back to article Making an entrance: Remote door-opening tech

For a lot of Reg readers, home automation is probably an internal affair – that is, if you're using technology, it's probably to control things inside the home, like heating, lighting and so on. And indeed, that also makes up the bulk of what's available when it comes to the major suppliers. Youtube Video One area that's …

  1. Lee D Silver badge

    Overpriced junk.

    I can buy a whole-house access control system based on business use for that price. Maglocks on the doors, control units, RFID readers, PIN-pad entry, the works.

    Even on a cobble-together budget with those products you're looking at over a grand before you even start fitting.

    Get a couple of mag-locks for your gates, and the various entry locks (they normally just replace the lock on the door-frame side of the lock) for the house, and a simple controller (there's a PIN-pad and RFID - in whatever combination you like - one on Amazon for £10 with 12V relay control...). You've already had to build a Fritzbox and run a relay cable to remote control it, so you haven't lost any functionality.

    And, my biggest question about doing all this (as I have the parts and the know-how and have considered doing it on my house) is what about the insurance? House insurance typically demands a certain standard of lock and access control does confuse things on non-business premises.

    Hell, I had SMS / telephone-controlled relays rebooting the ADSL modems at my previous employer - one 3G stick, a pre-pay SIM, one physical "button", one Velleman K8055, an old car relay and anything you can be bothered to put on the other side of it. My employer used to be able to reboot the modems with a text message (with customisable PIN, or other commands!) from anywhere in the when the VPN fell over.

    Either cobble-together cheap components, or buy an expensive all-in-one solution. Don't cobble together expensive components.

    1. Peter 26

      Regarding the insurance for the locks, for this reason you can now buy automatic locking triple lock doors. Google MACO UK Z-TA Automatic Door Lock for one example, although there is about 3-4 different manufactures of similar products now. You need the door drilled out for it to fit, so you'd usually ask for it when buying the door.

      Then just wire it up to an access control system. You can buy them on eBay at £15 for an RFID one (but they are ugly). You could take it apart and hide it behind a house numberplate or something though.

      I ended up going for the manufacturer access control system to guarantee it works and looks nice. Installed next month, but cost a f***in fortune. I decided to go with it anyway after doing months of research.

      If I was doing it again, I'd say just give me a standard key, so much hassle dealing with brand new and expensive tech.

  2. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Pirate

    Re-boot

    Maybe things have changed but my memory of intercom type door locks was that they could be opened with a hefty kick to the door. The weak part was the attachment to the door frame.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Re-boot

      Yes, in a lot of places the release is a weak point for sure. We have CISA locks which have a standard fixed striking plate and the magnet is in the lock itself, pulling it back to the open position, which is much sturdier.

      And, of course, a good cylinder is important too. Ideally registered keys, not some cheap cylinder that can be opened in half a minute with a locksmith's tools.

      For highest security, tuck make sure the relay is tucked away too, so you can't rip the panel off and jumper the lock. I've also seen code panels that reset to default to if a certain button was held during power up. So, if you can engineer a brown out...

      1. tony2heads

        @Nigel Whitfield

        Something like a Mul-T-Lock maybe?

        1. Nigel Whitfield.

          Re: @Nigel Whitfield

          Yep. Even if you don't want to change your door locks, a lot of people don't realise that it's pretty straightforward to swap the cylinder for something a little (or a lot) more secure, like the Mul-T-Lock range.

          Find a decent local locksmith and they can also do things like provide you with a standard front door cylinder and a euro-cylinder or oval for the back door, both using the same key, which I find a lot more convenient.

          The CISA lock I mentioned earlier, btw, is the 11610 series. A much better option than the usual electric release, in my view. And it has a big red button that makes a gratifying "clunk" when you press it to exit.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: Re-boot

      If you buy cheap junk, yes.

      There's nothing stopping you fitting some serious hardware around even the cheapest of locks to hold it in though. London bars etc. can be adapted to strengthen even the crappiest of locks and, don't forget, your hinge is probably the weak point by that time anyway (especially if you have only two, one top, one bottom, leaving the point of greatest leverage unbolstered).

