Startup obsession of the week: Lockitron

The following is a guest post from Erin Bury and it was published earlier today on her blog.

It’s not often that I see a startup idea and think “whoa! It’s the future.” In fact only two come to mind: Interaxon, a Toronto-based thought-controlled computing company (imagine controlling the lights on the CN Tower with your thoughts); and Word Lens, a mobile app that instantly translates text using your iPhone’s video camera. 

But this week I found another futuristic startup: Lockitron, a company that enables you to unlock your front door using your smartphone. The concept sounded cool, but I immediately had questions: how on earth does it work? How is it safe? And what if my phone dies/is stolen/is left on my front bench?

Lockitron works by sending a signal from any Internet-enabled smartphone through their servers to a small device that plugs into your Internet router. It talks to your door telling it to lock or unlock. Homeowners install Lockitron by ordering a Self-Install kit that works with most popular lock styles, and comes in several different finishes (just so you can be futuristic AND stylish). There are several different kits available depending on what type of lock/door you have, from deadbolts to door handles and even apartment buzzers. Each kit comes with a wireless lock unit, a base station & USB remote control, and a set of keys (just in case you forget your phone, you can still open your door the old-fashioned way). The kits range from $295-$335.

Once you have the kit installed, you simply load the Lockitron app on your phone, hit lock or unlock, and your door unlocks in a really creepy “who the heck just did that” way. One of my favourite features is the ability to give friends temporary access to your house via text message – that’s one of the most annoying parts of living in a condo building, buzzing friends up one by one. If I could just text them an access code it would be so much simpler. I also like how precise they are with the time it takes to unlock the door after you press unlock on the website – exactly 0.5-2 seconds (plus a few extra seconds if you’re using the mobile app). Thank god – if it took 10 seconds it would be SO much less futuristic. 

One of the questions I had about the company on Twitter is what happens if Lockitron isn’t available – if your phone dies, or you don’t have Internet access, or the power goes out. The great thing is they provide you with a set of keys, so if the power goes out you can still leave the house. Ditto if your phone dies while you’re out, although if you didn’t bring your keys you’re kind of screwed. And if you don’t have an Internet connection I don’t know exactly where you live – you need to be within 15’ of your door to unlock it, so I can’t see you being in a dead zone. 

The product is in beta, which could be a little alarming to homeowners – they say “certain aspects of its operation might, at times, not perform as expected.” I don’t think they meant “robbers will be able to access your house at random times” though – they say there might be wireless range issues and problems working with non-standard doors. 

Well bugs or no bugs, this is pretty much the coolest thing I’ve seen all year. The most innovative startups disrupt industry, challenging the status quo and creating a new reality instead of just building upon their competitors’ products. I’d say Lockitron does a pretty great job of that.