Technology

A smart lock with long-range wireless power is finally a reality

I’ve spent the last few months testing smart door locks, and I’ve had to set up an Amazon Subscribe & Save order for all the different batteries they’ve been chewing through. Smart locks have a power problem, and smart lock manufacturer Alfred thinks it has the solution: wireless power. 

First announced at CES 2020, the Alfred AirCord enabled ML2 smart lock is finally a reality. Wirelessly powered by a Wi-Charge wireless power transmitter, the lock is launching today for commercial real estate developers in the United States and Canada.

The ML2 is a mortise lock designed for high-end residential homes and commercial buildings. While it’s not going to work on your standard front door fitted for a deadbolt lock, Brad Cook, head of product and integrations at Alfred, told me a deadbolt version is coming early next year.

While we’ve seen demos of wireless power for years at trade shows like CES, the technology has yet to make its way into any practical products. That’s the big change here; Alfred and Wi-Charge actually have a working wirelessly powered smart lock that’s out in the world. Alfred has installed demo versions of the lock and the wireless power accessories in real buildings as part of live pilots.

Designed for North American-style mechanical mortise lock chassis, the ML2 lock will largely be used in commercial and hotel properties, apartment and condo buildings, and high-end single-family homes. It can be retrofitted but is definitely more of a pro-install job. If you did want to get yourself one, you’d be looking at a starting price of $899, which doesn’t include the Wi-Charge accessory kit.

The rear of the new ML2 lock includes an infrared receiver at the top, which is how the Wi-Charge sends it power.
Image: Alfred

The new ML2 lock can be powered traditionally by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or upgraded to wireless power with a Wi-Charge long-range wireless power transmitter — a medium-sized round hub that has to be plugged in. There is no set pricing for upgrading to wireless power. Cook said it’s “priced separately on request and per application,” but previous reports put it at between $150 and $180.

The Wi-Charge transmitter delivers “several watts” of wireless power safely and efficiently to any compatible device in the same room within 30 feet. The technology is FDA approved, and Ori Mor, co-founder of Wi-Charge, says it’s a precision transmission and requires lines of sight; the transmitter isn’t bathing the room in wireless power. You can see a video of it “in action” here.

Mor said Wi-Charge’s “AirCord” technology delivers up to 100 times more power than a standard battery, which can enable a device to do more. For example, Alfred’s Cook says there weren’t any smart mortise locks before the ML2 because a mortise lock requires significantly more power to turn the mechanism than a standard deadbolt. With the wireless power system, Alfred can do it.

The Wi-Charge transmitter can be installed in the ceiling or mounted on a wall.

The Wi-Charge transmitter can be installed in the ceiling or mounted on a wall.
Image: Wi-Charge

Outside of its option of this unique power method, the Alfred ML2 is a standard smart lock, offering Bluetooth, RFID card, and PIN code access, app control through the Alfred Home app, and the option to add Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave connectivity for integration into smart home systems. The Alfred ML2 sports a sleek design with a touchscreen keypad, but at 6.77 inches tall, it is very big. It looks a bit like a smartphone stuck on your door

Speaking of smartphones, Cook did say that the additional power a Wi-Charge-enabled device can draw and the extra space gained from not having to fit in a large battery has “changed the roadmap” for the company. “You could have a lock that might be a full iPhone-style video screen that doesn’t need changing or hardwiring,” he said. “It has had us reevaluating all kinds of options, which were just not feasible in the realm of battery-operated devices before.”

The ability to hardwire devices wirelessly could be a game-changer for the smart home. Never having to charge your video doorbell or change out your smart lock batteries would be a much better user experience than the current state of play. Mor says one Wi-Charge transmitter can charge multiple devices, which could help offset the initial cost. But all those devices need to be Wi-Charge-enabled with an infrared receiver built into them. That’s going to be a harder sell.

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