems difficult to imagine living without it; we find it in every corner that we look at and in every space where we are. Today we have become totally dependent on technology so it is understandable that we want to have the facilities that technology offers us in one of the most important spaces to all human beings, our home.
We can achieve this thanks to home automation. Home automation (AKA domotics) is the integrated control of electrical and electronic devices in a home or building, where a large number of objects are automated.
Home automation includes 5 main branches; we have written several articles on some of them before now but just as a reminder they are:
1. Energy saving: This refers to having an efficient management of all the appliances and systems that exist in the home without necessarily having to replace them.
2. Comfort: Refers to all the actions that can be carried out to improve the comfort in the home and these actions may have a passive, active or mixed nature.
3. Security: Consists of creating a network responsible for protecting valuables, personal security and the lives of the inhabitants of a dwelling.
4. Communications: This branch includes the communications systems that the house has, either inside or outside it; it can create communication between devices, generate consumption reports, and medical attention, among many others.
5. Accessibility: This branch refers to the applications or installations of remote control of the environment that contribute to the autonomy of people with physical limitations due to any type of illness and/or disability.
In this article, I want to focus particularly on a system that can include 3 branches of home automation, namely: comfort, security and accessibility. Let’s look at smart locks.
Smart locks are gadgets that are designed primarily to provide greater security as well as being easier to open and close, create greater interaction with the door itself and with the events that can be carried out in it.
Currently there are already locks with keys and without keys as such, but now they can work in tandem with personal assistant applications such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google Assistant. These are smart locks that can be handled by means of a security PIN, which for some people is much more convenient. In these cases, the smart locks can be controlled remotely, so the user can verify the status of the lock and open or close it by means of voice commands.
To achieve this, an accessory is needed to integrate these smart locks into the connected house-room. These are different modules, which are compatible with the better known systems such as Z-Wave, Zigbee and HomeKit.
In the case of compatibility with Apple HomeKit, integration with the Apple Home app that can be installed on an iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch is allowed; and it can be used remotely by means of Siri. In parallel, you can also use the Yale Secure app to control the lock, add or remove devices, manage up to 25 PIN codes or view the battery status. In the case of compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa, the systems on which it is based are Z-Wave or Zigbee so that an Amazon Echo device can be used to control the use of the different locks integrated in the house. In addition, these locks can be integrated into Samsung’s SmartThings ecosystem.
One of the alternatives that seem most interesting to me is the “August Smart Lock” which is a technological add-on that can be placed on each door of the house; it allows you to attach it to a conventional door and control it completely by means of a smartphone and its specific app, for which it must be connected to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The interesting thing about this lock is that it takes advantage of the space of the existing lock. It involves removing the manual lock mechanism and replacing it with this kit, which consists of a lock and the necessary anchors. You don’t need complicated tools, and once installed you just have to download the app that is available for both iOS and Android and calibrate the turn key system before activating the lock. As the whole system is placed inside the door, the appearance stays the same.
In this way we can have access control at home or even at work and elsewhere when we aren’t at home. It is also a system that is compatible with most types of locks on the market. However, this system does have a drawback, and that is its price, since each unit of Smart Lock costs about €230, so installing it in all the doors of a house can be a significant expense.
Another alternative which may be interesting is the “SmartCode” from Kwikset. This company already has some experience in this field of intelligent locks and has several solutions on the market; this model is characterised by being compatible with Samsung SmartThings and now with Amazon’s Alexa. SmartCode locks allow the use of up to 30 security codes at the same time. A main user code is responsible for keeping them safe from unwanted users. These codes can be used either from the mobile or with the touch screen that comes with the lock. For more security they have 128-bit encryption. This alternative can be easily found in the market with a price of around €225, a price very similar to Smart Lock.
