New device could have security market locked up

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pre-orders are now being taken for Lockitron, a new gizmo that turns your home's existing deadbolt lock into an electronically-controlled lock.

The device mounts over the knob that lets you open the deadbolt from the inside. Supposedly, it can be easily installed and removed, and can be used even by renters without damaging the pre-existing door or lock.

Once it's installed, you link it to your home's wi-fi network. Now, you can lock or unlock your home by using your cell phone. For older feature phones, that means sending a text message. For most smartphones, you can use an easy Android or iPhone app with "lock" and "unlock" buttons. For the iPhone 4S or the newly-released iPhone 5, you don't even have to fire up an app -- the device will sense your phone via Bluetooth 4 and automatically unlock the door as you approach, just like some newer luxury cars will do. The company hopes to add that same functionality for Android.

You can grant access to the lock to anyone you choose -- if you have company coming from out of town, and you won't be home when they arrive, you can give them guest access to unlock the door themselves with their own cell phone (and then revoke that access once they've gone home). You can also choose to receive notifications -- for example, the system will send you a message when your child gets home from school and unlocks the door.

If your phone is stolen, you can use the company's web site to revoke access and change your password.

The unit's batteries supposedly last a year (and it will send you a notification when they're running low). If the unit malfunctions, you can still use your old key to open the deadbolt.

On the webcast "Tech News Today," some commentators expressed hesitation -- what about hackers? Could someone with computer skills figure out a way to defeat the system and unlock the door? But host Tom Merritt noted that there are already criminals who know how to pick locks. No security system is perfect, and Merritt said he thinks there are probably more skilled lock-pickers than there are hackers at the level required to defeat this system. Since the key still works, that means that the lock-pickers could presumably still open it. You'd actually be adding one threat to the other, not replacing one with the other.

The device costs $149 and is scheduled to ship in March. For more information, go to

Tablets could interfere with sleep

A study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, and reported on by the Huffington Post, claims that two hours spent in front of a backlit tablet like an iPad late at night can affect your body's sleeping rhythms.

Tablets, and now some e-readers, have glowing, backlit screens. This study was conducted with tablets. It would not apply to un-lit e-readers like the basic, entry-level Kindle or Nook.

Nook, and now Kindle, have been touting their new back-lit e-reader screens.

Researchers found that night-time tablet use suppresses production of melatonin, a natural substance which regulates the body's sleep cycles.

The researchers note that some tablets are brighter than others and says dimming tablets may help.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.

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