Let's face it, renting in NYC is a nightmare. Each apartment is like it's own sample sale. If you're not there first and don't put down an offer within an hour - you don't get the apartment or you enter a bidding war where all parties lose and all brokers win. This leads to some very interesting living situations, in my case I found myself in a pre war building that was in need of an upgrade.
One issue I needed to solve is my front door. This vault inspired monstrosity requires a super special key that only the landlord can get a copy of. Translation: getting a few copies would cost an 💪🦵 at $50 a pop. Also if I ever lost my keys I 1. wouldn't be able to get in 2. Would owe Mr. LL another Ulysses S Grant.
Options were looking bleak and I considered just coughing up the money. But then I had an idea what if I could hack my way to a solution? If so, what would that look like? Arduinos and wiring into my intercom system? This would require a decent amount of work, and also considering it's a rental I don't need another headache of repairing it when I leave. Then thinking about the problem I realized all I needed was a way to somehow press the button on my control box.
Digging around Reddit and amazon I came across an amazing product: Switchbot.
This little "robot" is Bluetooth enabled and can be 3M'd right below the button. Using an app on my phone or a Google Home I can control the device and get it to push the crucial button. This sounded great! So I ordered one and quickly set it up (even with the non ideally designed app).
ROAD BLOCK: the device is only Bluetooth enabled...um what. This limits the range to a dozen feet, not all that useful when at the front door. Luckily (or unluckily) there is a hub that Switchbot makes to connect your device to your home's wifi network. I ordered it, quickly set it up and....it worked! From anywhere in the world I can buzz someone into my building. This is great for deliveries, friends, or unknown situations where you need the door to open.
This has been a life saver. Now my sister, mom, and girlfriend all can get into my building just by giving them a login to the app. All this, for the price of basically what would have been one key, and I can bring this to my next apartment. Yes there is still the problem of my specific apartment door but I had keys made and they're dirt cheap.
- When friends stay at my apartment, I don't need to have another $50 key, I just give them temp access to the app
- When you are carrying things, it's easy to just buzz yourself in from you phone with Siri or the app
- You feel like Tony Stark walking up to your building and the door "mysteriously" buzzes to let you in as you walk up
- My lazy 🍑 doesn't need to get up from bed to let in a delivery man
Redundancy plan: I always keep my building key with me so I have two options. For my family who rely on the app, if the wifi were to go down, they'd have to be those people that buzz every apt until someone lets them in (be a friendly neighbor!). If power goes out completely, it had a flaw that the options are: wait for someone to walk in, call the LL, call a locksmith. Not ideal, but I think given the low likelihood and the alternative options (despite the annoyance) make this the ideal solution.
One of my main takeaways from this simple hack is: don't jump to over-engineer a solution. The solution is irrelevant, you just want the problem solved. I could have quickly jumped to "the proper engineer solution" and bought a Rasberry Pi, some motors, and spent a bunch of time making a solution. That UX/UI would have been suboptimal and wasted a bunch of time. It also likely would have cost more in parts. Leverage what's built and get creative! You may find you need a more complex solution, but only after eliminating more simple solutions.
Note: In regards to safety and privacy, put the Switchbot on your guest network and set a password for the device.