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Apple’s Hands-Free Unlock Feature is the First to Use UWB Tech in a Smart Lock

The recent WWDC 24 developer conference for Apple saw a slew of updates being announced for the smart home, but perhaps most exciting for the future of home automations in general was the announcement of a new hands-free unlock feature coming for the Apple Home Key smart lock.

Using this new feature, users will be able to unlock their doors using a compatible iPhone or Apple watch without even having to hold either device up to the lock.

However, while contactless unlocking is nothing new, the method in which Apple plans to do it, is.

While many hands-free unlock features use Bluetooth Low Energy, Wi-Fi, and GPS to communicate with smart locks, the new Apple feature will leverage Ultra Wideband (UWB) technology to communicate between the phone/watch and the lock in question—UWB as a technology also isn’t that new but its inclusion in smart locks certainly is.

As a short-range, wireless communication protocol that operates at very high frequencies, UWB provides secure, precise, real-time location data without needing line of sight, which is largely why the technology has seen so much widespread use in digital keys for cars.

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It’s also seen a few other applications in more high-end technology spaces, such as Sonus faber leveraging the tech for lossless music streaming.

By using UWB as the hands-free unlock method for its Apple Home Key smart locks, Apple notes it will be able to deliver a far more consistent experience that maintains the level of simplicity most users expect when opting for a contactless unlock option.

The catch, however, is that most existing smart locks won’t be compatible with this new feature, as they lack the necessary UWB hardware. In fact, the first Apple locks to have this capability aren’t expected to hit the market until Q4 2024.

According to an article by the Verge, this isn’t just an Apple issue either. Many prominent smart lock manufacturers lack hardware to pick up on UWB signals for their current products, and this includes Aqara, Yale, August, and Level.

Reportedly, however, all of them are currently researching ways to implement UWB technology in their smart locks, a potential sign of things to come in the smart home space.

Given many bespoke automations today rely on motion detection or other more inconsistent means to drive proximity-based sequences, the use of UWB would help provide more accurate location data, lending itself to cleaner, more seamless routines.

Already the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) is working on a new standard, dubbed Aliro, that aims to create a more standardized definition and implementation of UWB technology.

Also, unlike Apple’s tap-to-unlock Home Key feature, hands-free unlocking with UWB won’t require specific HomeKit certification. If the lock has Matter certification and the necessary hardware, it will work with Apple Home’s hands-free unlocking, meaning far more products could see this feature added to them following hardware updates.

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