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Hardware Case Study: Why Lockitron Has Taken So Long To Ship (techcrunch.com)
198 points by Jarred on July 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 127 comments



I had a Lockitron and I had to send it back. I rather enjoyed the idea and I truly believed they would eventually arrive at the right combination of firmware and software that would allow it to behave the way it was intended.

After owning it for nearly a year and having it only work reliably probably 20% of the time I had one galvanizing experience with it that made me arrive at the realization that it is fundamentally flawed.

It is a motorized lock connected to WiFi with a back up of a standard key lock. As it turns out, if the Lockitron runs out of battery mid way through actuating the lock it will freeze the lock in that position. No amount of manual force though just the key backup will work.

I spent several hours locked out of my apartment one night requiring emergency service from my complex management and asking a guy to wake up my neighbor so they could climb a ladder and break into my apartment via my balcony.

Cameron and the Lockitron staff I interacted with was very good and understanding at all times- but I just could not trust the Lockitron any more. Since it was a battery hog and the battery dying midst turn is a critical problem and there was no notification whatsoever of the battery condition (at the time) AND I couldn't use the manual back up, I had to return it.


I have a kwikset keypad battery deadbolt and this situation worried me so much I pulled the battery mid-turn to test it. No problem. I was so impressed I opened it up to see how they did it. It's so stupid simple I should have just thought of it. Obvious things in hindsight.


Why do you obscure what technique they used?


Didn't mean too. Its a small springloaded clutch about the circumference of an old American half-dollar coin. Its got a detent in it that allows the motor to "pick up" the bolt wherever it may be in the lock cycle as it goes by but isn't so stiff that it can't be defeated with the key.

If you're into RC is looks a lot like a "servo-saver".


They use a one way clutch if I recall correctly.


Which component freezes in position halfway through, the lock itself or the Lockitron?


The lock was fine. The Lockitron's motor apparently would not pass a certain amount of rotation if the batteries died mid-rotation and no amount of force I could exert would open the door. I bent the key pretty good and I had to stop as soon as I noticed that happening.


I was thinking that the "manual override" feature of the lock was simply a matter of being able to overpower the powered-off motor by hand. I gather from the other comments that it's actually going through some fairly steep reduction gearing that you can't overpower, and that the gearing is just disengaged from the lock mechanism when not in use. Is that about right?


one possible way to solve this problem is to not initiate turning the lock if the battery is too low.


You'd think they'd be doing that already, really.


Cameron did note how he was surprised the Lockitron worked that morning. Apparently they had some insight about the battery level that was not being relayed to me. I think they've since rectified that with a push notification- I never saw anything like that though.


This is not acceptable for something as critical as your front door.

You also usually can't tell exactly if the battery is too low for it to turn


The only reason I bought this initially is because the YC team made a comment like "we've been using this for a while and it's awesome". It made me believe they had already done a lot of testing on the product, and that it was in production use.

After the first year it became clear the Lockitron was just an idea. I have no idea why the YC team made a testimonial for it as if it were a finished product.

The second year the e-mail updates were constantly "X is wrong and we are fixing it. We want to make the best product possible." Blah blah. Yeah, whatever.

What it comes down to is that Lockitrons entire campaign was misleading, from their website, to the YouTube videos, to the Kickstarter -- the entire company is smoke and mirrors. The company is really good at explaining why things are wrong, but is terrible at actually fixing them. My frustration stems from them constantly promising things, but missing their deadlines by months, and in this case, years. Not once, but several times.

I cancelled my order a while ago, the Lockitron brand is destroyed in my mind, and I have been hesitant to back any hardware projects ever since.

I really wanted to believe.


Question for you for goldenkey below: Do you mean YC or HN?

The YC team, while growing, is still a fairly small collective of amazingly brilliant people. The HN team is, at the end of the day, largely anonymous people on the internet. (Albeit the most amazingly brilliant collective of largely anonymous people on the internet I've ever come across.)


Probably referring to this comment from pg, linked to elsewhere here in the comments:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4602821


Yep, this was the comment. It made it sound like the product was in use for a long time and functioning well.


It likely was. The video here (linked below the pg comment) shows the more substantial hardware they had been using:

http://techcrunch.com/2011/05/13/lockitron-lets-you-unlock-y...

It would be nice if pg had said something closer to "I hope this new product works as well as the version we are using", but it's difficult to go back and try to figure out the context he would have been commenting in.

The preorder page from that time does paint the picture of a well developed product, making declarations about all the things Lockitron does:

https://web.archive.org/web/20121004125521/https://lockitron...


Thanks both for clarifying. I hadn't seen that link.


Out of curiosity: if they weren't YC, would you be more or less skeptical of the claim? I'm wondering whether you bought it because you believed the team (based on your understanding of the problem and solution) or because you believed in YC


I bought it because of YC comments. I was sorely disappointed when the wifi unlock did not work like it was stated because of the battery drain. I returned it and have just made my own with a wired arduino. Faster, instant unlock, and no batteries to worry about :)


The whole thing sounds a lot like the WakeMate fiasco.


It's not that it's an order of magnitude harder to make hardware than software. It's that you have to know what you're doing. Cobbling something together with an Arduino and some other one-off parts is one thing, manufacturing is different.

But it's not that hard to understand; it's the difference between a hacked-together MVC or early release that might fall over with 10k users versus a mature platform that can handle 10mm concurrent users with no problems.

Not bringing competent manufacturing capabilities in-house is the same as supposing that you can run a tech startup strictly using short-term contractors or people from oDesk. With no real stake in the final outcome, only in meeting their contracted deliverables, they don't care if the whole thing succeeds or fails. As long as they get paid for their little part the bigger picture is irrelevant.

Having misaligned incentives is a fairly straightforward way to have problems.


Dealing with suppliers and Chinese factories may present a logistical challenge, but it's still easier and less expensive than doing the manufacturing yourself.

If you have experience developing a hardware product, I'll defer to your experience, but what I've seen from being on the periphery of a couple hardware projects doesn't jive with what you're saying are the lessons learned from trying to ship a polished hardware product with a small team on a limited budget.


> Dealing with suppliers and Chinese factories may present a logistical challenge, but it's still easier and less expensive than doing the manufacturing yourself.

I sort-of agree with you there and sort-of don't.

IF (and this is a HUGE if) you already know EXACTLY what your product is going to be THEN you MIGHT be able to save a bunch of money using Chinese suppliers and factories.

But when you're doing a hardware Kickstarted kind of product you don't necessarily know exactly what the product is and how it will work. You might well be inexperienced too.

Manufacturing in-house gives you the ability to rapidly iterate and close the feedback loop (which any good software engineer will tell you is critical) so that you can go from sorta-working to working to working perfectly.

3d printed parts are not the same as injection molded parts for myriad reasons. The screws for assembly you buy off of mcmaster carr will almost assuredly be different than the ones your Chinese supplier gives you, especially if you don't know to ask what the material is, what the tolerances are, etc. A screw is a screw right? Not even close.

Software guys often have a lot of trouble understanding hardware because software is so pure. A bit is a bit and it always will be. An object has a type which often fully defines it. Bits can largely be counted on not to flip. If it passes the tests in dev and test it should work in production, and if it doesn't we can revert it.

