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This Startup Has Created A Much Safer Hotel Key Card Using Quantum Physics

by Muriel Vega

In 2018, Finnish researchers found a vulnerability that turns one key lock card, even an expired one, into a master card — as in, it could open any lock.  In under a minute, using an RFID card reading and writing tool, they were able to identify the correct sequence of the master key.

This incident illuminated that there are limits to how secure you can make a piece of plastic. Recently, hotels have moved toward using smartphones as room key cards for more security.

Erica Grant thinks she has the key to solving it all.

Grant says she became passionate about security after an incident while she was a student at Virginia Tech, when a fellow student was abducted from a concert. Grant worked with the student body to educate everyone on basic security measures.

But it wasn’t until she came to the University of Tennessee-Knoxville as a Ph.D student that she identified a way to use quantum physics to make locks more secure.

“As a female who travels alone, staying in a hotel room and knowing how insecure they can be… hotels are places where people don’t feel as secure since they’re traveling.”

The key behind startup Quantum Lock‘s technology is light particles. The technology creates a non-sequential combination key, using the randomness of the particles, to communicate between the lock and a guest’s smartphone.

These light particle passwords are completely random and untraceable. The technology is able to detect the random properties on the photons and make them into a binary key.

“Security is constantly evolving. Encryption is constantly evolving. But there are limits to the security that is available through the RFID key cards that we use currently with hotel rooms,” says Grant. “Quantum Lock’s technology is many leagues above that in terms of security.”

“Instead of just patching the problem, I’m focused on changing the whole system to make it more fundamentally secure.”

Quantum Lock services both the software and hardware need in this market.

While the back-end of the software is fairly complex, the software includes an easy-to-use dashboard for hotel employees. Grant is also finalizing her final hardware prototype and will go into pilot tests this quarter.

She’d ideally like to license the lock and software as a package, but is also exploring direct software sales to hotels.

“This is a model that’s currently used in the hotel industry. A lot of times they have third-party softwares that support their hardware systems. We would like to move toward a SaaS business model with a hardware licensing option,” says Grant.

She hopes to move to apartments, smart homes, and even cars next. After winning several pitch competitions, Grant is looking to talk to more investors to scale the Knoxville-based startup.

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