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Smart Home

Monkey will be a doorman for apartment dwellers

A new device called Monkey will connect to your apartment's intercom system and enable you to let guests, delivery people and yourself into the building remotely.

A young startup called Locumi Labs, which made its debut in Germany with a clever mailbag (in German), wants to go international with a new smart security device that specifically targets apartment dwellers. Monkey will ship in the third quarter of 2016 for $119 or £99 (roughly converted, that's AU$155), which is half the price of many smart locks on the market.

Of course, this isn't exactly a smart home lock; it's a batteryless, Wi-Fi-enabled chip housed in a plastic shell, and it's designed to connect your phone to your apartment's intercom. After installing Monkey, which is built to nestle snugly inside your intercom's case, you'll be able to perform many of the same functions as other smart locks, but through the already-present technology of the intercom. But this small connection, according to Locumi's designers, will bring some big changes.

Monkey hear, Monkey do

The first and probably most practical tool Monkey will offer is remote access to apartment intercoms. According to Locumi, Monkey will be compatible with nearly all apartment intercoms -- even older models. The app, in development for both iOS and Android, will send push notifications to users when a guest buzzes from the front door of the apartment building. Users, whether home or away, can then buzz in guests using their phone.

Locking and unlocking doors while away from home is a tough topic for many lock developers. From Kwikset to Yale, most use connectivity like Bluetooth or Z-Wave that requires your mobile devices to be near the lock to access it, and these locks often require a separate hub (for a separate price). HomeKit-enabled locks, like August's upcoming second generation lock and the new Schlage Sense, feature remote access using iCloud, but only with the purchase of a third-generation or later Apple TV. The sparseness of remote capabilities is expected -- major security risks arise if a lock is too easily accessible from a distance. But the industry's caution means few companies have done smart lock remote access well, and almost none have done it cheaply.

Monkey could rise to the remote-access challenge because of one key distinction: it doesn't unlock the door of your apartment, but rather the door of your apartment building. So remote access doesn't represent quite the same security risk it does for other locks. Of course, the Wi-Fi communication between Monkey and your phone will be encrypted, and your home network should already be semisecure, but Locumi's primary focus isn't on reinforcing security -- it's on streamlining entry.

Locumi Labs

One notable feature, for example, is pretty standard for smart locks, but works particularly well for apartment buildings: timed access windows. You can set up certain times during which anyone who buzzes will be allowed access (think: hosting a party with guests dropping by all evening). But Monkey avoids the discomfort of allowing a stranger into your home when you're away by only allowing access to the building. That way delivery people can easily leave packages outside your apartment door, but inside the building and sheltered from the weather.

Another feature of convenience is the hands-free user entry. The Monkey app will use geofencing to track when your device approaches your apartment building, and a GPS will tell Monkey to buzz you in when you're within a few meters of your front door. The idea of automatic entry is appealing for anyone who hates fumbling with keys at your building entryway and again at your apartment door. But if Monkey's GPS is anything like the one I use when I'm driving, I'm skeptical of how well this function will work. Ultimately, we'll have to wait until we get our hands on the product to know how it performs.

Overall I like the approach of Locumi's project: home security more focused on how to let people in than how to keep them out. That inversion leaves space for real creativity -- addressing issues particular to apartment dwellers like me, who must use keys for two different entryways when they come home. This could also be a relief for renters with dogs that go crazy every time a visitor rings the buzzer. But the Monkey also raises many questions: Will a finicky GPS compromise my building's security? Will the app's remote connection lead to latency problems? Will the Wi-Fi connection be secure enough? Although Locumi assures us Monkey will not jeopardize an apartment building's security, any doubts (and hopes) will have to wait for answers until the product launches next year.

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