When you do all this stuff in China your feedback loop might be 3-6 months long. That means that you might spend two years (4 to 8 iterations) getting from an idea to a worthwhile product. Doing manufacturing in-house can bring your feedback loop from months to hours, days or weeks. For the same 4-8 iterations you might only spend a few months. That's the difference between "very nearly success" and "quite late, eventual delivery way behind schedule and expectations"


I've worked at a couple companies that build hardware. In my experience you need at least 1 mechanical engineer on the company payroll. I don't think you need to own the tools or the factory, but building hardware is as difficult if not more so than software. No one would fund a software startup where they didn't have a single FT software engineer, yet for some reason people think that "it's just plastic" so you can contract it all out. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a lot of nuance to getting an injection molded design right.


> Dealing with suppliers and Chinese factories may present a logistical challenge, but it's still easier and less expensive than doing the manufacturing yourself.

Not true for mechanical things.

Injection molding machines are now all electrical and sit in the quarter million dollar range. CNC machines similarly. A million dollars gets you a very nice mechanical production line and machine shop that lets you fabricate precision metal parts AND high volume plastic parts.

Now, your only expenses are salary and production inputs.

I deal with this every day. How many tooling charges at $5,000 to $10,000 per charge do you have to take before that machine shop makes sense? Not many. I've eaten that charge 22 times in the last 3 years. I'm starting to accumulate the machine shop...


I am doing what you're talking about but with old, used equipment. You can get old injection molding machines for less than $50k each, maybe much much less. It's the same for used CNCs. If you know a little bit you can tell if it's still in good shape or if it needs work.

I will put together a decent production line for much less than a million, probably much less than $100k in capital equipment. At that point the rent and air conditioning start to become substantial (Texas, so it's HOT).

Every time I read someone saying "software is eating the world!" and all the smart people rushing into software I always have a little chuckle. I really love it. It means that anything that's not software has a dearth of smart folk and that puts me at a huge competitive advantage.


I don't find many all-electric injection molding machines used, yet.

Otherwise, yes, lots of used stuff is available.


Yeah I don't care about the specific technology. Hydraulic is fine by me because my needs are relatively speaking low volume. One piece a minute is plenty for the foreseeable future and that isn't challenging in the slightest.

I'm also partial to having a couple of machines instead of just one because of the reliability. If I spend $250k upfront (which I don't have) I get one machine that's going to be extremely reliable but if it does break I'm losing you know $500 an hour or whatever it is.

If I spend $20k on one machine and $30k on another and $50k on a third I end up with no single point of failure. Yeah they will break more but I'll (probably) never be stuck with no ability to make parts. It's easier capex too since revenue from the first finances the second and revenue from those two finance the third.

What kind of stuff do you do? I don't interact with many people on here who have mechanical aptitude. Obviously products of some kind. Can you talk about it? I'm intrigued.


Mostly small volume electronics devices. Generally with decent margins ($500+). So, large NRE expenditures absolutely kill me at the same time that I'm willing to pay quite high per-unit costs.

And my problem is always the mechanical side--and has been since 2000.

In a former life, I'm an electrical engineer. However, I've had to deal with thermal and packaging back at a big company I worked for. I eventually got so tired of all the NRE problems that I went to the community college and took their CNC milling and CAD classes to see where the problems were (don't get me started on that--the classes were excellent but the whole idea of an error prone person rather than a computer converting my 3D Solidworks to a 2D MasterCAM CAD surface appalled me). I also had clamp problems--the manufacturer suddenly couldn't hold the clamp in round (we're talking visibly egg-shaped--almost 160mils on an 8inch diameter clamp). Being originally from Western Pennsylvania, this drove me CRAZY. This is the kind of stuff that men used to do in their garage for crying out loud. Local machinists could hand this kind of stuff back to you the same day back in the 70's.

The thing that drove it all home was touring Sullins Connector Corp (whom I recommend HIGHLY). They had their own machine shop and injection molding machines. Their average run on the machines is about 150! They are constantly swapping molds. That was good, but wasn't the big thing.

I needed a custom connector. Described roughly what I wanted and gave them some drawings. Figured we'd talk about it some more and get a quote. About a week and a half later--I get 5 connectors in the mail made out of high temp plastic with gold contacts. They had looked in their future runs, found one with the correct opening and pin spacing, injected a couple of extra, milled the dimensions down by hand, populated the pins and bent them by hand so it was right angle, and sent them to me FOR FREE. And then quoted me for both the hand work (only a little more than a Molex connector that wasn't really right) on the smaller volume, as well as a changeover point when they would cut me a mold.

That's when I realized that US companies can compete. Most of them just suck. It's also when I realized that product companies need machine shops even if they are idle 99% of the time. The 1% is what gets you the business. This is a hard sell to the executives and beancounters. Fortunately, the CEO I'm currently working with has been brainwashed. He personally had to add holes to a bunch of plastic cases--and discovered that his milling machine saved him $5,000.

Although, to be fair, I have this same problem at the electrical engineering side on a different level--VLSI design. There are lots of design I can do on a chip, but I can't afford the NRE to build one.


I see the same kinds of things myself. It takes execs with vision and talented people in the shop. But if someone's got it, man is it nice to work with them.


Jeez

People (especially on kickstarter) think that if they have a pretty 3D drawing of the thing the hardware is going to be a breeze. Oh and they're going to use Arduino for it

Funny. Not.

I think Arduino made people think "everybody can work with hardware now wohoo!!" Oh but they don't know Ohm's law.

"We quickly learned that there was no concept of “off the shelf” when manufacturing in China."

Well, of course there is. Unless the existing parts don't fit your project. Then you'll need a lot of parts specd for your need. Tip: don't do that.

You'll already have to do the case, circuit board and maybe power source, this is enough trouble. Add in mechanics and you're in for a tough ride.

I've seen hardware bugs in reference implementations from people that should've known better. Manufacturing reliability is always lower than you think it is.


Agree 100%.

Another common approach to further mitigate manufacturing reliability issues is to contract a single vendor to make and assemble the mechanical unit. Basically everything from input shaft to output shaft goes into a box. You put the motor in and build a contraption to measure the output torque, etc.

You only pay them for units that actually pass the test. The failed units are their problem. Look at the price they'll quote you for this and you'll know how reliable they really think their process is.


Oh and they're going to use Arduino for it

Well, shit, that means they are like 95% done right?

The silly thing is an Arduino bypasses possibly the easiest part of a microcontroller project. While they do have some convenience, if you need an Arduino you have no business tackling a sophisticated electrical project...


This article is just like all the e-mail updates they send. Long winded excuses with no results. "X is broken, we are trying to fix it so that we live up to our high standard. We are excited to see what is next and will ship soon."

They have been singing the same song for 2+ years.

Personally I could care less about their delays. My beef with the company is that EVERY update they lead on customers, saying "We're almost there!". No, you're not.

I cancelled my order after the 4th delay.


They're terrible with providing updates. I'm amazed. My dashboard still says that my unit is anticipated to ship in May 2014, and this is far from the first time they've gone past the shipping estimate without a word to me.

How hard is it to write some code that checks for shipping estimates that are about to become false, updates them, and notifies the people in question?


This is what technical debt looks like on the hardware side, missed deadlines and quality issues. Kudos to Cameron and the Lockitron folks for sharing their experience.

