Keep an eye out for Z-wave locks that work with Walmart’s new hub. Image courtesy of Walmart.

When it comes to the smart home, maybe the partnership with Google isn’t enough for Walmart anymore. According to an FCC filing, the retailer has submitted an application for a Wi-Fi-to-Z-wave bridge product that links to a Z-wave garage door opener. The application was filed by Project Franklin LLC on behalf of Walmart. So what is this device and what is Project Franklin?

Answering the first question is relatively easy. According to the FCC filing, the device is a Wi-Fi bridge that will connect to a Nortek Z-wave-enabled garage door opener. What’s interesting is the user manual for the product states that the product should be installed professionally, and offers a phone number to call if there are issues. The number dials Walmart’s InHome customer care line, which is Walmart’s grocery delivery service.

The image of the Walmart hub taken from the FCC filing.

Based on the filing and the June announcement of Walmart’s plans to use some kind of smart tech to provide in-home grocery delivery, my hunch is that this bridge will enable a garage door opener (and maybe a lock, although that isn’t mentioned) that will open for food deliveries. Walmart’s June announcement says the InHome service will be rolling out in the fall to Kansas City, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Vero Beach, Florida. The release also says:

At the time of delivery, associates will use smart entry technology and a proprietary, wearable camera to access the customer’s home – allowing customers to control access into their homes and giving them the ability to watch the deliveries remotely.

So FCC watchers should keep an eye out for a wearable camera and a Z-wave lock.

The bigger question is what is Project Franklin? My former colleague Mike Wolf over at The Spoon believes it will be Walmart’s ticket into a smart home data collection via a few consumer devices. The idea being that Project Franklin may be somewhat like Alexa is for Amazon when it comes to nabbing consumer data. From his post:

I should say here that by suggesting Franklin could be an Alexa-ish platform for home commerce, I am not suggesting it will be a voice assistant or interface. In fact, while it could be, I don’t expect it has to to be.

Instead, I suspect it will be more like Alexa in a meta-sense, in that it will provide customers value through a product that makes their life easier (“hey, I can use my voice to get information, control my smart home or order things!”), but the larger benefit of Alexa for Amazon (and its brand partners) is all the data gathered and the ability for consumers to order products completely friction-free. This is something Walmart currently doesn’t have while Amazon (and Google) does.

What is emerging so far doesn’t look like a digital assistant. It looks like Amazon’s Key product, which uses pre-certified door locks, a camera and Amazon delivery drivers who can bring packages into the home. Amazon has signed partnership deals with Chamberlain, Yale, Schlage, and others to build out the Key program. Amazon Key doesn’t need Alexa to work, but it does require an Amazon app installed on your phone.

Even if it’s not Alexa, Walmart is clearly building a set of services to make life easier for the consumer. In the June press release, it hints at allowing customers to return products from their home using the InHome delivery service.  Rather than getting more customer data, it looks like this particular effort is around making the acquisition of goods from Walmart as seamless as possible.