Google scooped up Ehsan Saeedi when he was defending his doctoral thesis at the University of Washington. His thesis topic: contact lenses with embedded sensors and flex displays, a technology not unlike what we see in the sci-fi movies. As a senior hardware engineer, he helped build the first few hundred units of Google Glass.
Five years in, Saeedi saw the slow adoption and waning enthusiasm for the futuristic eye augmentation product. At the same time, sharing economy startups, namely Airbnb and Uber, were gaining momentum. Fast. To Saeedi, there was one big reason why: the reliable trust created by the brand between itself and users.
"Ten or fifteen years ago it was unthinkable to walk into a stranger's house and sleep in one of their beds, or get into a stranger's car and go for a ride," said Saeedi. "Verified trust is the currency of the future."
If you can verify and commoditize the most basic human relationship building block--trust--you can do anything, hypothesized Saeedi. To find out, he quit his job at Google and launched a startup called Gate.
The idea for Gate came when Saeedi and his fiancé were working 12+ hour days and didn't have time to drive home in Bay Area traffic to receive package deliveries. He knew he could purchase existing products to answer his door remotely, but how could he trust the delivery person to walk into his home and drop off the package without him there? That's where Gate comes in.
How a lock verifies trust
Saeedi is one of 50 million Amazon Prime users who receive an average of two packages a month.
Some estimate there are over one million Airbnb hosts.
With voice computing devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home and a flurry of other on-demand home services like grocery-delivery startup InstaCart and contractor services like Handy, a remote-controlled, Internet-connected, and video and voice-enabled lock is key (heh) to the future's "verified trust" economy, Saeedi believes.
Gate is not the first smart lock by any means. Bluetooth-based August Home, easily-installed Sesame, and the publicly traded Alarm.com are all thriving in the smarthome security space.
How is Gate different?
It's not designed for today. It's designed for the future.
The future may look like this:
What does all this mean?
Forrester Research projects that U.S. adoption of smart home devices will grow at a 42 percent compound annual growth rate over the next five years.
It means new technology is letting us spend more time at work or traveling (not driving or shopping) and more people - read: strangers - are going to be coming and going through our front doors to deliver things and provide services.
With more strangers visiting our homes when we're not there, how do you ensure trust, like Uber and Airbnb have done so well?
This is the future the Gate founders designed their product for. A motion sensor sends a notification to the homeowner's phone when visitors approach the door and immediately begins to record live video. Owners can see who's at the door and what they're doing and can communicate via audio messages with the visitor.
No more hiding a key under the welcome mat.
If you were to ask the average American how important having a camera-equipped, remote-controlled smart lock is, they'd probably say they can do without one, since they have up until today.
But Saeedi, his team, and Gate's backers think a big problem is coming and would probably point to the case of Airbnb hosts, who might need to let guests into their home when they're still at work.
In other words, the pain point that Gate is aimed at solving is already starting to be felt by today's busiest, most digitally-savvy homeowners located in major cities.
Packages, meal-kits, guests, pets, and contractors - they all need access to your castle when you're not there. Instead of burning a half-day to gallop home and meet them, or hiding a stealable key under a flower pot, Saeedi and his team are betting their virtual doorman is the solution, so you don't have to be home to "verify trust" - but can watch the whole thing, through a live camera, from afar.