I think bravo22 already covered some of the choices they made up front that got them in to trouble. It appears they didn't have the knowledge or experience to put a good plan together when they suddenly had to scale from 1000 or so units to multiple thousands. Here are a few (more) reasons:

1. Unaware of the environment. bravo22 already touched on the existing deadbolt standard and current products on the shelf. Whether they knew about these or not, it sounds like they chose to go in to production with their prototype (buggy) design instead of sourcing or modifying an existing solution.

2. Lack of specific knowledge. They expressed difficulty meshing the electronic and mechanical parts of their system. There are plenty of engineers that have electro-mechanical design experience that they could have leaned on, either hired on to do the redesign or to guide them in the right direction for things like gear-train torque calcs, material selection and fabrication methods (think redesigning a part for injection molding), power consumption calcs, part count reduction... Much of this may only be a Google search away, but if they don't have enough knowledge to know how to apply it correctly then that leaves them at the mercy of either fate or their suppliers.

3. Documentation. "While there is some truth to this, making hardware at scale is still incredibly difficult — if not for the actual physical manufacturing itself but for the compounding complexity of suppliers, tooling and testing." You need good documentation. Part drawings with realistic tolerances that produce parts that make functional assemblies. Work instructions that spell out things like order of operations, screw torque specifications, inline QC checks, etc. The documentation is often your contract with the supplier and if it's poor or not well thought out then the product quality suffers.

These guys are going through an awesome trial by fire. They have a well funded, very public, product that they are trying to turn out and they should be commended for sticking with it for that last two years, and for being willing to talk about their challenges. Just like any other start-up, succeed or fail, they're going to be a better position when they do it again.


Here are some other reasons:

1- WiFi drains battery fast, therefore advertising instant WiFi unlocking was foolish, if not purposefully misleading from the beginning. (Look through their posts on HN when Lockitron was first announced and you'll see that they admit that instant WiFi unlocking isn't feasible yet that's not the impression they gave the backers)

2- Determining intent (i.e. I want to unlock the door) through proximity is a fool's errand. You'll have an impossible time trying to get user's position right without multiple receivers and have to resort to wonky logic they use today which won't work for a vast number of people: if user A unlocks the door then ignore his phone until he exist... hmm what if user A enters with user B, or user A leaves though the car in the garage but wants come back through the door?

3- BUILD A PROPER PROTOTYPE. It means critical functionality being there, like unlocking via BLE and unlocking via WiFi. Does it work reliably? No? Fix it. Don't promise anything! Don't put up a video until you have a proper prototype.

Heck, you don't even need mechanicals. Light up an LED to indicate unlocking for all anyone cares. If it doesn't work here in your lab, it won't work out there. There is no magic fairy dust that reduces power consumption or makes something work at scale when it doesn't work in your lab.

4- Knowing how to use an Arduino doesn't make you a product developer, just as knowing Javascript doesn't mean you can deploy a backend that supports 1M users and you only get to deploy it once. Pay an experienced EE or consulting company for 20, 30, 40 hours of work to review your design, plan, and feasibility.

Done right Lockitron is about ~$25-$30 in parts + PCBA cost -- not considering mold amortization.

5- Cameron enumerates a number of mechanical and electrical problems. The fact is you can get a number of low cost electrical locks from China today that have reliable turning mechanisms. It has been done. Those factories will gladly OEM an entire lock for you -- or in this case just sell you the parts or the whole assembled mechanism. Tear apart a Kwikset keypad lock and see how few gears it has. Their main problem seems to be that they started with the wrong/inefficient mechanical design and tried to make everything fit that.

There are lots of existing, inexpensive, gearboxes you can buy that would give you the torque you need. At worst you'd have to get a custom designed output gear. Even then there are many Chinese vendors who make gears. I've bought from them before. They have a large catalogue, and if you want something they don't have NRE is about $1200 + 4 week delivery.

6- "The resulting power and torque requirements of our gear box required a number of changes on our circuit board that would have been nearly impossible to predict from our prototype units". This could have been avoided by buying the ANSI/BHMA deadbolt standard which specifies maximum torque required for the thumbturn. Add 25% safety margin and you should be good with virtually all locks sold in north america as they are ANSI/BHMA compliant.


First off, I see you're a new account, so thank you for starting your HN life with such detailed comments.

Second, you seem to have some experience with manufacturing and electric locks. How much of an expert would you say you are in Lockitron's domain -- would they have had to pay you tens of thousands of dollars in consulting, or are the issues you raise something that would have been brought up over a beer with a recent EE/ME grad or even a general home contractor?


Thanks! I figured I should stop being a lurker at some point.

I'd say almost any EE that had experience in product development would have been able to call out these issues. Battery/power issues are fundamentals. When I first saw their video I knew the WiFi issue would be problematic, as well as their claim about "Sense" BLE unlocking, and I hadn't made a door lock.

Someone experienced in supply chain and product manufacturing should have also been able to warn them about some of the other issues.


I agree with you, but just to add some information for the parent (from the perspective of a relatively recent EE grad with even more recent experience in product development):

a) Experience in product development is almost entirely unrelated to experience gained in school (hackers will say it shouldn't be that way but it's just a reality of the amount of information involved).

b) Experience in supply chain and product manufacturing is also unrelated to all of that, and often by some distance. ie. It's more of a business-person problem (er, for lack of a better term--it obviously requires technical knowledge as well).

In other words, you're extremely unlikely to find that combination of knowledge in a junior EE, and depending on their career trajectory it is entirely possible for an EE to spend their entire career without amassing that particular assortment of product development knowledge on top of their EE knowledge. So while it's true that any EE should have questions about (for example) battery/power issues right away, it's not true that any EE would immediately flag those issues as problems (ie. over a beer, I'd probably trust the guy telling me he thought he could do it, even as I told him I wasn't convinced).

Note that I'm not suggesting any of that knowledge is rare or hard to find, just that you might not find it all in the same person easily, especially not a junior EE.


Good points!

You definitely need someone that has product development experience.


Wow, you are all over this thread. I take issue with the way you are jumping in here with a lot of assumptions. Please give me a moment to respond to your assertions point by point.

There is nothing glamorous about airing our faults and where we went wrong along the way, the points you enumerate were our beliefs to a 'T' when we launched our second product a year and a half ago. A handful of these are right while others are mostly wrong or misguided.

1) This is a tough one to address. I see elsewhere in this thread you made the same mistake we did - namely thinking we could get 2mA with PS-POLL. While possible in the lab, that is simply not the case when working under conditions we've seen in the wild. Hypothetically if that were true you could see near instantaneous WiFi all the time. We were optimistic this may be possible but didn't want to bet on it. We made the call that WiFi is advertised with instant response when someone is at the door and delayed response when in power save mode. If there is confusion we are quick to correct on Facebook, Twitter, and even our own blog[1]. Firmware updates to our WiFi chipset look promising but we are not committing to this.

2) Determining intent is a hard problem but hardly a fool's errand. We don't do this through just one BLE radio using RSSI alone as your comment implies[2]. The examples you give are both solvable with what we've built today. The harder problems come from platform inconsistency between iPhone and Android API's. Android for instance only recently announced BLE support and when they did, the phone could only operate in one out of the two roles. Clearly other companies think similar home vs away intent is worth developing too[3][4].

