Smart Locks are being developed by German startup Slock.it and revolve around the use of smart contracts on Etherium to provide people with the opportunity for decentralized sharing of everyday objects – bikes, washing machines and lockers to name but a few. If everyone has equipment and devices that are not in constant use, why not allow them to be rented out to others who require them? Another step in the direction of an Internet of Things.
Speaking at the Devcon conference in London, Christoph Jentzsch, founder of Slock.it, brought up the valuable services of companies such as Uber and Airbnb but noted that the controlling company made the money, so why shouldn’t the users and operators of the services have the ability to control the transactions themselves?
When operating a Slock, the premise is that the owner will be able to set two figures – a deposit figure and a rental figure. With that done and the lock fitted to the object in question, the owner can now release the item in question to anyone who wishes to use it. All the potential customer has to do is pay the deposit, rent the item, use it then return it to reclaim the deposit (minus the cost of the rental).
The entire process is automated and follows the exact instructions in the smart contract. Transactions between the owner and the renter take place when the customer uses their smart phone to rent the item and is carried out on the Etherium blockchain with no interference by Slock.it or any other party. Slock.it’s role in setting up this business is to provide the locking hardware and also providing services to allow easier use of the product, for example, providing a method to use credit cards to purchase ether to use for the contract. Slock.it is looking to do a pre-sale crowd funding to raise money for a DAO, which will effectively provide investors with shares in the DAO. Parties with shares in the DAO will receive a share of the profits when Slock technology is used; currently there are planned to be options for users to either provide a one-off payment or a percentage of every transaction.
As a concept this sounds exciting; however, I would have concerns about how it would be applied in some cases. I’ve left my bicycle at a station overnight – complete with CCTV cameras and using the strongest bike lock I can find – and come back the next day to find the lock almost destroyed, so how I could guarantee the safety of my belongings would be a top concern for me (Top Tip: Never leave a bicycle locked up in Slough – keep it with you!).
Another issue I could foresee is granting access to items: I could rent out my lawnmower but I’d rather not have strangers coming into my house to gain access to it. Finally – how would the problem of damages come into an agreement, especially if an item is being rented out without constant supervision by the owner, would it be possible to monitor the condition the item is left in and obtain compensation for damages from the user? Slock.it says “If you can lock it, we will let you rent, sell or share it” so it will be interesting to see how they facilitate this in a secure way.