I can barely remember the dark ages - aka, the time before smartphones. I got my first cell phone at only 14, but there was certainly nothing “smart” about it. Upon receiving my learner’s permit (yep, you can drive at 14 in South Dakota!), my parents reluctantly outfitted me with a brick of a cell phone that I was to use for emergencies only. I didn’t have texting or data, and my “phonebook” was limited to just 250 contacts, but I could call someone if I went in the ditch on a wintry day. I remember being blown away by the phone’s speed dial feature and customizable home page banner.

Now, I have a robot assistant at my fingertips: my iPhone can give me an instant weather forecast, track my steps, send video messages, and answer pretty much any question I can think of about the world. Plus, with the connected devices in my home synced to my smartphone, I can check the status of my laundry, adjust the thermostat, and see who’s at the door right from my desk at work. This isn’t the Jetsons - this is real life in 2018.

Internet of things (IoT) technology has slowly but surely been moving into self storage, and the change is opening up exciting new opportunities for both owners and renters. In my last interview with the folks at Janus, we talked about the future of self storage development and the influence of robotics and automated technology on the industry. With the release of their latest ‘smart’ storage units, 2018 is shaping up to be another innovative year for self storage tech. I couldn’t wait to chat with them to get the details on the futuristic development.

In this blog post, we get into the nitty gritty on topics like access control, IoT technology, and unmanned facilities with Terry Bagley, President of the Door Entry and Facility Automation Division, and Christine DeBord, Director of Marketing, at Janus International Group. Check out the full interview below!

storEDGE: So what are ‘smart’ storage units?

Bagley: Smart storage units are the latest technology from Janus. We’re calling it our SecurGuard® Smart Entry System. In a nutshell, the system is a wireless, cloud-based digital key management system. It is a new technology powered by Noke that allows tenants entry to a facility using a smartphone or a bluetooth key fob, and it works for all the different entry points you have in self storage - from the gate to the man door to the elevator, and now, the storage unit as well.

storEDGE: We actually wrote a blog post about Noke’s bluetooth locks a couple of years ago. How did that partnership happen?

Bagley: So I met the founder and CEO of Noke, David Gengler, about two years ago, as well. We became very interested when we saw what they were doing with their bluetooth padlock technology, and, after some preliminary discussions, everything kind of clicked. We had the opportunity to create a solution that was really exciting and different and able to provide capabilities that hadn’t been seen in the self storage industry together with Noke.

storEDGE: So what opportunities do smart storage units open up for self storage owners?

DeBord: For owners and operators, they’re getting a heightened level of security - it’s security that is down to the unit level and all of the data is being aggregated and stored in a cloud-based system. It opens up a lot of possibilities for remote management and high-level views of security across owners’ full portfolios. In addition to bluetooth unit controllers that don’t require padlocks, there are also motion sensors both inside and outside of the unit.

 

Bagley: The SecurGuard unit controllers, secured by Noke, are installed to the right of each unit’s door. Each controller features a water resistant metal and hardened plastic faceplate that contains LED lights, motion and touch sensors, and speaker and bluetooth low-energy technology. The unit controller is connected to a SecurGuard interior lock and each of these has a motion sensor both on the inside and outside of the unit. We’re using infrared-based technology that is sensitive to changes in temperature. So if you had somebody come through a partition wall or cut a hole through a back wall or came over the mesh into the unit next door, the motion sensors would recognize an immediate temperature change and send a notification to the owner that there is motion going on inside of the unit.

DeBord: So that gives owners and operators a chance to immediately see if someone is on the property that shouldn’t be. You can’t fool a motion detector. You’ll start to set off alerts if it’s after hours and somebody comes in or breaks into a unit, say by cutting the mesh and crawling in over the top. With a not-so-smart storage unit in a traditional access control system, you’d have no way of knowing that. You would have no way of knowing immediately if people are sleeping in their units, but now you do.

The new SecurGuard app and smart storage units in action.

storEDGE: Wow, that’s pretty high-tech. That’s like Mission: Impossible, secret agent-style stuff.

Bagley: It really is. Nobody has done this before, and while certainly there are robberies and thefts that occur by defeating the roll-up door or tailgating in through the gate that security systems are addressing, a lot of times thefts can occur by other tenants simply coming in by cutting through the side walls or partition walls over the mesh. Even with unit alarms, if you’re not going through that front door, there’s nothing monitoring it and you can defeat the alarm. It can all occur and nobody knows the difference until the tenant comes in to get their stuff and it’s all gone.

Another high-tech feature of the smart storage units is the way we power the system with battery technology used by Tesla. Our system has the capability to be hybrid battery powered or fully battery powered, and the battery inside that is powering the SecurGuard unit controller, lock, and motion sensor is the same battery that’s used in the Tesla Model S car.

DeBord: I think all of the high tech features really speak to the innovation at both Janus and Noke in finding solutions that have been glaringly missing in self storage access control. And the way it’s powered is just another way that it’s revolutionary for the industry.

A Tesla battery charging station by the ocean.

storEDGE: What kind of possibilities do smart storage units open up for unmanned facilities?

