This week, Amazon introduced “Amazon Key,” a service that will deliver packages directly into your home. The days of worrying about packages left at your front door will soon be a memory. In fact, with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, I am now certain we will have Amazon delivering food into our refrigerators in the not-too-distant future. All this will only be possible if you have a smart lock for the Amazon delivery service to use to open your door and enter your home. The question we want to answer is: are smart locks compatible with Shabbat observance?
I have been testing two popular yet very different smart locks. The first is the Schlage Connect, which retails for about $180. It offers a mechanical deadbolt on the inside of the door; a simple turn of the lever locks and unlocks the door. On the outside is an electronic keypad that illuminates when you press the first button. You can create four-, six- or eight-digit numeric password combinations. The lock also supports multiple codes. Create a code for the family, another for the housekeeper and a third for a trusted contractor. The lock can notify you by phone alert or email when specific codes are used. Adding and removing passcodes are simple and can be done either from the lock itself or from the remote Wink app, which I personally prefer.
There is an auto-lock feature that is extremely useful. Each time the lock is opened, whether from the inside mechanical side or the outside electronic side, the lock will automatically close 30 seconds later. This is great for kids (and adults) who enter or exit without remembering to lock the door. It also provides significant peace of mind knowing that the door is always locked. Finally, it alleviates the dreaded need to get out of bed to make sure all the doors are locked. For me, this is a priceless feature. However, when exiting and re-entering the house for slightly longer than 30 seconds—say, to take out the garbage—you may find yourself locked out. While I will often rush and try to beat the clock or leave the door open a crack, the worst-case scenario is that you must re-enter a passcode. You can temporarily turn off the auto-lock feature by entering the passcode and then quickly closing and re-opening the lock. This will leave the lock opened and waiting indefinitely for you to return from taking out the garbage. As soon as you return and manually close the lock from the inside, the auto-lock feature will automatically re-engage for the next time it is opened. While the lock comes with traditional keys, part of the allure of a smart lock is not having to carry any house keys.
Smart locks have an obvious shortcoming. Since most residential doors do not have a power source, smart locks need batteries. I use rechargeable batteries and keep a spare set handy so they can easily be swapped. While some may worry about being locked out of their home if the battery dies, it would take negligence on the user’s part for this scenario to unfold (unless there is a defect). The locks are also “smart” enough to notify you by email or phone when your batteries are low, providing ample time to replace them before completely losing power.
The attentive reader may have noticed several potential issues with Shabbat. Clearly, using the illuminating touchpad would be an issue on Shabbat. However, even if opening the lock from the mechanical lever on the inside, you may have an issue with Shabbat. The auto-lock feature triggers the 30-second timer mentioned above. Once you leave the house, the door will electronically lock 30 seconds later. Even if you are leaving only briefly and return home before the auto-lock is activated, triggering the timer itself may be an issue. While you can certainly turn off the auto-lock feature completely (not the temporary method listed earlier) every Friday and then back on after Shabbat, this is a major inconvenience. A Shabbat-mode feature would certainly be a game changer for the shomer Shabbat consumer.
Finally, even if you choose not to use the auto-lock feature, there may be an over-arching Shabbat issue. Every lock and unlock event, even if using the mechanical lever, is logged. Through the Wink app, you can see a detailed log that the lock sends every time it is opened or closed. Apparently, even with the auto-lock feature completely disabled, every time you open or close the lock you are sending a signal. This log may not be useful or even noticeable in most cases. There is no obvious light and everything about the activity of turning a mechanical lock seems permissible…except for the log. Perhaps for security there may be room for leniency, or perhaps it may be like passing a motion detector where there is no benefit to you. Please ask your rabbi. If this is a concern, the best technical solution I can provide is to take advantage of the lock’s shortcoming and sever the battery connection before Shabbat. On the Schlage lock this is easily accomplished without having to actually remove the batteries.
Even if you choose not to have this lock on a door you frequent on Shabbat, you can still find it useful in other applications. I have it on my entrance from the garage to the house since I don’t go to the garage on Shabbat. You may have other doors that are used primarily not on Shabbat, or you may want to designate a specific door as the Shabbat door and use this lock on other doors. Finally, you could add this as a second lock to a door for the added convenience and use a traditional lock on Shabbat and only use the smart lock during the rest of the week.
What about the other smart lock I mentioned at the beginning? Does it solve all these problems? I will keep that under lock and key until next time…