One object startups have tried and failed to kill is the good old-fashioned key.
We shove them onto tiny metal rings and bury them deep in pockets and purses. They’re impossible to find when we need them most, they’re a hassle to retrieve when our hands are full, and losing them means changing all of our locks.
Still, no mobile app, motion or touch device has worked as flawlessly. So the easy-to-lose, headache-inducing physical keys have remained.
Phil Dumas has spent the better part of his career developing a key-free way to unlock a door. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Central Florida, then helped invent a biometric finger-lock technology. But it was faulty, only accurately reading the owner’s fingerprint sometimes. “The lock needed to work the first time, every time,” Dumas says. And it didn’t.
His latest creation, Unikey, may finally replace physical keys. When Dumas debuted the product on ABC’s Shark Tank last year, he received investment offers from all five judges.
Dumas has now raised over $2.3 million from traditional investors including ff Venture Capital and he is licensing Unikey’s technology to Qwikset, one of the largest lock and lockset manufacturers in the world. Unikey’s touch-lock devices will soon be sold in major retail outlets such as Home Depot.The Qwikset Unikey looks like any other lock. There’s a place for a physical key, and it’s double bolted onto the door. You don’t need to call a specialist to install it. You can still unlock the door from the inside by turning a knob. But unlike a traditional lock, Unikey uses proximity to unlock doors.
The Unikey lock operates via iPhone or iPad app, or a fob for people without smart phones. When the mobile app or fob are nearby and you touch Unikey, it turns blue then green to signal it is unlocked. If you tap Unikey three times, it turns yellow and locks again. If you don’t have access to a door and you touch it, Unikey turns red.
You don’t have to be touching the app or fob to lock and unlock Unikey doors. The Unikey devices just need to be within range. You can set the range to either a few inches or a few feet on Unikey’s app or website.
Unikey’s technology knows which side of the door the owner is on, so being too close to Unikey from the inside won’t let a nearby stranger in.
There’s no pin required to access the mobile app key or button that needs to be toggled. You just enroll your device(s) once. Hackers aren’t really a worry either, because Unikey scrambles together new key codes all the time. If you lose your smartphone with the Unikey app, you can turn off access on Unikey’s site. Otherwise, access will turn off on the old device as soon as you activate a new phone.
The best Unikey feature is the ability to share permanent or temporary keys with others via mobile app. For example, you could assign a key to a house cleaner for a specific day each week, or let a construction worker use a key for a few hours each day. Family members can get their own mobile copies. Keys can be cancelled as quickly as they can be created on the app.
“We focused on convenience, control, simplicity and elegance,” Dumas tells Business Insider of his 10-person team. “We’re not the first company to open doors with a cell phone. We’re the first to do it in a passive manner where you don’t have to engage your phone. The minute you have to toggle a switch, you may as well put a key in the door.”
Unikey locks will be available for pre-order on Amazon soon. They’ll retail for about $150.
To better understand how the Unikey lock will work, here are some screenshots of the device in action.
Click on the video below to see the prototype of Unikey in action on Shark Tank. To watch it, scroll down to the bottom of Unikey’s press page (Shark Tank has rights to clips locked down and we couldn’t find an embeddable version).
Note: Even though he agrees to work with Cuban and Kevin O’Leary at the end of the episode, the deal fell through afterward. Dumas merely says he and those particular investors “couldn’t figure it out.”