The expert: François-Xavier Jeuland is president of the French home automation federation, an engineer specializing in home automation and multimedia, a graduate from the French national institute of applied sciences (INSA), a member of the Smart Building Alliance and an independent consultant to architects, research units, authorities, manufacturers, installers and homeowners. He is the author of a French-language book called The Communicating House: Successfully Installing Your Home Automation and Multimedia Systems (fourth edition, published by Eyrolles).
Smart locks aren’t really new, so why are we talking about them at the moment?
François-Xavier Jeuland: Well, badge, digicode and card reader systems that activate locks have been around for a long time. They are used in working environments and in the hotel industry, but not in private homes. This type of solution remains expensive and can seem a bit like a gadget. But now, ease of connection is changing everything. We don’t have to install cables or keypads any more – just a battery box on the lock. This is home automation 2.0!
Also read: Harnessing the potential of home automation for the elderly
2015 Paris Trade Fair, uses your smartphone to open the door via wireless NFC or Bluetooth connection and a dedicated app. The homeowner selects one or more codes, each of which can also be linked to specific times of day. © Okidokeys
Do you think they really have a useful purpose?
I’ve installed them in my home and my family took to them in just a few days, which hasn’t been the case with many things they have tested! But if customers come to find out about smart locks just because they want to replace their keys, they might be disappointed.
The salesperson will have to explain all the functions they can offer. They can become an incredible tool for home automation. Customers will see for themselves what they can do and use them however they please. For example, smart locks enable people to find out when their children, leave home and return, let a company access their house during a specific period of time, rent out their home during the holidays, and so on. In addition to this, the customer might want to activate other automated systems when they open the door (heating, blinds, music, etc.). It’s up to the occupants to decide how they use all the functions. Many home automation systems are still too expensive, too complex or too inflexible.
How do connected locks work? They are installed in place of traditional locks (and as a result they have to meet European standards, which are more demanding than those in the US). Smart locks provide a radio connection such as Bluetooth, for example, and link to an app on your smartphone, tablet or computer. You unlock the door when you are close to it by entering a pre-set code. You can set several codes and link each one with different times of the day. It’s also possible to open the door by bringing your phone close to it, using the phone’s NFC connection or connection from an RFID tag, (without the phone itself). The latter system can be deactivated in the event of loss. The box is powered by battery and currently has a lifespan of around a year (an alert appears on the screen a few weeks before it stops working). And, of course, you still have the option to use a traditional key.
Can smartphones really change this?
Until now, if you wanted to control an automated system you needed a specific box, which could be expensive. Today, smartphone provide the radio link and standardization. Everything is moving towards digital, there are already lots of connected or connectable devices, and most people already own a smartphone. The CEO of Samsung recently announced that every device the company sells will be connected by 2020, because the additional cost involved is now marginal. In France, the company that created the Mother robot had the brilliant idea of using motion cookies [motion sensors that attach wherever you want and are centralized by radio transmission radio, NDLR], which connect to just about anything. Whereas functions used to be dictated to users, it’s now up to users to choose how to use connected technology for their own purposes and adapt it to their habits.
These locks by a young American company called August are designed by Swiss designer Yves Béhar. They have an optional unit and can be remotely controlled via the Internet. © August
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