3) Building a proper prototype without functional mechanicals is insane. Don't do this. The other huge rabbit hole here is the word 'reliably.' It's like a client of a web design firm asking for 100% uptime.[5] The best you should do at the 'hardware startup making a prototype' phase is to get it working on your target platform and solve known bugs so it works for 90 to 99.9% with loose specs or 100% of the time under tight optimal conditions. That said, things change. The way we were doing BLE security when we launched was thought to be secure. A ShmooCon talk instilled some doubts that while not broken it may not be the best foundation [6]. We rebuilt a lot of that with Diffie-Hellman and HMAC instead. We saw some connectivity issues with the new approach that were subsequently addressed. Other things change too. Our BLE chip switched from not using signed licenses to using signed licenses between updates. This caused us a bunch of frustration.

4) 40 hours of work to review a design is probably too little. We spent closer to 300 hours on the EE side with the most senior hacker we knew [7]. We worked with another firm on mechanics for 11 months prior to launch. In retrospect that feels about right for how much weight mechanical problems are vs electrical.

That $25-$30 number you site IS misleading. As an analogy, it is almost certainly possible to build a robot which can walk a straight line across a plastic table for this but getting it to walk across arbitrary terrain will cost you if your operating specs are unbounded (think Mars rover.) We know how to build a device that fits over locks for $25 without PCB - we are not happy with what level of performance that gets us.

5) This product however is not designed to be a replacement lock. We have made one of those in the past[8]. Saying something is wrong/inefficient is true for anything asked to do something other than what it is made for. This model of Lockitron is designed to fit over a wide variety of existing locks precisely so that it can work for renters who can not change their locks. It is designed to do it in a way that it does not requires you to take your lock apart so it can be installed quickly and with next to zero mechanical aptitude. It does these things insanely well.

The numbers you site for gear vendors are again misleading. Yes, one can get gears for this cost in this time but you are shifting the burden of development and tooling elsewhere. Making this tradeoff in this case gets us towards a local maxima that is not the product's desired function.

6) This is a bit naive. You don't build to the spec if you're seeing different results in the field. We saw this to be the case with sticky locks and jammy door frames. Other new locks can be put on a clean installation, we have to work with what's there. Similarly, the Bluetooth 4.0 and 4.1 specs promise a lot of things which neither Apple nor Android support. In this case we build for what effects our customers experience not a certification checkbox - especially when that means exceeding the certifications standards.

And if anything that is the takeaway here. Building something to spec is a finite task with an estimable amount of work and calculable delivery date. Having real world conditions conflict with what was spec'ed introduces delays. Having conflicts across your product from metals and plastics up to software interfaces means these delays propagate.

You make the tough calls. You ship.

[1] http://blog.lockitron.com/post/84539548097/debugging-jams-wi... [2] http://community.lockitron.com/t/sense-will-it-sense-if-my-p... [3] https://developer.nest.com/ [4] http://blog.dropcam.com/tag/dropcam-alerts/ [5] http://serverfault.com/questions/316637/100-uptime-for-a-web... [6] https://lacklustre.net/bluetooth/ [7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Felsenstein [8] http://www.wired.com/2011/05/lockitron-unlock-your-home-with...


Paul,

thanks for jumping in.

1) I wasn't misled by PS-POLL. I used 2mA as a conservative estimate. I know you can get a lot worse. That's why I think instant WiFi unlocking isn't/wasn't realistic.

A lot of your users expected and expect instant WiFi unlocking. You even advertise using NFC tags for unlocking which would work through the phone and over WiFi! I don't think the limitations of WiFi have been made clear to mainstream, non technical users. Based on what criteria does lockitron enter power saving mode?

You linked to a blog post on May 2nd of 2014. It clearly says that unlocking via WiFi for instantaneous entry isn't practical. You guys should probably make the distinction clear on your main page as well and your video. That's where people buying your products go.

EDIT: Here is a review from one your backers I just came across: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmn6A7HStH4

2) My understanding is that you also do this through who was closest when the thumbturn is turned. I know there are others doing BLE proximity unlocking as well but Kevo for example uses two radios (and they took out a patent on this), and even their customers aren't happy with the results (as you yourself have pointed out on Lockitron community website)

The link you post to says one can set lockitron for different modes (passageway, etc). I'm talking about using it in the front door of my house, or an apartment and not getting confused on who comes in and who goes out.

Also, whether the problem is with Android API, or Apple API, or whatever else, the point is you advertised a feature before having tested that it would work. Good advice is to not do that.

Finally the other companies you linked to are Nest and Dropcam and in both scenarios they don't really care EXACTLY where you are. They care that you are WITHIN RANGE. To unlock my door properly you NEED to know that I am on the CORRECT SIDE OF THE DOOR and that I actually want to unlock it, not that I am standing near the door chatting with a door knocker, sitting on my porch, or working on the flower bed near the porch. Yes I actually have a bed of flowers right by the door and sometimes I work on them.

3) I am talking about two different things here: The mechanical portion that turns the thumbturn and all the logic, API, signals that go into deciding to turn it or not. You guys obviously have problems with both. It would have been wise to solve the problems separately at least at fist before taking a dime from someone, but that's just my personal opinion.

You can later build a manufacturing prototype that combines both.

I disagree with your approach to product development, but that's just based on my personal experience. The goal is to minimize the COST of things when they go wrong so you start with deal breakers first -- battery life, etc. then you move it down to things that you can fix with firmware update. As for things like doing Diffie-Hellman, here is a tip: You can always use rotating PSK to encrypt communication, and initial code can be set using Diffie-Hellman or whatever else you'd like.

Furthermore Bluetooth security hasn't been safe since 2.0.

Also BLE chips don't do much beyond minimum stack. The rest would be in your firmware or whoever wrote the firmware for you. The comment about the chip moving from signed licenses to unsigned ones doesn't make a lot of sense to me but I could be wrong.

4) I was being conservative, but even at 40 hours someone could tell you the FUNDAMENTAL problems with your approach. It is a quick sanity check before you walk down a path.

While I'm sure your current device costs more than $30 to build as you say, I don't believe a properly designed one in high volumes would. I've designed quite a few WiFi based products, and a few electro-mechnical products.

5) I know lockitron goes OVER an existing lock but you have a mechanical component that is driven by motor and turns left or right. This is very, very similar to all other motor driven locks in this aspect. How the movement is transferred to the lock -- via thumbturn or via the main shaft in the case of an actual deadbolt -- is mostly a function of the shape of the piece that mates to the output shaft. It doesn't need different gear configurations to turn the actual deadbolt shaft than to turn the thumbturn.

Also this was in response to Cameron asserting that everything had to be custom designed. I disagree. There are many, many other products that use a motor to turn something. I'm sure a lot of that can be referred to for inspiration or certainly reused in terms of basic gears.

And about gear vendors you say that getting gears ready made from them shifts the cost of tooling elsewhere... where? They give you gears that are ready to use. I've bought gears from a number of vendors and customized them too. They charge you NRE, and give you the gears at the promised time. They cost a few cents a piece. You can evaluate the quality of their gears by looking at the existing gears they make. A TON of products use gears and motors, even cheap plastic toys too. Buying and getting gears is fairly common, like screws and springs; 90% of time you stick with existing catalogue.

6) The spec defines the torque required for the thumbturn. You can certainly add a safety margin as I suggested but it gives you a minimum floor. Clearly this minimum floor wasn't established properly. After all human hands turn these deadbolts with relatively the same force.

