Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A smart lock with long-range wireless power is finally a reality

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I’ve been testing smart door locks for the past few months and had to set up an Amazon Subscribe & Save order for all the different batteries they chew through. Smart locks have a power problem and smart lock manufacturer Alfred thinks it has the solution: wireless power.

First announced at CES 2020, the Alfred AirCord Enabled ML2 Smart Lock is finally a fact. Wirelessly powered by a Wi-Charge Wireless Power TransmitterThe lock will be launched today for commercial real estate developers in the United States and Canada.

The ML2 is a mortise lock designed for high-end residential and commercial buildings. While it won’t work on your standard front door equipped with a deadbolt, Brad Cook, head of product and integrations at Alfred, told me. me a deadbolt version is coming early next year.

While we’ve seen demos of wireless power at trade shows like CES for years, the technology has yet to make its way into practical products. That’s the big change here; Alfred and Wi-Charge actually have a working wireless powered smart lock out in the world. Alfred installed demo versions of the lock and wireless power accessories in real buildings as part of live pilots.

Designed for North American style mechanical mortise lock chassis, the ML2 lock will be widely used in commercial and hotel properties, apartment and condominiums, and high-end single-family homes. It can be retrofitted, but it’s definitely more of a professional installation. If you would like to get one for yourselfyou would be looking at a starting price of $899, not including the Wi-Charge accessory kit.

The back of the new ML2 slot contains an infrared receiver on the top, which is how the Wi-Charge sends it power.
Image: Alfred

The new ML2 lock can be traditionally powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or can be upgraded to wireless power with a Wi-Fi charging long range wireless power transmitter – a medium sized round hub that needs to be plugged in. There is no set price for upgrading to wireless power. Cook said it’s “priced separately on demand and per application,” but previous reports estimate it between $150 and $180.

The Wi-Charge transmitter delivers “multiple watts” wireless power safely and efficiently to any compatible device in the same room within 10 meters. The technology is FDA-approved and Ori Mor, co-founder of Wi-Charge, says it’s a precision transmission and requires sightlines; the transmitter does not bathe the room in wireless power. You can see a video of it “in action” here.

Mor said Wi-Charge’s “AirCord” technology delivers up to 100 times more power than a standard battery, allowing a device to do more. For example, Alfred’s Cook says there were no smart mortise locks before the ML2 because a mortise lock requires significantly more force to turn the mechanism than a standard deadbolt. With the wireless power system, Alfred can do it.

The Wi-Charge transmitter can be mounted in the ceiling or on the wall.

The Wi-Charge transmitter can be mounted in the ceiling or on the wall.
Image: Wi-Charge

Beyond the option of this unique power method, the Alfred ML2 is a standard smart lock, providing access to Bluetooth, RFID card and PIN, app control via the Alfred Home app, and the option to use Wi-Fi, Zigbee and Z- Wave connectivity for integration into smart home systems. The Alfred ML2 has a slim design with a touchscreen keyboard, but at 6.77 inches tall, it’s very large. It looks a bit like a smartphone hanging on your door

Speaking of smartphones, Cook did say that the extra power a device with Wi-Charge can pull and the extra space gained from not having to fit a large battery has changed the roadmap for the company. “You could have a slot that could be a full iPhone-style video screen that doesn’t need to be modified or wired,” he said. “It has led us to re-evaluate all kinds of options that were just not feasible before in the field of battery-powered devices.”

The ability to wire devices wirelessly could be a game-changer for the smart home. Never having to recharge your video doorbell or replace your smart lock batteries again would be a much better user experience than the current state of affairs. Mor says one Wi-Charge transmitter can charge multiple devices, which could offset the initial cost. But all those devices must be Wi-Charge-enabled with a built-in infrared receiver. That makes it harder to sell.

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