A new twist on an old idea

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Photo by A. Sue Weisler

This wireless door-lock replaces a traditional key.

Like many of the RIT Robotics Club projects, some projects are created for fun as well as function. For Ziyan Zhou and Zachery Shivers, members of the RIT Robotics Club, the two just wanted to get into their campus apartment. 

“We created the wireless door lock for fun in our spare time,” says Zhou, a fifth-year computer science major. He and Shivers created a wireless door-lock for their own use and entered their idea in the 2010 Texas Instruments Ultra Low-Power Challenge using the company’s eZ430-Chronos sports watch. 

“The watch communicates wirelessly to the lock and unlocks the door after given a secret password, a sequence of taps on the watch’s three-axis accelerometer,” Zhou explains. 

“A traditional key is something unique that you have, so is a watch with a unique, 128-bit encryption key in it that only the door and the watch share,” he says. “However, in the traditional case, losing the key can be translated into high security risk. In our case, an attacker needs both the watch and your personal knock sequence to unlock the door. So having only the watch is not enough to unlock the door.”

While the project did not win the overall competition, it did impress company judges and viewers to YouTube and blog sites like Gizmodo. The video of their project has scored more than 28,000 views on several online sites, including Zhou’s blog. 

“The online community, especially hackaday.com, gave us many wonderful suggestions and support. We plan to add new features to our existing system, including an audit system that logs entries to the door, a ‘tweet’ publication by the door about its entries, and bunch of other electrical design details that would make the system a viable commercial solution,” Zhou adds.