Comparing requirements of a standard to features of another standard (BLE 4.0/4.1) is not the proper comparison. Your analogy would be valid if Android BLE operated on 2.6GHz while BLE spec says 2.4.


Thanks for you detailed response. Our goal is to continue to improve our product. Indeed this is why we talk about our problems (and solutions) such as in the above post. We have discussed much of what you have brought up here over the past few years. If our implementations on these matters are different than your opinions I think it must be due to the closeness that comes with building and iterating on the concept rather than commenting on one generation of it.

I am not quite sure how to respond to your other claims in this thread that suggest we are acting irrationally other than to say we have an "EE that had experience in product development", we did consult with multiple other companies to check our "sanity", the "pitfalls" we encountered are common to many other products which don't disclose development details - we are no worse for having addressed and solved them, and that we don't engage in used-car salesman tactics.

Regarding your questions above:

Lockitron enters power save mode when not in use for a few seconds.

Using a pre-fabbed gears or gearboxes from other vendors on one level can introduce complications with motor selection, housing, industrial design, and yield between batches; on another level it provides a gap for manufacturers to shift accountability. Simpler is to use standard gears from a gear manufacturer which also makes your gearbox which is what we do.


Paul, thanks for responding.

I didn't accuse you of used-car salesman tactics. I was pointing out that nowhere on your main product page is WiFi sleep mode, or knock-to-wake are mentioned. I think it is a fair point and has significant impact on the user experience, and it is fair to expect a company to mention that when selling you a product.

With respect to steps you have taken to complete the product, frankly that is between you and your customers. It is unfortunate that you've encountered delays and I'm sure of all the parties involved you are most motivated to ship a product that gets good reviews and has few returns.

Your company decided to outline the troubles you've encountered so far. That is commendable. In this, Cameron outlined a number of problems and lessons, some of which my experience tells me are not necessarily true and is the wrong conclusion. For example I don't think it is true that going to China means you have to make everything "bespoke" from switches, to motors, to screws and I also don't think designing a motor and gearbox that turns a deadbolt -- of any torque -- requires ~40 moving parts.

I'm sure you've had your reasons for developing the product the way you did and I'm sure you've had good people review your work and help you along the way but the inescapable fact is that almost 2 years later the product isn't out, and from what one gathers through google searches and your own product support forum the few users who have received it have troubles with it.

It is one thing to say our path didn't yield what we expected and here is what we did, than to say building hardware is hard and none of it was really because we lacked the experience and made a number of mistakes, should have had better prototypes, etc.

If you read your customers feedbacks elsewhere, and in this thread, one of their chief complaints I see is that you say the most recent problem is the last remaining problem and that it'll be fixed and units will ship out soon. I truly believe you really think everything is solved and would ship within a month and are being honest when you send the update, but fixing one bug only uncovers another and in my experience this is a problem of product development process and methodology more than anything else. There are analogues of this in Software world which many HN readers I'm sure are familiar with.

I am certain product development doesn't have to be this way and I make that statement relying on hundred of new products of greater complexity being introduced around the world every month and on my own experience.

It is not the normal, yet Cameron's article makes it sound that it is and the fix is better vendors and more time.

The past has passed and whatever pitfalls I've outlined in my original post aren't really useful to your situation because you're at a different stage. There are many aspiring and budding entrepreneurs who read HN and read Cameron's article. My goal by putting in my $0.02 is to balance out some of Cameron's assertions and lessons learned that I don't believe to be necessarily correct so that they may avoid delays and customer dissatisfaction in their own development.


> Pay an experienced EE or consulting company 20, 30, 40 for hours worth of work to review your design, plan, and feasibility

Would be interesting if projects disclosed that consulting company A has signed off on their design, such that backers can review the delivery track record of other projects vetted by consulting company A.

How should hardware projects source such a company? Is there a directory?


There are product dev companies everywhere but I doubt any would go on record to vet anything. A good lawyer could hold them legally responsible. There are so many, many caveats that they wouldn't want to be legally held accountable for anything, and rightly so.

It is incumbent on Lockitron to seek their advice and review for their own sanity and meeting their legal obligations to their backers.


There's a very good one that does this. http://www.dragoninnovation.com/services/certification


> How should hardware projects source such a company? Is there a directory?

That is a very good question. I am in interested in that too.


If they were also looking for manufacturing services, all the big EMS companies do product design (EE, mechanical, PCB layout, software, + Potpourri for $1000, Alex), too. One of the biggest value adds in EMS is DFM work, where a customer brings in the "next big thing" that turns out is impossible to reliably or inexpensively build (Bloom boxes are an item I have some personal history with, for example). This is also why there is a pretty big EMS presence in San Jose / Fremont / Sunnyvale / Milpitas, and why Flextronics decided to open their hardware incubator (Lab IX) there, too. Besides all this, even the biggest usually only have a minimum investment of a few thousand dollars.

I've spent the past 14 years in the EMS world and am happy to help/advise anyone who has a hardware or manufacturing problem.


> I've spent the past 14 years in the EMS world and am happy to help/advise anyone who has a hardware or manufacturing problem.

You should include an email or url in your HN profile :)


My email is there (at least, I can see it).


http://www.californiaconsultants.org/Home.cfm is a good place to find reputable EE consultants in the area.

The "pitfalls" Lockitron encountered were so obvious, from the get go than a decent EE reviewing things would have been able to warn them. The similar thing holds true for ME.*

* ME = Mechanical Engineer.


Thank you! This is very informative.


I used to work at one: http://www.mindtribe.com


Noted.


Wifi has always been a tricky problem for small devices. However, I think there are some good tricks that people have been using involving playing around with sleep times, skipping beacon intervals, etc. - tricks that the electric imp, the Wifi board used in Lockitron, utilizes to lower the current consumption by a bit.

You're totally correct that always-on-instant-unlock feature is a fool's errand as that would mandate always-on Wifi, spelling death for battery life.

I think one feasible method is sleeping the Wifi and using an external input (like a button or a "knock" sensor) that wakes up the Wifi, tells the chip to check the server for updated lock state, and then go back to sleep. I've played around with capacitive sensing on a door handle to wake up the Wifi and check the server as soon as someone lays hands on the door. Cap sensing is also incredibly low power so it had minimal impact on battery life.

This of course introduces all kinds of problems, but if Wifi is absolutely necessary, then this is one solution.

Either that, or wake up to poll Wifi every 5, 10, 15 minutes (destroying instant lock/unlock)


Good points.

The skipping of beacon intervals is called PS-POLL and is why I said 2mA otherwise it is closer to 100mA -- which for example is what TI's CC3000 module burns since it doesn't have PS-POLL.

I agree that there are alternative ways to wake up WiFi. They said at one point in HN that they were thinking of having WiFi wake up when you knock. The problem with this is that the experience is markedly different from what they're advertising to users.

You'd pull out your phone, bring up the app, hit unlock, then knock on the door, wait for WiFi to turn on, associate with access point, get to cloud, "see" the unlock command and then unlock the door. That's easily 7-10 seconds at best.

Screw that. I'll just take out my key.

Giving WiFi long life by keeping it off is relatively easy. Making it instantly responsive, which is what anyone using the lock would expect, is impossible at the quoted battery life.

It is kind of like selling a car saying it'll get 500mpg but not telling the buyers that you only get that if you go say 10mph.