      Personally, I'm quite impressed at basic locks. Even mag-locks are now quite serious. £20 can get you a 500kg holding force mag-lock that put a handful of watts. That's pretty impressive. And, yes, I have hung off one fitted to a metal gate at work to see if it was true. And, no, I don't think you'd open it short of cutting the power which generally requires cutting through an armoured cable or steel fence post anyway.

      The problem with security, as always, is not to make the door unkickable, but to make it the least likely alternative. Anybody wanting in will get in, through a window, or just bringing a sledgehammer and making a hole in your side-alley (you could kick any half-decent brick wall down if you tried and had good boots). It's not about absolute security, it's about the effort and sometimes noise/suspicion required to do so. And, like car security, how long you'd be there trying to do it.

      I doubt most people even have a front door that would stand up to a few good kicks anyway. The point is that doing that is risky, noisy, obvious and attention-attracting and might still leave you with an aching leg or splinters in your thigh. And so smashing a window is an easier way in.

      There's a reason the police have those door-opening battering rams that can be operated from a standing position in one hit. But it's not because that's the best way to gain entry. It's because it gets entry into almost every house and can be repaired quite easily afterwards and there's much less chance of showering someone in glass shards.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    More of this sort of article please!

    I've often thought it curious that we take central locking on cars almost for granted, yet houses are some way behind.

    Imagine the peace of mind that people could take from remotely verifying that all the doors are locked, windows are closed, gas hob turned off and iron unplugged.... such doubts can plague a person as they head for the airport.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: More of this sort of article please!

      "[...] we take central locking on cars almost for granted, [...]"

      Reports this week that Range Rover owners in London are unable to get theft insurance unless they have a lock-up garage. Apparently criminals have access to the necessary equipment to command the car security mechanisms.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Home automation is fun - but often insecure in that there is rarely any security on radio controlled devices.

    Putting together the Halloween SFX needed a stimulus from the doorbell to trigger some Byron RS3 radio mains on/off switches.

    The final solution is an old laptop controlling a Velleman VMA110 hobby card via USB. This card provides 5 inputs and 8 outputs of the on/off variety. A cheap Arduino style relay unit provides the open collector outputs with some beef and isolation.

    The expensive bit was the RFXtrx433E. This is a home automation 433mhz transceiver unit connected to the laptop by USB. It happily integratess many manufacturers' units - although switching on all possible options slugs the performance. No problem with the Byron bellpush and the Byron controllers like the PIR.

    A RXtrx433E VB.NET SDK can be obtained free from the support people - so the laptop is able to see the stimuli and also send commands to the Byron mains switches.

    Caveat. Not all the home automation 433mhz components from various manufacturers have proved to be visible.

    The final set up is looking very effective. One battery operated PIR triggers general effects lights for passers-by to show that goodies are available. A second PIR, or the doorbell, starts the main visitor sequence.

    A remote mains switch causes a solenoid to release a counterweight to raise the ghosts and tombstones in the garden. The laptop sends a thunder sequence to a "shower" Bluetooth speaker outside the front door. Using Windows DirectSound also allows an amplifier in the hall to have its own soundtrack. The thunder sounds are synchronised with flashguns in the hall triggered from the VMA110 controlled relays.

    Opening the door triggers a magnetic reed switch connected to the VMA110 - synchronising a creaking door sound and sepulchral "Welcome" from the life-sized black robed anatomical skeleton.

    Well - you get the idea...... The neighbours have a spare portable bell-push coded as a kill switch in case any of their kids get too spooked by the display. The kids have an idea what's coming as they have been on holiday this week - but with no inkling of how darkness, lighting, and sound can transform stage props.

  5. Panicnow

    Video ENtry phone for $50

    Buy a noname android phone for $50 with a forward facing camera.

    Glue to inside of window ( not double glazed )

    Run 5v to phone and take the usb output to a electronic door lock.

    Use Linphone to create a video voip app that just calls your own phone, switching on the camera.

    Easy!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a small metal key

    It seems to work OK

    1. LaeMing Silver badge

      Re: I have a small metal key

      Well, it's good enough for the TARDIS!

