San Diego (CA) – Combination locks are neither geeky nor high-tech, but a former Vice President of Apple Computer wants to change that with his word spelling lock. At first glance, Todd Basche’s WordLock appears to be just a lock with letters replacing the numbers. However, inventor told us that some heavy duty computing power was required to maximize the combinations while eliminating the “bad words”.
We spied the WordLock at the Travel Goods Show in San Diego last weekend. The lock comes in all manner of sizes from small TSA travel locks to larger padlocks and bicycle locks. The basic premise here is that words are much easier to remember than number locks. “Put a regular lock down and you’ll forget the combination in a few months, put ours down and you’ll still remember it after several years,” said Basche.
But wouldn’t you think that such a product was patented before? Letter locks have been patented, but it is the classic case of “if you would have only gone one step further”. Basche did discover letter combination locks during his patent searches, but the locks simply replaced the letters on regular circular lock – basically the As to Zs are arranged in a circle. Basche told us, “No one took the extra step to make them spell out words from left to right or top bottom, also imagine how huge that lock would be?”
Some words, notably the popular curse words, cannot be spelled out in the WordLock. Basche developed a computer algorithm that filtered out these words, while maximizing the available regular words. Of course, he couldn’t eliminate all the curse words because there was an issue of diminishing returns. “At some point you can’t go further because you eliminate swaths of available words, but at least we got rid of the main ones,” said inventor.
Making a computer algorithm to filter out words is definitely a geeky way of reinventing old technology, but that wasn’t a big deal for Basche because he was in the high tech business for years. He did a stint at Sun and went on to become Apple Computer’s Vice President of Applications in charge of iTunes and other programs.
But what would drive someone to give up a cushy job at Apple? “There’s little competition. Locks are a $3 billion a year industry and there hasn’t been any innovation since the 1800s.”