It would be pretty easy to have a phone app that notices you're arriving home and sets the lock to open. All that's left for you to do is walk up to your door and knock.

As well, their software learns your habits over time and can be awake when it expects you to arrive.

These tricks and others will improve over time. Enough to where it's more than an acceptable experience for many, if not for you.


They actually are doing the knock to wake. BLE works and is an instant lock/unlock. Sending a command via wifi will let you know (on the phone) that the lockitron is in a power save mode and the command will be executed in 20 minutes (or whatever the actual time) or when you knock on the door. So if you leave the house and forgot to lock the door, you could lock it remotely and know it'll lock itself eventually. Knocking does work consistently to wake the device up.

It's definitely not the same experience though. I live in a condo and have the lockitron on my unit's door. I have the choice between opening the lockitron app in the elevator and send the unlock signal via wifi, but that means I'll need to knock for sure. Or I could wait until the elevator gets there and try to unlock, and if i'm really lucky it will be via BLE and unlock instantly, but generally the BLE hasn't managed to connect yet and I get no indicator, so I send the command to early and I need to knock anyway.

Speed is such a critical factor here. It doesn't take that long to pull your keys out, and it feels more awkward to stand and wait at your own front door than it does to fumble with the keys for a while. If I'm carrying groceries or a baby, then Lockitron has the potential to make things easier, but currently I still need to fiddle with my phone for a while (maybe in the elevator, but still) and knock so it doesn't really feel easier than using a key.


What would your insurance company say if you said "well I knew I forgot to lock the door, but I sent the command and I know it locks itself eventually"? It's cool but not really a mass market product.


The reaction would probably be better than "I didn't know I forgot to lock the door" or "I knew I forgot to lock the door, but was too lazy to go home and so I hoped for the best."

Plus, locks are trivially pickable, so it's not like they stop someone that wants to break into your house from breaking into your house.


Locks are not trivially pickable. It only looks that way if you watch a skilled person do it. It's much harder than many impressive juggling tricks, for example. Smashing in a window, now that's trivial.

Neither matters though, because a big purpose of locks is to show that you took reasonable precautions in order for your insurance to be valid. (YMMV, IANAL, etc. but that's the case here.)


I'm about as unskilled a lockpicker as you can get, and I can pick the four-pin locks on my apartment fairly easily. Someone with practice could do it even more easily.

(I've never used a pick gun, but I hear that makes it even easier. Especially for locks that don't have any particular anti-picking features, like the majority of locks on people's homes.)


In the U.S., there usually isn't any language in a homeowners policy about doors being locked, so if you have a police report, they don't say anything.


Ah, I didn't know that. That's one less issue for them to worry about.


As per #1, is WiFi really that bad? Because Geofencing is used quite extensively in the iOS ecosystem and doesn't seem to affect my battery that much at all... although I'm likely just missing what the feature was advertised as, possibly its something different.


You recharge your phone's battery. :)

Best WiFi today will consume about ~2mA when in standby. They are using ElectricImp which is a little worse.

People often look at "sleep" current of a WiFi module and think "oh boy I can run this for 2 years at like 100 micro amps". That is true if the WiFi module is turned off; useful if you are waking up, taking a reading, pushing data to the cloud, and then going back to sleep. But for a door you need to be listening on the network for an incoming packet all the time. How else would you know that the user wants you to open the door right now?

Alkaline AA batteries AT BEST have ~2600mAh of capacity. They run at 1.5V. You have 2600 x 1.5v = 3900 mWh of energy in each.

A Wifi module consuming ~3mA and 3.3V runs through that power at around 3900 / (3.3 * 3) = ~394 hours or about 16 days. 4 AA batteries and you'll get about 64 days or little over 2 months of usage.

Of course you'll get FAR LESS because:

A) You have to convert battery voltage to 3.3V and you'll get about 85% efficiency for a high current (300mA peak) needed for a WiFi device

B) You burn more energy when you actually send packets

C) You need quite a bit of power from those 4 AAs to actually turn the lock so you can't do the math assuming all your power is available for WiFi.


Yeah, I was looking at it from the wrong angle, I didn't realise that the lock itself was running on battery! That makes a lot more sense then :)


>> Best WiFi today will consume about ~2mA when in standby.

So, what's the 2mA module?


A number of Qalcomm Atheros chips like AR4100P. Gainspan's GS1011 and their newer GS2000. Pretty much anyone supporting PS-POLL should get around that range.

Electric Imp gets close to that but they are over it a bit I believe.


Thanks! What's your opinion on which ARM Cortex uC uses the least amount of power?


Your phone has a couple thousand milliAmp-Hours and expects to be recharged every 12-48 hours.

A door lock might be able to store twice that... but it needs to last a year according to spec. The power budgets aren't comparable.


The challenge with door locks is that I'd like to change the battery every couple years, particularly on infrequently used doors. Most people can understand having to change batteries every couple months on a door they use frequently, but let's say you have a storage locker - it kind of sucks that every time you go to the locker, the battery is dead.


I wouldn't mind it if I had to mechanically charge the other side of the lock from the outside. Attach something to the door knob so I can "jiggle" it from the outside to wake up the unit and have it do its thing.


Bluetooth LE is ideal for this sort of application. WiFi was really the wrong direction to go for a door lock.


Difference is you're charging your iPhone every day. WiFi is power hungry, but the iPhone 5 has ~1,500 mAh of power, and WiFi takes a continuous ~50 mAh. That gives you around 30 hours of constant wifi usage on an iPhone. Now that's not counting everything else happening on the iPhone, which is quite a lot, but this is back of the envelope math and I'm hoping I can reveal the order of magnitude involved.

On the Lockitron, it depends how long it takes to wake up and ping while maintaining a low latency. In this case it's probably something along the lines of: wake up for 25ms every 1s and check if somebody's unlocking. This saves you 95% of power usage (950ms/1s aren't spent powering wifi) with a max of 1s latency. But I'm not sure if 25ms is enough to ask for new messages over wifi. This still gives you 2.5 mA averaged, which will drain that iPhone battery in 600 hours, which is only 25 days.

And I bet this sports a smaller battery than 1,500 mAh.


I'm currently working on a very similar product within a greater product offering. Any chance you're available for freelance work, bravo22?


Unfortunately not but there are many product development companies out there that can help you.


Anybody you can recommend? We're in the midst of talks to use the Kwikset part, bu Inhave reliability and cost concerns.


[Random question for dang, why the 'hn=true' cgi arg? Isn't the referrer field sufficient?]

This was a great article. One of the things that is sorely under estimated by folks is that that "pipeline" from parts to product requires several dozen specially trained people to function well. As a small organization you have to train each group from start to finish to get to the point where the end product can ship. When I worked for Tut systems the manufacturing process was amazing, and where a software process is designed with testing to insure modules work, a hardware process is filled with processes that quickly identify problems before they get assembled into the product.

Very rewarding though, and very doable, you just have to budget the time to do it and go in knowing you are training up a pipeline. There is no "magic" manufacturer that can take your idea and make it.


> Random question for dang, why the 'hn=true' cgi arg?

The submitter added it to get around the dupe detector. The article was previously posted (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8028073). Since the previous post had no discussion, and wasn't killed by flags or by a moderator, the repost is ok.


> Isn't the referrer field sufficient?

referer isn't sent in a lot of cases, including when a link on an HTTPS page goes to an HTTP page.


