New chip to let smartphones charge and unlock smart locks


German chip manufacturer Infineon wants to build chips to be embedded in locks for bikes, doors, lockers and office drawers that can be unlocked by a smartphone and without a battery. — dpa

MUNICH: Smart locks for bicycles, lockers and doors that can be unlocked remotely and with phones normally require their own battery supply, something that can make them rather unhelpful with their run out of power.

But chip manufacturer Infineon is planning to make it possible to unlock keyless smart locks that don’t have their own energy supply.

Instead of batteries or a power supply, the user’s mobile phone – which is also the key – provides the energy that allows the chip to unlock the lock, the German chip manufacturer said on Friday, announcing a new chip designed for locks.

In practice, the technology is likely to be used to let people use a smartphone to unlock smaller locks on things like office cabinets, lockers and letterboxes in about two seconds – depending on the mobile phone used.

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Keyless solutions such as these already exist in smart homes and bicycle locks and bring the benefit of letting anyone who owns the lock allow anyone others to unlock it with their smartphone – practical for when you want to share your bicycle or let someone you know into your home without giving them a physical key.

However until now most solution have needed their own battery or power supply, which brings a major nuisance when the power runs out.

Infineon says this chip could also be used as an emergency option for larger locks, which require more energy (and therefore charging time) to open, such as smart home and hotel door locks. As a result, smart home locks could still be reliably opened even in the event of a power shortage.

You would then have to wait a little longer for the lock to open, says Infineon, but at least it could save you the expense of a locksmith.

Both data and energy are exchanged via NFC – the same method that is used for mobile payments like Google Pay and Apple Pay.

To open the lock, you hold your mobile phone up to the lock equipped with the chip. For extra security, you can also set a password on the phone.

The chip in the lock then draws energy from the phone’s NFC chip, a feature of the vast majority of modern smartphones.

On average, such devices can transmit around 20 milliwatts, according to Infineon, and some models can transmit considerably more. While this is a comparatively small amount of energy, it is enough to power a small chip for brief exchanges of information.

A capacitor on the chip collects the energy and uses it to check whether the user is authorised and then open the lock with a small motor. The first products with the chip are expected to come onto the market next year. – dpa

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