It's interesting to see cool technology cross boundaries from one industry to another. It reinforces the need to look beyond your own market for innovative solutions.
Such is the case with a new, award-winning home-entry product from Michigan startup PassiveBolt Inc., whose co-founder, Kabir Maiga, cut his teeth in the automotive sector.
PassiveBolt Inc. co-founder Kabir Maiga
Maiga, CEO of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based PassiveBolt, worked on the team at Continental Automotive that developed the touch-enabled entry technology now popular on so many current vehicles. As long as you have the key fob with you, you can open your car doors by simply touching the sensor on the door handle.
Maiga wondered if, by substituting a smartphone for the key fob, he could extend that seamless user experience to your home's door locks.
Shepherd Lock offers a good case study in collaborative product development. By partnering with German advanced-materials supplier Covestro AG and Finnish molded electronics specialist TactoTek Oy, PassiveBolt has done just that. Its new Shepherd Lock not only recently earned a CES 2020 Innovation Award in the highly competitive Smart Home category, but also is hitting the commercial market this month.
Shepherd Lock is a simple add-on that allows homeowners to keep their existing lockset and keys, while converting it into a touch-activated device. Users can lock and unlock their door both inside and outside with a touch. It involves a mechatronic module that works based on simple touch––no fingerprints or biometrics needed.
The technology––which Maiga claims is the first and only of its kind for home security––uses a patent-pending combination of sensors and artificial intelligence to actively monitor your lock around the clock. It can detect lock picking or tampering attempts, automatically freeze the deadbolt into a locked position in response, and notify the homeowner immediately via a secure mobile app. The app, he adds, also allows homeowners to manage home access, share electronic keys, view access history, and remotely control the lock. And if the door is ajar, It can even tell the homeowner the number of degrees a door is open.
"We first met PassiveBolt at an electronics design event and got to know Kabir during the Shepherd Lock project," recounts Dave Rice, senior vice president for marketing and business development at 9-year-old TactoTek, which develops, industrializes and licenses injection molded structural electronics (IMSE™) technology for smart surface solutions. The 95-employee company also has operations in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Ulm, Germany.
"IMSE is an advanced form of film insert molding, and that required working closely with film––often polycarbonate film––and resin experts," noted Rice, who said TactoTek has long collaborated with Covestro, the world's biggest supplier of PC resin, often on automotive projects. Soon the three parties were working together to make Maiga's dream a reality.
PassiveBolt chose to use Covestro's Makrolon® polycarbonate for the lock's silver-colored enclosure, black face plate, and all the plastic parts. The cover plate, mounted on the inside of the home's door, over the existing deadbolt, snaps on magnetically. The entire module––powered by four AA batteries––can be mounted with just two screws.
"We have been working with this technology for years in various applications," said Joel Matsco, "and have proven that Makrolon is the most reliable material for ISME––delivering the three critical elements of cosmetic durability, lifetime functional performance and manufacturability." Matsco is the resin maker's senior marketing manager for polycarbonates in the electrical, electronics and appliance sectors.
Rice added: "We've done considerable work with Covestro as we've industrialized IMSE technology and identified the materials stacks and processing required for high-yield manufacturing, high-quality cosmetics and lifetime reliability. That learning, and the validated materials combinations are then used in customer projects, most of which are in automotive today." TactoTek specified Covestro materials for this product, he said.
In this design, the IMSE component is the functional, decorative cover of the smart lock, which is one part of the overall Shepherd Lock electromechanical system. "It includes printed wiring, a printed capacitive touch control, in-mold LED, connection to external system electronics and, of course, decoration on a high-gloss black surface," Rice explained. "However, the density of electronics is low relative to many of the parts we develop and the shape is relatively simple."
This "naked" image of TactoTek's BatRay demonstrator with most of the lights on offers a glimpse of the type of printed electronics and in-mold components that the firm can produce. The electronic system of the BatRay is much more complex than that of Shepherd Lock, Dave Rice notes, but the techniques are the same.(Photo courtesy of TactoTek Oy)
IMSE technology enables adding sophisticated electronic functions to light, thin, three-dimensional parts, including surfaces with complex shapes and contours. Moreover, Rice says, "because IMSE parts are typically just 2 to 3.5 mm thick, even when they include lighting features, and follow the contours of a design––be it a designer coffee maker or the door trim of a vehicle––designers can add electronic features to locations impractical or impossible for traditional electronics, and in shapes that align with their design language and vision."
The technology offers designers a new palette of possibilities that enable them to deliver high-value, differentiated user experiences––in terms of three-dimensional form, styling, electronic functionality and total cost efficiency, he adds. For molders, meanwhile, IMSE parts combine both plastics and electronics, so they command higher margins than standard injection molded parts.
TactoTek currently is molding parts for PassiveBolt on its two injection presses, which have 100-ton and 250-ton clamping forces. The firm does some mass production outside of the automotive market, but Rice says, "our core model is to license IMSE technology to manufacturers for mass production, and it is our intent to apply that model for the Shepherd Lock, as well, as volumes increase." That said, the Finnish company is capable of scaling production to keep making Shepherd Lock parts commercially, if that is what PassiveBolt prefers.
"It's vital for TactoTek to partner with Covestro on applications such as these," says Matsco.
"We bring the material and processing expertise to allow TactoTek to efficiently integrate its technology. This close collaboration allows products such as Shepherd Lock to be fully realized."