> This also meant protracted lead times as well as the potential for vendor lock-in for our most specialized parts.

Those are your parts; the designs are owned by you. You are always free to ask around for other manfs to make them.

> Even what seemed to be commodity components like switches, screws and motors would be made to spec.

This makes the product sound terrible. I really doubt they need to make screws or switches.


This makes the product sound terrible. I really doubt they need to make screws or switches.

I thought the same thing. It reminded me of the genie garage door openers at my rental property. The end limit switches are were obviously designed in house and are basically two strips of some copper alloy spring material that come into contact as the door passes.

The problem is that a garage is a dirty/corrosive environment. On a yearly basis I have to sand the contacts. All this to save a few pennies vs just buying a standard micro switch!

I can't determine if its was incompetence, cost cutting, or just planned obsolescence.

Of course, I just posted a few things on another board about how I think the lack of software licensing leads to the lack of "software standards" where everyone and their brother is basically doing the equivalent of building their own screws, with their own thread pitches and head patterns or using whatever happens to be "cool" this month.


I've never understood why keypad locks haven't been more widely adopted in the West - they're very common in South Korea (and probably many other Asian countries). Lockitron seems like a solution in search of a problem.


> I've never understood why keypad locks haven't been more widely adopted in the West

They have been adopted widely. In businesses. It's mostly a perception issue, where such locks are perceived as a product for a business.

That said, it's a lot more convenient to walk up to a door and have it unlock automatically because it detects your phone ... than to stand there and enter a code.


In my experience, they are not common in many businesses either.

As for the convenience factor, it might be more convenient, but I don't think it's a lot more convenient to have Lockitron instead of a conventional keypad lock. Unless Lockitron can also automatically open/close the door for you, I just don't see the difference as being that great.

In any case, I think the real business opportunity lies in figuring out how to market keypad locks to a broader audience.


In American business over the past decade, I've experienced an order of magnitude more RFID-detector door locks than keypad door locks. Get your badge/wallet/purse/backpack within a few inches of the detector and you are in.


That is definitely the trend, because it allows security to give each authorized person a unique access credential, which in turn allows access to be selectively granted or revoked. When I worked in secure environments keypad locks were a pain in the ass, because every time someone's access to an area was revoked the code had to be changed.


(You could give everyone their own code. 4 digits still allows a few dozen people their own number while still leaving most of the search space open.)


Yeah, but that requires giving the locks brains, at which point you might was well just embed an RFID tag in everyone's badge. We had some areas that required both a badge swipe and a PIN.


In my case, they'd just need to drop the price. We have rented rooms, so keypads would be a great fit, but it's hard to justify the extra cost.

It may be a local issue, though, I'm not in the US, and shipping is usually not cheap.


In Europe they're very common


Europe's a big place. I don't think I've ever seen one in a residential home here in Portugal, nor in the parts of Spain I know.


True, I generalized, they're very popular in France

I don't remember seeing them in Germany


Do they have them on the apartment doors, or just in the main building door like in Budapest? If the latter, it doesn't really replace Lockitron.


It depends, mostly on the main building door

But there are models that are made to go on an apartment door/main door.

However, they don't usually replace the whole lock, but are there for authorized people to go during business hours

Yeah, not really a replacement for Lockitron


I'm curious if Lockitron is still in use at the YC offices, 649 days later: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4602821


> When Lockitron’s crowdfunding campaign rocketed beyond all expectations, one of our close advisors from the software world asked us why we couldn’t iterate Lockitron in batches. “Ship 1,000 units, pause, and learn from what users wanted in the hardware, then build another 1,000.” With limited resources, this simply isn’t possible; each Lockitron prototype was a $3,000-5,000 investment.

I feel like I'm not understanding this passage.

Is he saying iterating in batches of 1,000 is impossible because it would add $3-5 cost to a product that they sell for $179?


I think that's what he is saying but I disagree with his numbers. For 10 units machining plastic costs a lot of money. But you wouldn't do that for 1000 prototypes. You would use something like vacuum casting to make the housings and the gears are made from blanks and machined. It might cost you at WORST ~$300 (likely a lot less) for the 1,000 units.


Seeing as how the Doorbot (which is much simpler) is a colossal disaster (my family bought one, against my general advice) I'm really not surprised.

Though in that case it's very much because their software platform utterly sucks - given how the Lockitron works I'm amazed they have anything at all.


Thinking of getting a Doorbot right now. What's wrong with it? Looks really convenient from the promotional video.


Terrible video - it only supports 802.11b (so it'll drag the rest of your wireless down potentially too). Wi-fi range seemed short. The Android client has been broken since we got it (and never fixed) - you get no notifications on it.

No local LAN support - everything tries to go over the internet, and their servers are unreliable. Lag time of something like 30 minutes is not uncommon.

Doesn't integrate with a lot of existing doorbell/intercom systems (ostensibly it'll work with AC ones, it didn't work with mine which is admittedly some type of DC - but simple enough, short to ring and all that).

It is all round a terrible product which was launched in an unusable state, with really poor design decisions.


What's your new doorbell system? Is there a brand name?

How's the battery life on door bot?


As it stood we couldn't use the Doorbot with our doorbell system at all (it was installed ~2005, some no-name chinese brand). Hooking it up led to the Doorbot constantly ringing it. EDIT: Actually I'm misremembering - it did hook up just fine, but pressing the button on the Doorbot led to it rining the doorbell continuously for some reason.

No real idea about battery life - its been sitting on a bench somewhere for the past year or so, since we gave up when we realized it was going to be either the Doorbot or the doorbell which actually rang, and found the notifications on phones were unreliable. We also realized that at home, you usually don't have your phone on you or even necessarily nearby - hence the doorbell.

The one nice thing about the Doorbot was they were trying to solve the battery issue by letting you draw power of the doorbell circuit - but since ours isn't AC (or has to low of a "ring" current) we couldn't use that.


Gotcha. Thanks for the info.


I second the position of don't walk away from DoorBot, run. In the past month it has never rung my phone, I can check the history in the app of when the doorbell was rung, but it never triggered my phone. In the off chance it does ring, the video quality is horrible and distorted, and there is a great lag. Even with all that said, I'm still understating how bad it is.

There also appears to be no progress being made to resolve these issues. Just look at the reviews for the android app.


It would be interesting to know what the VC pitch for this product was. It's absolutely a cool product, but there are some hard problems to solve there, so it's a mystery to me why one would on top of that start on the difficult consumer market.

(As a consumer myself, my immediate reaction is that a battery operated deadbolt for my door is far, far down the list of gadgets I lust for. It's so far down the list it's not even on the list. The ability for a third party company to operate my door lock is even on the list of things I'd pay to avoid. I just imagine there to be a nest of insurance liabilities there and I wouldn't want to touch something where that wasn't worked out first.)

At best if this product really worked out, you'd have a small company selling thousands (not hundreds of thousands) of units to consumers with all the support liabilities that entails. Not something that usually thrills investors.

Normally you would see such a company start out with high margin stuff where installations are built on a case basis anyway.

To make it more concrete, here's an example:

Step one: Decide that the app is your core product. Start working with an existing electronic doorlock system.

Step two: Sell to offices. Maybe hotels. A flashy app could very well be enough to tip potential sales in your direction. Develop functionality where the app gives you an edge (could be integration with AD, useful revocation, whatever).

