Kodai Kawase, President of Photosynth Inc.
Photosynth Inc., founded just as recently as September 2014, is a firm attracting big attentions in the field of IoT. The limelight is Akerun, the world’s first retrofitting-type smart lock robot replacing door keys with smartphones (*1), which necessitates no installation works. We interviewed President Kodai Kawase about the product potentials.
*Note 1: Akerun Remote launched in July, 2015 is 3G-enabled and hence other devices such as PCs and tablets also can work.
Photo: Look of Akerun mounted to cover the inside thumb turn
Installation of Akerun is very easy. Firstly, a dedicated application installed in a smartphone examines if Akerun can be mounted to the door in question (about 80% should be mountable). You purchase it and only have to attach the product so that it fully covers the thumb turn (*2) inside the door. Then the door can be locked and unlocked by a smartphone instead of an original key. It can be applied to rental homes as it attaches with a special adhesive tape which allows repeated mounting and unmounting.
If that is all, keys are only replaced with smartphones, but what is special about Akerun is it records a lock/unlock history owners can monitor with smartphones. Also possible is other family members, friends or office workers could use their smartphones as keys if the owner does such settings on his/her smartphone. Needless to say, no physical spare keys are needed.
“As such, Akerun can be used in various scenes. Examples include management of vacancies and potential customers’ unattended property previews in the real estate industry, efficient uses of unmanned rental spaces or shared offices, monitoring children’s/seniors’ safe returns to home and dual-use as keys and timecards for office/shop employees.”
*Note 2: A rotatable tab locking/unlocking a door by pushing the deadbolt into the door frame hole.
Photo: With a certificate of the Good Design Award
“The idea of Akerun was born from a chat at a drinking party with founding members of Photosynth. We started to make a prototype replacing a key with a device using a smartphone, triggered by a talk ‘Keys associate risks of losing and bothersome is handing them to others. I don’t like them.’ Then this attempt was picked as a topic by the Nikkei Newspaper in July 2014 and we were rushed by many inquiries. Potentials of the product drove us to start our firm in September 2014 with 6 members including myself.”
Akerun was launched for sale in March 2015. It won the 2015 Good Design Award in September for its offering the new value of sharing and managing keys online and for its good design as well. The product has since been making progress, and we in November launched Akerun Touch which can lock/unlock by just holding it over locks without booting application.
“Furthermore, we launched in December Akerun Entrance which opens and closes auto doors of offices or condo entrances with smartphones not held over them but just kept in bags or pockets. Its sales targets include condo management firms and shop facility managers, with an estimated market size of some \24 billion. We aim to sell for 6,000 doors in 3 years.”
Photo: “Akerun is kept updated day by day. We will also challenge global markets,” President Kawase emphasizes.
Photosynth now employs 15 people with the average age at 29. Headed by President Kawase, young engineers with high technological capabilities and ambition are freely exchanging their opinions regardless of their positions and vigorously working on product development every day, he says.
“It would have been impossible for our business to expand this much without advices and cooperation from many local factory engineers with superb technologies, craftspeople, ex-workers at large manufacturers with rich know-how, entrepreneurs and investors. I truly feel Tokyo is dense with such “people worth meeting.” We have also been blessed with those who understand us, including companies that provided financial supports at our start. From this aspect, we believe Akerun is a product destined to be born in Tokyo.
At the same time, however, it should also be a fact we are to face intense competition. But we believe we can grow more as long as we achieve our goals. In addition, synergies with successful partner companies and creators will lead to more opportunities for our further leap.”
Just for a reference, Photosynth is the first firm graduating from the Start-Up Innovator (SUI) Program thanks to financial aids from multiple enterprises. The Program, which used to support us, is backed by New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).
The Program is an initiative launched by METI and NEDO in April 2014 backed by the nation’s supports with an aim to bring up global mega-ventures in 10 years, which is in line with Abe administration’s growth strategies. 14 companies were selected out of 420 applicants. This suggests the criteria for selection are strict, and therefore Photosynth is quite promising.
“With our slogan ‘Build Successful Experiences into the Future with Monozukuri (Manufacturing) for Connecting’ in mind, I will challenge global markets through keeping creating our superior products including Akerun in the field of IoT.”