How can I unlock my front door when I'm out of town?

Schlage LiNK
With the Schlage LiNK system, you can use devices like a Web-enabled smartphone to unlock your door. See more pictures of essential gadgets.
© Schlage

At the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show, technology companies from around the world gathered to demonstrate the newest products and concepts that they hope will become the next big thing on the market. Products ranged from high-definition televisions to deafening sound systems to the latest in computer microprocessors. But among the companies you'd expect to find at an electronics show, there were a couple that might have surprised you.

Think of all the things in your life that fit into the category of high-tech. There's a good chance the lock on your front door isn't among them. At least one company hopes to change that with a new lock system that brings the simple mechanism of the door lock into the 21st century. That company is Schlage and the system is the Schlage LiNK.


The Schlage LiNK system's basic components are an electronic locking system, a wireless control unit called a Bridge and some proprietary software you install on your computers or Web-enabled cell phones. You'll need a high-speed Internet connection as well. Why do you need such a high-tech setup? It's because the Schlage LiNK lets you control your home's locks remotely.

The locking mechanism for the LiNK looks a lot like other electronic lock systems. It's an electronic bolt lock paired with a standard keypad with numbers ranging from 0 to 9. Owners can create multiple four-digit codes to lock and unlock the doors. There are dozens of different electronic locking mechanisms on the market already.

The LiNK system relies on a wireless technology that Schlage calls Z-Wave. Z-Wave is a narrow band of low-powered radio frequencies that the LiNK system uses to relay information and commands. These commands include the ability to lock and unlock the door using a device like a laptop or cell phone. There's no need to make extra keys or hide a spare under the welcome mat -- in fact, you can unlock your door without ever calling a locksmith.



The Schlage LiNK System

Schlage LiNK
The Schlage LiNK uses your home network to keep you connected with your home's locks and other devices.
© Schlage

To use the LiNK system, you have to purchase a starter kit for $299. The kit includes a lock, a door knob, the numeric keypad, a Bridge, a Z-Wave light module and some proprietary software. Installing the door knob is relatively simple -- Schlage claims that the average consumer can install the system in about 30 minutes. To install the Bridge, the owner needs to use an Ethernet cable to connect the device to a router, cable modem or DSL modem.

The next step involves installing the software on your computers and Web-enabled cell phones. This software allows you to manage lock codes as well as enable other devices you've connected to your Z-Wave system. You use the software to create your initial lock code. You can even create multiple codes for the same lock, which might be useful if you want to keep tabs on who has been going through that door. It's a simple matter of assigning each person his or her own personal code.


It's also possible to manage multiple locks using the same Bridge. The LiNK software lets you designate each door with simple labels like "Front Door" or "Carport Door." You can create different codes for each door or use the same code for all of them -- it's up to you. Additional locks cost $199 each.

The Bridge relays electronic commands to the locks and receives information sent by the locks. It's the Bridge's job to take the instructions sent to it from your ­computer or cell phone and translate the information into commands sent via low-power radio waves. These radio waves have a limited range, so it's necessary to put the Bridge in a room that is central to all the doors you plan to equip with LiNK locks.

The system's software even allows you to set up special codes that expire after a preset time limit. This may be useful if you expect someone to stop by your house at a specific time. You don't have to give the person your main door code. Once the time limit is up, the temporary code will no longer work on the lock.


Other Z-wave Devices

Schlage's software lets you do more than just lock and unlock your doors. It also lets you set multiple codes and then keep track of when those codes are used. First, instead of giving each family member a key, you assign them a personal code. The Schlage software keeps a 90-day log of every code used to unlock the door.

Parents might find this option particularly useful. Imagine you're the parent of a teenage boy. He claims he got home at the agreed-upon hour of 9 p.m. You can pull up your LiNK software program and check the records to see if he's fibbing. All you have to do is look for his code and the time stamp for when it was used that night. Or you can set your system so that it sends you a text message whenever someone uses a specific code to get into the house.


The LiNK system isn't limited to networking locks. You can also purchase other Z-wave devices such as modules for lights, thermostats, window shade controls and video cameras. These modules can receive commands from the Bridge. That means that with the right equipment, you can control everything from your house's temperature to its lighting from the other side of the world.

If you connect a camera to a Z-wave module, you can look at a live video feed. Mounting a camera outside your front door allows you to see who is there at any time of the day. This can come in handy if you want to let someone in but don't want to go through the trouble of giving that person a temporary code. You can have the person call you when he or she arrives at your house. Then you can use the camera to verify the person's identity before you unlock the door. You can also set the video camera to record footage -- potentially useful if someone is trying to break into your home.

Will Schlage's system revolutionize home security? The list of features is certainly impressive. But the technology comes with a fairly hefty price tag and requires an ongoing monthly subscription fee of $12.99. It remains to be seen if consumers think the value of the system justifies the price.

To learn more about wireless technologies, take a look at the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • Claburn, Thomas. "Schlage's LiNK Device Puts Locks Online." Information Week. Sept. 5, 2008. (Jan. 20, 2009)
  • Schlage. "Schlage LiNK." (Jan. 20, 2009)
  • Schlage. (Jan. 20, 2009)