Will Smartphones Replace Keys?

Add to the list of things your smartphone can do the ability to open doors. While established lock companies such as Schlage, a division of Ingersoll Rand, experiment with Internet-enabled home locks, your first encounter with such systems may be with your next hotel room stay.

From the New York Times (may require registration):

On the day of their arrival, guests received a text message with a Web address where they could check in. After the check-in process was complete, the hotel sent an electronic room key to the guest’s mobile phone. The guests loved it, said Tam Hulusi, senior vice president for strategic innovation for HID Global, a smart card company that, along with its parent, Assa Abloy, a Swedish lock maker, participated in the test.

He said that mobile phone keys could cut costs for hotels by doing away with plastic key cards and by reducing the staff needed to check in guests. The company is also testing such keys at offices and universities. “The idea is not to prove the technology — this isn’t rocket science,” Mr. Hulusi said. “It’s to see how humans react.”

One advantage of the technology is the keys can be set to expire. Apigy, a start-up in Palo Alto, Calif., is marketing its Lockitron system for companies that use contract workers and for people with vacation rentals.

Temporary usage seems to be ideal, but long term use has its problems. What happens when the Internet is down? Or when your phone has a dead battery? Or if the power is off at your house?

Additionally, an Android app, Caribou, has been shown by researchers to open RFID-enabled doors and gates. Caribou connects remotely to the server managing the locks and emulates the code produced from a keycard.

What may work are NFC locks, where the code is stored on your smartphone, not sent over the Internet. That will, of course, require wider adoption of NFC chips in smartphones.