Smart door locks using IoT

Cellular Iot for real estate entry with a smartphone - Photosynth


Making opening doors with a smartphone a reality

Photosynth was launched in September 2014 out of the vision of “networked craftsmanship” and building a future of amazing experiences for end users. They are defining the potential that door locks can have in the digital space.

Akerun was their foray into the market for smart locks. When you have the need to open a door with a smartphone, not a physical key, this exciting product is the answer. Akerun is a device that installs on doors that pair with a smartphone (Bluetooth 4.0+ compatible) running a dedicated app. The lock can be locked or unlocked over Bluetooth, so a physical lock is still used in the door itself. The app also integrates with e-mail and social media to offer functionality like duplicate keys, shared keys, as well as maintaining entry/exit logs, and the ability to delete digital keys. Akerun can be viewed as a “robot concierge” attached to an existing door.


Meeting the need for remotely opening locks

Photosynth’s Akerun service has grown quickly since it started. However, there were several key issues they needed to overcome.

One was supporting feature phones, now somewhat antiquated amidst the smartphone ecosystem. In 2015, smartphone penetration was 65%. At the same time, that meant 35% percent of users were still feature phone users. Photosynth was searching for a way to make Akerun available to people dependent on these phones, such as the elderly and corporations with a need for dedicated non-smartphone devices.

Second, there was growing demand for remote locking/unlocking. Customers often expressed issues like:

  • “I forgot to lock the door and would like to lock it remotely”
  • “I want to know whether the door is open or shut right now”
  • “My child is waiting at the door, but doesn’t have a key, so I’d like to be able to open it up remotely”


Third, users found the existing app installation process tedious. Asking users to install a dedicated app for one-time uses like staying at a hotel, or asking clients to set it up themselves was in itself time-consuming and an unwanted cost.

Photosynth felt they needed to have a way to support not only Bluetooth, but Internet-based locking/unlocking as well.


We launched Akerun Remote, an IoT gateway. This is a device with a 3G-enabled SIM card installed that also supports Bluetooth. Users connect over the Internet and via a web browser to the Akerun Remote installed near their door. The Akerun Remote connects via Bluetooth to the Akerun main unit, which controls locking and unlocking. This means it can now be used on devices other than smartphones, such as computers and feature phones, and there is no need to install an app.

Photosynth chose SORACOM’s SIMs for the Akerun Remote, which connect to SORACOM Air.


For Photosynth, Soracom’s pricing structure is very clear and affordable. Not only are initial costs for the SIMs low, but the running costs associated with continued use of the service are clearly spelled out, and are metered for actual usage only. This allows Photsynth to calculate SIM costs upfront to more freely design systems as needed.

It’s also easy to order SIMs which allows Photosynth to order SIMs as needed to design there service more freely. According to Photosynth, other companies providing mobile services can often take 2-3 months to get the SIMs, which require them to order larger quantities than actually needed. With Soracom, the SIMs arrive in a few days, so there’s no need to spend extra on maintaining and managing inventory.

Photosynth also like the ability to manage the SORACOM platform from the command line, so it’s extremely easy for their engineers to integrate into their workflow. They also find it extremely beneficial to check the current status and charges applying to a single SIM card. And as the number of devices being managed increases, it’s easy to bundle them into groups.

For Photosynth, working with Soracom is cost-effective and easy to procure and manage SIMs. They claim they could find no reason not to adopt SORACOM for Akerun and are totally satisfied with Soracom across the board as an IoT platform supporting Akerun’s growth. And as Soracom’s platform is deployed on AWS cloud, they are assured of it’s robust security as well.


Secure, centrally-managed remote maintenance for facilities around the world

For IHI and their global power plant customers, remote maintenance solves a number of issues at once. With the combination of Soracom Air connectivity service and Soracom Gate for secure networking, IHI can now quickly respond to emerging conditions to keep power plants around the world operating at maximum efficiency under all conditions. The customer benefits are obvious: increased reliability, enhanced performance, and significantly lower maintenance costs.

An in-house operating software developed using the Soracom API lets IHI staff make remote adjustments on the fly even without specialized technical expertise. Many urgent fixes can be implemented without delay while teams are en route, and technical personnel are no longer required that incur costs for site visits just to perform routine maintenance functions.


The idea of replacing what has long been the analog world of key entry systems may seem like no major ripple, but in developing Akerun, Photosynth has learned how much potential there is in key systems. If you could poll data from a lock, you could tell your appliances to turn off when you leave the house. These and other things that used to be impossible could become the norm. Photosynth believes that smart locks will enable the development of many inconceivable new solutions.

At the same time, locks can sometimes be crucial in life and death situations. If a door fails to open or close in an emergency, what would the consequences be? In that context, Photosynth feels strongly aware of their responsibility to provide their services.

For that reason, they sought a reliable, trusted partner. Soracom is an important player with the same goals in mind: leading the IoT industry by providing a safe and functional platform that lets grows innovation in IoT.

Photosynth wants to roll out Akerun globally, but locks in Japan are still very different from global standards. The lock industry is very localized, so we need to find a solution to overcome that. Since Soracom is also growing globally, Photosynth looks to be a close partner in this area and continue growing together.