You’re walking towards the front door of your apartment building with shopping bags and boxes in your arms, you fumble with keys, dropping them a couple of times, but eventually you get the door open and get inside. This is the typical everyday problem that Berlin-based KIWI is trying to solve with its keyless entry technology for residential buildings.
Managing director Christian Bogatu, who has a background in hardware startups, explained that the idea came to one of the co-founders, Claudia Nagel, a few years ago when she was caught in one of these exact situations at an apartment building.
The startup has developed a two-pronged approach for making access a little easier by retrofitting building doors that have buzzer systems with an RFID sensor that unlocks when KIWI users are standing nearby.
The first side of the technology, “Ki”, is a small piece of hardware that one can keep in their pocket, where they can just push open the door once the sensor picks up the transponder a few feet away. The “Wi” side, derived from “wireless”, is a smartphone app that lets users open the lock.
“The reason we do that is that not every of our users actually have a smartphone,” explained Bogatu, making sure that the technology isn’t leaving anyone out.
Keyless entry and smart lock technologies have become very common in different sectors. There’s the solution from KISI, a similar smartphone-based lock system that’s targeted at offices, while several major hotel groups like Hilton and Starwood have designed apps for opening your room with phone and do away with the tried-and-tested key card. There's also Kickstarter-funded Nuki.
KIWI however is focused entirely on the residential sector and forging relationships with service companies at the same time.
Currently, the startup’s technology has been installed in 1,500 buildings, which Bogatu says amounts to about 15,000 apartments. KIWI contracts with Germany’s Conrad Electronic for the installation of the sensors.
Interestingly, KIWI has also partnered up with several organisations such as Deutsche Post to give mail workers access to apartment buildings when dropping off letters, instead of rummaging through massive collections of keys.
“You have service providers like the post, the mailman and the trash removal people, gardeners and cleaning personnel,” said Bogatu. “All of these people that, on a daily basis, to do their job, have to walk through these doors. Today they’re using huge keychains, which is a big security and a big efficiency and management problem.”
KIWI has been particularly popular with the trash removal services, said Bogatu. “Trash removal companies, they are a huge partner because they have a huge need to use KIWI,” he said. “They are actually approaching the property managers and owners and telling them to please install KIWI because it really helps trash removal companies. So together this is how we approach the market.”
KIWI works with the local emergency services like the fire department and ambulances too.
“Every building where KIWI is installed, the firemen can get inside without any interruption,” Bogatu describes, adding that waiting for someone to let them in at the main building door slows down the emergency response. He claims the faster entry can be the difference between saving someone who is having a stroke or a heart attack and not making it in time.
“That’s something we are very proud of now that they are a strong partner.”
KIWI is in a sensitive area where safety and security has to be the backbone of the service. Another one of its partners include insurance giant Allianz who will cover the service’s insurance - but what can a user do if they lose their Ki transponder or their smartphone is stolen?
Through its app, website, or hotline, users can log in and cancel their Ki or their app in the event that it’s gone missing, which of course means the owner needs to act fast.
The startup was keen to bolster the security of the RFID signal between the keys and the door too, added Bogatu, and quell the danger of the signal being interfered with. KIWI says it has a developed a secure algorithm of its own, patent-pending, which protects the door’s integrity.
“We’ve tested it with hackers, we have a bug bounty out there. The people that have designed KIWI are the ones that usually hack those systems,” said Bogatu. “If you have a Ki in your pocket and you walk through the door, no one is able to track or log this information,” he said.
Landlords and building owners cannot track who is coming and going either, Bogatu pointed out, and KIWI doesn’t build any user profiles. Owners only know who has access to the door and can change it when needs be, such as when they change their trash removal company or someone moves out of an apartment.
Bogatu added that KIWI is also looking at other technologies to integrate into its keyless systems, namely Bluetooth, but it has concerns over its security and the strain it can have a smartphone’s battery.
Some keyless entry start-ups, such as UniKey from the States, have already integrated Bluetooth into some of their products.
Next though, KIWI is focusing on its European growth, having secured €4 million in funding last March. The startup is planning on launching in eight new countries soon, but Bogatu declined to name them as deals are still being finalised.
“We are in a very good position now to conquer the market,” he stated confidently.
(All images from the KIWI website)