      I can recall at least one baddie (probably Tom Baker era.) cussing in exasperation "this lock is too primitive for my equipment to open!"

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: I have a small metal key

      Keys, as an access mechanism, have sufficed for thousands of years.

      However, they require physical conferral of the device in question, which is a security risk. Note the numerous mentions of house guests, parcel deliveries etc.

      It's useful to have a way to allow a random person in, on your authorisation. You can tell someone a PIN over the phone, you can't give someone a key.

      And 3D-printing may well make keys dangerous. A quick photo or even video of your average key, let alone a few seconds of physical access, will give you enough information to make a viable copy, and lock-bumping basically makes 90% of the locks out there key-less with about an hour's practice on a box of old locks. There's also a reason you should change your locks after you've misplaced a key, whether it's returned to you or not.

      I'd rather have electronic access. But this is too much. And, yes, at least one of my doors would be accessible by an old fashioned unpowered lock, in the case of an emergency. Though I'd make it the one that requires the greatest faffing to get to, i.e. jumping the fence etc.

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: I have a small metal key

        Although I can access the flat with just a code number, I tend to rely on that mostly for things like when I've gone to the corner shop (or the pub at the end of the road), or if I'm expecting a visitor. For a longer absence, there's a mortice lock as well.

        And on more than one occasion, I've been glad to find a key in my pocket - for example, when the power went out, and I went outside to see if it was just me, or the rest of the building, or the whole street. And realised once I got outside in the cold and wet that, with no power, I wouldn't be able to use the keypad...

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          Re: I have a small metal key

          If you're installing such systems, at least one lock should be fail-open, rather than fail-shut. Otherwise what happens if you get a fire in your electrical cupboard?

          But the cheap solution is even more simple - buy the cheapest, junkiest UPS you can buy. At access-control wattages it'll probably do 8-10 hours, if not a lot more. That's why your burglar alarm has one inbuilt - it can still go off up to 24 hours after the power goes out, and attract attention or phone you.

          Honestly, if you have even a CCTV DVR or an access control system, £50 for a UPS that runs them all is a drop in the ocean. And handily will give you a serial-cable notification of the power going out so you could, for example,instruct it to unlock the doors in an hour's time if you're not home when it happens but will need to get back in.

          Extended blackouts are one of the high factors that attract opportunist crime. Just keeping the little blinky lights on your alarm at that moment would be enough to deter most such opportunism. You don't pick the house with the big noisy alarm and flashing lights when everyone else's house is in pitch black and dead silence because everyone else is waiting for the power to come back on.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All your locks are only as strong as:

    your weakest patio door, opening or non-opening window, door frame and roof tile.

  8. Trigonoceps occipitalis

    don't forget, your hinge is probably the weak point by that time anyway

    Wingmaster and solid shot - the best key in world (probably).

  9. David Paul Morgan
    Meh

    Not suitable for all doors?

    I have a uPVC/double glazed front door, and ISTR i was quite pricey to change the lock on that.

    Also, the interlocks would have to be electrically driven too?

    i can see how a simple yale lock could be altered and strengthened, but a modern double-glazed door is a different proposition, surely.

    (yes, I'd love to use NFC to open the door - but there's also the worry about what happens when the power goes off...)

    1. Peter 26

      Re: Not suitable for all doors?

      The one I'm getting for my composite from door has a normal key slot. Guess I'll have to leave it with someone I can trust in case the power goes out.

  10. paulyboib

    Great read this, nice to see some feedback on so many different Vendors. I think some of the ones you mention like 2N and Protalk are more made for business locations. They can be used at home, but as stated the price is not really aimed at your bargain hunting home owner. We have installed 2n and CyberData for home use. The CyberData model, which you dont feature, is around £350. The great thing about VoIP door phones is you can use with hosted VoIP solutions. The one we used works with Broadsoft and Asterisk. From the comfort of your own home, you can log in and change the door phones call path. Great read though, I wil be sure to look into a few of these brands that i did not know of.

    Thanks,

    Paul

  11. Benlassoued

    Looking for access control system

    I am looking for access control system for my office. when i am discussing with my friend and he suggest me Computime uk. i am going to contact them.

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