Bagley: Obviously the biggest benefit to unmanned facilities is the enhanced security. But our smart storage units also provide automated overlocking and release, so it allows remote managers to be much more efficient about running their facility. They’re not having to have someone take the time to do all the overlocking and then take the locks off, and they’re avoiding all of the mistakes that occur in manual overlocking. But most importantly, it’s providing the ultimate level of convenience to their tenants. Now, their tenants don’t have to worry about forgetting their gate code and they can use their smartphone app to get into the gate or the man door. The smart storage units are also collecting data for owners and storing it for them on the cloud, like when did the tenant visit, how long were they there, how many units did they visit, and what time of day. So now there’s a lot of data that can be collected and utilized to know more about what’s going on at your facility and with each of your tenants. And owners can slice and dice that how they see fit for use in predictive analytics. So there’s lot of data that can now be collected and be used to know more about what’s going on at your facility and with each of your tenants. An example of that might be, you’ve got somebody that moved in, they haven’t been to the unit for six to nine months, and then all of a sudden on a weekend you get a whole bunch of activity. They come to the unit a bunch of times. Ultimately, that may be predictive that the tenant is looking to move out. So, there’d be the opportunity to maybe push a “thanks for your business - here’s a discount for the next month” type of promotion to that tenant, or plan to get a new tenant in at a more profitable rate.

storEDGE: How do you predict smart storage units will affect the future of self storage?

Bagley: One of the capabilities of smart storage units is what we’re calling digital key sharing. Since there’s no more physical key, you now have a digital key, and if you’re the tenant that rented the unit, you can determine how you want the digital key to be shared. So you can share a unique, digital key with your spouse, your kids, your employees, a moving company, valet storage that is picked up, stored, and delivered back to the consumer, or even a service like Taskrabbit. You can also revoke that digital key immediately for temporary access, or in the event that an employee leaves your business, they’ll no longer have access to the facility and your units. And we think that’s huge because it provides additional convenience for the renter and it gives the owner more information on who is accessing the facility.

DeBord: Digital key sharing is the way we’re seeing things move - it’s kind of the Uberisation of self storage. And it just opens up a lot of opportunities for facilities to offer services like pickup, delivery, and moving services. Tenants already use bluetooth all over their homes. This technology is really intuitive to self storage renters already, and it’s already in the home security world, so bringing it into self storage is a natural evolution.

storEDGE: So, say someone rents a smart unit on a storage facility website through our storEDGE online rental tools. How does the process go from there?

Bagley: Our smart storage units integrate with the storEDGE facility management software backend via storEDGE’s API, which is very robust, and we pull in data such as the unique identifier for the unit and for the tenant, tenant status, email address, and phone number. Once we know that a new renter is in the system, we kick out a text message to them on their smartphone with a verification code and a link to download the SecurGuard app, which is available on both Apple and Android phones. They’ll open up the app and it will ask them to enter the verification code and create a password. At that point, the SecurGuard system knows what unit they’re assigned to based on the information we’re pulling over from storEDGE, and they’re able to access their unit right away. When they get to the facility, they’ll be presented with an icon on their smartphone app that looks like a gate that will be greyed out in color until they get close enough in proximity to their unit so the bluetooth radios are able to talk to each other. Then, the gate icon fills in with a dark black highlight, the user taps the icon, and the lock unlocks. And then they can get into their unit. Now, let’s say it’s a few months later and they’re late on rent, so they’re overlocked. If they try to enter the facility while overlocked, they will get a pop-up in their smart phone app that they are overlocked and need to make a payment to obtain access. There is a payment button available for them to tap to immediately make a payment - which updates their status and gives them access to the facility.

A screenshot from the new SecurGuard app.

storEDGE: When you read about ‘smart’ devices and IoT technology online, sometimes journalists will describe IoT as a trend. Is it fair to call smart storage units a trend or are they here to stay?

Bagley: I don’t think it is a trend, but I think it will evolve. There are some really inherent strengths in terms of bluetooth technology, but it’s technology, right? It’s going to be iterative and it’s going to have advancements. I think we should expect that we’ll continue to have enhancements in terms of what smart storage units can do, and ultimately there may be other communication technologies besides bluetooth that end up having new and better capabilities, but for today, it’s bluetooth. And bluetooth has three major benefits for us: one, it’s ubiquitous. Anyone who has a smartphone today has bluetooth. Second, we’re using bluetooth technology to provide an additional security element, because the renter has to be in close proximity to the unit controller to unlock it. And third, we’re using bluetooth technology to actually do what’s called bluetooth mesh, which is similar to a low bandwidth wi-fi solution at the storage facility that sends all activity that occurs to the cloud - entries, exits, opens and closes, motion, and all of that. So each of these bluetooth radios have the ability to talk to each other, called hopping, so you can have the data ‘hop’ from one unit controller to another unit controller to ultimately reach a gateway that is connected to the internet. From there, that data can be passed up to the cloud that way and accessed from anywhere in the world. If an owner or operator wanted to open a smart unit remotely, they could do that using the bluetooth mesh technology from anywhere in the world. Right now we’re using the best technology we have available: cellular technology to authenticate the digital key code, bluetooth to do the entry, and bluetooth mesh to pass the data and information to the cloud. Bluetooth is also very low energy - it doesn’t use a lot of power and you can actually put it to sleep, so that extends the life of our Tesla batteries. It’s a technology with a lot of potential, and at Janus we’re excited to see where smart storage units can take the industry.

We couldn’t agree more! At storEDGE, we love technology and we’re thrilled to be working alongside builders and owners to shape the self storage businesses of tomorrow.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this article, you may also like: Interview: Talking tech and self storage buildings with Janus International Group, Creative ways to use two-way texting, and 10 Federal achieves record leasing milestone at new fully automated facility.