And finally, “Xiaomi Vima Smart” is an alternative that seems not so innovative but in fact is very interesting and seems to explore a niche that has never been explored before. This smart lock is curious, because although it is connected to our smartphone it has the peculiarity of forgetting it for its use. No, we are not going to use the smartphone as a key as in other options. To access Xiaomi, we have to use one of the 5 coded keys that come with the lock. And as I mentioned before, this not so innovative, indeed it only adds to the collection of keys on the key chain that we carry with us every day. The interesting thing is a programmable lock. The lock can be configured from our smartphone according to our needs. So we can programme different functions, set deadlines when which it will become inactive, determine which key can open and at what time or even make us use a combination of keys to open the door. It also sends a warning if someone tries to access a space or interfere with it.
One step further to smart locks.
There are other systems of access control normally used in offices today; they are the proximity card, an alternative familiar to us all, especially by those who use hotels. This system helps to obtain more information about people who gain access, when they gain access and how they do so, creating a safer and more protected environment. In addition, this system allows the user to configure access rights, that is, to generate time slots, deny access to certain people to certain areas, etc. It is a system that is very user-friendly, simple and fast so why is it not used in everyone’s home? If it works so well in places that in theory are less secure due to the flows of people through them, why not try it in a house or room, where the people who arrive normally turn up with advance notice, occasionally and in relatively low numbers?
Although it is not necessary in a house to “sign in” for people who enter, but it could be programmed to give access to people at a certain time of the day or week, the cleaner, for instance.
Switching from keys to a card may sound a little complicated or less secure for some people, because keys have been used for centuries and represent security in the popular imagination, but it is a matter of evolving. A few years ago, having cash in our hands equally meant security and power When bank cards appeared, many people did not trust that they were 100% safe and even now there are still people who prefer to carry all their money with them in cash or keep it under the mattress.
I think that the same principle could be applied to key cards, it would be a more practical tool, that weighs less, takes up less space and we would not necessarily have to use one of our hands to be able to gain access to the house. Thanks to its shape, a card fits perfectly in our wallet or purse, in our shirt and trouser pockets, handbags, in our smartphone cases, etc. so I think it is much more manageable and much less easily lost. Nowadays this system has gone a step further, you don’t need to take it out of your pocket because it works by proximity. Obviously, this type is more expensive.
At the end of the day, we would be getting rid of the hassle of taking out the keychain, looking for the right key, inserting it into the lock, giving 2 or 3 laps, open and remove the key. Instead, we just have to remove the card from the wallet, purse, cell phone, etc. and swipe it through the reader. Clearly this saves us a lot of time and its practicality is much greater; and this is only for when we are out of the house and we need to get in. When we are inside the house, we do not even need the card to be able to lock the door on our way out. All we need is a contactless exit button, in which we need to pass the hand close to open the lock and allow us to open the door.
It is a system that requires only a few components:
• The lock with a proximity card reader, opening handle and card lock.
• Contactless exit button.
• Magnetic locking plate with timer.
• Proximity cards.
In the end, all this has an approximate cost of €200, for a good electronic lock, the magnetic plate accounting for 60% of the total cost.
This system is one of the most accessible in the current market, which is perhaps not the most innovative, but it is certainly one of the most practical and safe; If you lose a card, you simply block it and program a new one, which is also easier than changing the complete lock and taking copies of new keys.
So, what to look for when buying an electronic home lock?
When choosing electronic locks, it is necessary to take into account 2 main points that will help you decide if it is the model that will provide the security you need.
The price of a digital lock will vary based on its operation, since you can have invisible locks or models that are locks with remote control, or some that only open when entering a password via a keyboard.
If you choose a keyboard model you can even create a different password for each user, thus having a higher level of sign-in security, this is very useful especially in work environments where assistance and access is a very important factor.
Conversely, when you choose a lock with remote controls for a house, you will only need to press a simple button and the internal security of the door will cause the electromagnets to activate and open, usually there must be several controls so that you can assign them to the different people who live with you.
The second factor is the energy used by the lock. Some locks are connected to the mains while others use batteries. It will be a good idea to take into account the energy used by the lock to keep functioning.
Finally, there is a third option which uses an app[dd1] .
No matter what the model is, you should evaluate whether you feel you need a higher level of security, and that it suits what you are willing to spend.