Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cell Phones, Door Locks, Near Field Communication and Space 1999 - The ComLock


Star Trek may have popularized the cell phone concept but Space 1999 had most of the feature set of the IPhone figured out in 1975 with a device called the ComLock. It was amazingly prescient of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and their production team to think through what kind of mobile device would be in common use in 1999. Little did they know that the actual smart phone device they were envisioning would not come to pass until 2007 in the form of the IPhone, Android and other smart phones.

If you take a look at technical drawings of the ComLock you can see this device had it all. A two mile range capable of being boosted by using near by landing craft like a cell tower, a telephone keypad and a small black and white (CRT) display. It could connect to the Moonbase Alpha computer, accept voice commands and it even had a docking station to recharge. In the show’s continuity guide you can see the device in its cradle (I wonder what the battery life was on it with that CRT). Add to this, features like an infra-red capable camera, air pressure gaugue, geiger counter and thermometer and I would like to know where I could line up to buy one.

With all of these features that are so similar to today’s smart phones, why don’t we see the most basic feature of a ComLock on our cellphones - The ability to unlock physical doors? The ComLock device was required to get any door on Moonbase to open. You could not move freely anywhere without one.
Now imagine that you could have a house or work key that you would always have on you, if lost could be located using GPS and could be remotely deleted if stolen. Sounds pretty good, huh, yet this particular aspect of smart phone usage has not really been tapped yet.

There are some products that will let you do this now with an IPhone but they can be pretty expensive. Schlage offers their Link system which allows you to open their keypad locks via a web browser or a cell phone but they are charging $8.99 a month for this privilege but it will work with the current generation of cell phones. Another company is offering a simpler approach. Primary systems actually will put your door directly on your wireless network but they are targeting large facilities. What is so hard about producing a simple lock that can be accessed over WIFI that I can buy now at Home Depot?

Perhaps the industry is waiting for Near Field Communication, a technology that lets your phone communicate with very nearby devices simply for such things as credit card transactions. This is rumored to be the next big thing in cell phones allowing us to buy things just by waving our phone in front of a merchant’s sensor. This would at least insure that the person trying to open your home’s front door was actually in front of the door at the time.

In summary, I wonder if Steve Jobs was a space 1999 fan? For that matter, was Gerry Anderson a Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle fan since they were talking about similar hand held systems even earlier (1974) in their book, Mote in God’s Eye. If you want to get your hands on one, why not build your own? You can download a Paper Craft model of a ComLock. Either way, I think the Cell Phone will replace your keychain in the near future.

6 comments:

Elena Cambio Pizarro said...

This show was visionary - and cautionary - in so many ways. I still have one of a set of ComLock walkie talkies from when I was a kid.

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