Step three: Either get acquired by a giant in the business ("profit") or spread out to alarm systems. Those are ugly and hard to use. Use this leverage to get a foot in the notoriously difficult consumer market and grow from there.

The underlying ideas here are that existing players in this space are notoriously bad at software, and that you should stick to use cases where electric locks or sensors are already in place and play off that.

But perhaps this niche is already taken by Nest and that's why they went for this particular consumer niche? I don't know but it would sure be interesting to read a future post mortem analysis, if things turn out that way.


Low power WiFi can be done. I've installed sensors that run xmit WiFi and run on a pair of C cells for years. But a large concern with Lockitron is their dependence on Electric Imp. Because when Electric Imp fails, Lockitron loses access to all their customer's locks.


I'm very frustrated by the house door keyless entry systems on the market, having just ordered a Kevo despite being underwhelmed and a little bit concerned by the Amazon reviews. It blows my mind (in a bad way) to see eager buyers waiting for neophytes to get acquainted with the business of hardware while the keyless entry system for my car has worked perfectly for five years now. It seems like it would go so much better for consumers if a company in the automobile industry would spin off a unit to tackle the problem. They have people with all the right experience, not just with the manufacturing challenges described in the article but with ergonomics, testing for durability, and security.

I'm sure there's an economic or business reason why it's unfolding the way it is, but that doesn't reduce my frustration. So many things feel backward about it. Starting with a cheap, bolt-on almost-solution? That doesn't seem right for a part of your home that you interact with every day. Using consumers as beta testers? That feels wrong for a security device that controls access to your home and everything you own. Developing a home keyless entry system without exploiting the human capital developed on successful keyless entry systems for cars? Definitely the hard way. It seems like the right way for a home keyless entry system to be developed would be for a company with lots of resources and relevant experience to develop a reliable, durable, convenient solution and then work on bringing the cost down from a thousand bucks to something reasonable. Instead, we have little companies trying to scrape by selling not-quite-there products at early adopter prices. (I paid over $200 for the Kevo despite Amazon reviews reporting, among other things, accidental engagement of the deadbolt while the door is swinging shut.)

I don't hold any of this against Lockitron. They're taking the route they are out of necessity, and I'm grateful for it, because without them and other upstarts, the market wouldn't be moving forward at all. At this point I feel conflicted, because I'd hate to see their work rewarded by getting blown out of the water by a bigger, better-funded competitor, but on the other hand, that seems like the fastest way for me to get a product I really like.

(As a final note/aside, determining intent to unlock the door is an unsolvable problem with traditional door hardware. Usability is going to suck until all the lock/latch/knob hardware is redesigned for keyless entry. Everything until then is just intermediate steps until home hardware catches up to the standard set by automobiles.)


Maybe they should have read up on wakemate?

Hardware seems so simple. But it really isn't.


TLDR: we didn't know what we were doing when we started, and we learned a lot along the way. Unfortunately this came at the expense of our customers.


The way that they describe how they learned must irritate backers as well.

"We soon learned" ... "It quickly became apparent" ... if this learning process was quick, how come you discovered none of it until after you took everyone's money?


Rather than WiFi built into the device, why not using something like ZigBee (what the Nest Protect uses to talk between devices) to connect to a small WiFi enabled plug that fits into an electrical outlet?

Would this work?

If the battery life is still a problem then I wouldn't have a problem with having a detachable module for the Nest that can be removed once a week and manually recharged.


I have a danalock and it's been rock solid. Undercut the lockitron on price, and it shipped. I've been using it for 6 months and so far the only hiccup was bluetooth compatibility until my phone got an update. I'm surprised there isn't a "Nest" for portable locks. It seems so simple. Turn a tumbler, that's it. It's not rocket science. The danalock isn't perfect, and there's an added cost for Z-wave but I think it's one of the best options out there for someone not wanting to replace their entire lock. (apartment or renters)


It's good to see hardware startups be open about the challenges of being a hardware startup.


The difficulty of making connected hardware products and the failure of crowdfunded hardware projects/products are not new. The controversy surrounding crowdfunded hardware tend to come and go, and different allegations--from fraud to failure of products--take center stage each time.

Generally, these allegations come about because of the shipping/delivery delays, and there are a whole bunch of factors that contribute to the delays, such as unrealistic expectations on the part of the inventor -- what the startup hopes to deliver in a product (eg. 10 high specification features packed into a keychain sized device) versus what current technologies and materials can actually do (eg. 5 high spec features in a palm-sized device).

Another factor is the sophistication of a product. In general (from conversations with project managers who worked at Asian OEMs/ODMs), the typical time taken to develop and build a product (of similar quality to iProducts) takes at least 12-18 months. Unless your product can be whiteboxed (or a similar product has been done before), this is the typical minimum time-frame required to build consumer electronics. And if your product falls under a new category (eg. key-sized food scanners), then more time will be required to research, develop and find the right technologies/materials to build the product. The product is not impossible to build, but just requires more time to make it happen.

Of course, the inventor can turn to any factory in Shenzhen to manufacture the product (which may agree to a shorter manufacturing time-frame in order to get your business), but what you get eventually is a product that doesn't work well after investing a large sum of money (http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2014/07/how-one-kickstarter-p...).

The reason why hardware takes a long time to make and bring to market is because, unlike software, after the molding is done, the product needs to undergo many iterations, testing, certifications, blah blah blah... Also, before a product is shipped, at least over 30 key decisions typically need to be made and over 400 tasks need to be completed in sequence at different stages--and missing a task may result in weeks-long delay.

For software developers looking to make hardware and have no previous hardware-making experience, suggest you involve someone familiar with the manufacturing process and pitfalls right from the start (eg. product concept stage). The person could be an in-house or external expert, and by involving the person early, you can ensure that your design/specs/expectations are feasible --> in turn giving a realistic manufacturing time-frame.

If you need to get an estimation of the time needed for your hardware product development, check out this SaaS navigation tool: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jlim/2014/07/08/the-new-hwtrek-g....


As a backer myself: this reads like someone who quite literally no idea what they were doing or getting into in the first place and likely doing it for all the wrong reasons. How did they not know the difference between building a single prototype by hand and manufacturing thousands of units? It sucks to think these people have now devoted a few years of their lives, likely stressful years at that, to general incompetence. You got your kickstarter funded now you're saying "sorry it's just hard" to ship the requested units? All so some people can remotely lock something. The case study should highlight how it happened that y'all missed the points above in the first place and put emphasis ob why someone does a Kickstarter to begin with.


It doesn't sound like they wasted any time due to incompetence to me, it sounds like they took a few years to do something that realistically takes a few years.


I don't think that's accurate. Mature product development companies regularly turn out products of this complexity, or much higher, in 12 months or less.


Two guys aren't a "mature product development company." Also, it's pretty common for a big company to take a few years to develop a new product and produce it at scale.


By getting lucky with suppliers and parts, or knowing the pitfalls ahead of time?


Both but mostly knowing the pitfalls ahead of time, i.e. experience and knowledge.


They underestimated how hard it would be, however I don't think it was incompetence. They knew it would be hard, and it was even harder than they assumed -- like any startup (hardware or software) ends up being.

It's easy to have opinions when you aren't the one building it.


I agree. I'd say it was overconfidence more than incompetence; coupled with a slightly unhealthy dose of overpromising/misleading on key features.




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