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This Connected Home Startup Has a New Way to Lock Your Door

August 24, 2017, 3:50 PM UTC

At a time when many homes sport connected lights, smart thermostats, and virtual home assistants like Amazon Echo, the lock on the front door remains remarkably low-tech.

That’s something Sam Jadallah, a former Microsoft executive-turned venture capitalist-turned entrepreneur, is out to change.

On Thursday, Jadallah is launching Otto, a San Mateo, Calif.-based digital lock company that combines a physical door lock that opens with a secure smartphone app as opposed to a physical key. That’s important in an age when standard lock-and-key setups are highly vulnerable.

“When you give someone a key, you lose control of it. They can copy it, give it away,” Jadallah tells Fortune. Worse, with today’s technology, someone with a camera and telephoto lenses can take a picture of a key and 3D-print a copy.

Furthermore, if you lose your phone, you can wipe it remotely using software that comes with Android phones and Apple iPhones. Most people realize they’ve lost their phones within minutes, whereas it can take hours for them to know that keys are missing.

Jadallah wrote about Otto’s unveiling here.

Otto has been working on this quietly for four years, with financial backing from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman via his affiliation with Greylock Partners, and Fortune Brands, the company behind Moen kitchen and bath gear, MasterLock locks, and Therma-Tru doors. Jadallah would not disclose funding amounts. Greylock partner, Josh Elman who oversaw the VC’s investment in Otto along with Hoffman, is on Otto’s board.

The company was able to attract some key tech talent including Andrew Burks, a founding engineer of Apple HomeKit, who is now director of software at Otto. HomeKit is Apple’s home automation framework. Todd Gotham, Otto’s vice president of hardware was formerly an executive at GoPro (GPRO).

Related: Amazon Sets Sights on Home Domination With Alexa

With the Otto system, the lock senses the owner’s cell phone and unlocks the door at the touch of a button. If the phone runs out of juice, there is also a pin entry alternative. Home owners can also assign limited-time pins to let housekeepers, delivery people, and dog walkers in at pre-specified times, but can revoke access outside those time windows. If you think your 16-year-old child has “overshared” his or her pin, you can revoke it and start anew.

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The system uses encrypted integrated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity to link the lock with the smartphone app. Bluetooth is good for short range connectivity.

Wi-Fi support means that, in the first quarter of next year, Otto will be able to work with Google (GOOG) Home, Amazon (AMZN) Echo with its Alexa smart software), and Apple connected home systems. Then the home owner can control the lock from anywhere and use it in conjunction with home security cameras as needed. For example, if you want your food delivery courier to bring your groceries in and put them in the fridge, that could happen with you watching that happen remotely.


Related: 5 Home Security Gadgets to Keep You Safe

Over time, the Otto lock’s door sensors will detect usage patterns that can trigger alerts. If you turn your home over to a house sitter during vacations, you can provide her with access for that period. But you can also be alerted if the door opens 50 or 60 times on Saturday night, which could be an indication that someone is having a party.

Jadallah acknowledges the existence of other smart locks and keyless entry systems, but he says adoption has been held back, in part, by their appearance.

“We were frustrated with the cheap metal and plastic gadgets that automate a bolt throw,” Jadallah says. “Our design centered on creating a digital lock no larger than a standard deadbolt, using high-grade stainless steel, and a glass front for a look and feel that honor the front door. “

Otto’s locks have been deployed at about 60 beta sites since the beginning of the year, both by Otto employees and by unrelated parties picked at random. Otto will start taking orders on Thursday for the $699 locks, which will ship this fall. Installation by trained professionals will cost another $150, but that fee will be waived for early customers.