When it comes to high-performance readers, not everyone agrees just what should be included. Traditionally the term meant ruggedized readers such as vandal-, weather- or explosion-resistant units that could perform in extremes.

These days, however, the definition has expanded, for many, to include not just if the reader can perform in such conditions, but how the reader performs in general.

“There are a lot of viewpoints,” says Lester LaPierre, marketing business development manager, Ingersoll Rand Security Technology, Hamilton, Bermuda. “How far can it read? How robust is it? What kind of environments can you put it in? Can it sustain weather? Is the unit potted? Can you use it in harsh environments?”

Yet, as Rick Focke, product manager for Software House – Access Control & Video Systems, Lexington, Mass., points out, times are changing. “It’s tough [to define] these days, because most standard readers can be considered high performance.”

Proximity and contactless smart card readers, for example, are potted and able to perform very well in extreme conditions versus the older magnetic stripe readers, which were vulnerable to weather and other harsh environments. As this becomes less of a concern, other reader features are increasing in importance to users, expanding the “high performance” definition to include things such as read range, information security (or encryption), and even throughput.

This prototype from Secura Key helps solve the issue of making RF readers vandal resistant while still getting a good read range.

Durable Readers

When speaking of traditional “ruggedized” readers, the two most well-known durability issues are weather and vandal resistance. “Any perimeter installation will demand a potted reader,” LaPierre says. “Potting totally encases electronics. It’s great for harsh outdoor environments. The [outer] case might get marred, but the inner electronics are very, very durable.” Readers such as Ingersoll Rand’s operate from -31F to +151 F.

“It is more the norm today that readers have some weather resistance by default,” says Damon Dageenakis, HID Global product manager, reader technology, Irvine, Calif. “That’s something we put into every one of our readers so they can be put outside in rain, dust and other environments.”

Mark Goldstein, senior product manager, Software House – Access Control & Video Systems, agrees. “With our standard line, we do consider them high performance, given that their environmental specs are pretty rugged,” he says. “They are a potted, one-piece design.”

Probably the biggest physical performance issue readers have these days is resistance to vandalism. Yet, for modern readers, the very thing that makes them more secure can also render them less effective, hindering read range and delivering poor performance.

“Vandal resistance is in a category by itself,” Dageenakis says. “You are not generally going to put vandal-resistant readers on anything but external doors. They are often made out of metal and are more expensive.”

Bob Holland, marketing manager for Secura Key, Chatsworth, Calif., adds, “If you have a building with 100 readers, you may only need one or two vandal-resistant ones on the outside. But where you have entrances to residential buildings in downtown environments, readers in remote areas where there is not a lot of supervision, or any place where vandals could easily access these readers, you have a need for vandal-resistant readers.

“The problem is that vandal-resistant readers are often made out of stainless steel or other metal. Radio waves can’t pass through metal. There are a couple of different ways you can make a vandal- resistant reader out of metal but still be able to transmit RF.”

Secura Key has one reader in prototype designed to address this issue, he says. “Two squares in stainless steel are surrounded by a tiny separation that is plastic. We actually use the stainless steel pieces as parts of the antenna and get a really good read range.”

Another way to provide vandal-resistance without affecting read range is with proper planning and installation, Goldstein says. “There are housings on the market that will give you an extra level of protection,” he says. “Or, with prox or smart card, you can actually install it behind the drywall; just have some visual indication of where it is.”

As with anything else, a lot of vandal resistance is simply being proactive, he adds. “Mount with security screws; put it in locations that aren’t potentials for vandalism if possible; use conduit for wiring; make sure you have tamper switches that will detect whether a device has been jimmied or removed.”

Edge devices such as the HID Edge-Reader ERW400 bring more intelligence out to the door, expanding functionality in an easy-to-install format.

High-Functioning Readers

In an increasingly techno-savvy world, the very definition of “high performance” may be changing to include new definitions of functionality.

“Performance can also be defined as throughput, as well as read distance,” Focke says. When it comes to functionality, however, newer technologies do have some performance challenges, Goldstein adds.

“With RFID readers in particular, the issue is the kind of environment they are putting the reader into,” he says. “So much of people’s expectations of what you are able to do with a long-range reader has to be tempered with the reality of the environmental situation. An elevator shaft or metal plating or any kind of electrical device around the field and you will see a change in performance.”

Another performance factor increasing in importance is encryption, Focke adds. “It’s a free read on proximity. But with smart cards, you can have encryption that protects the transmission in the open air. That could be considered a high performance card reader. It’s all in how you define performance.”

For these types of readers, the high performance standard is being set by the government, which is calling for the use of smart cards at government and military sites. This can pose a problem in some environments.

“The federal standard for transportation workers (TWIC – Transportation Worker’s Identification Card) calls for applications in ports,” Goldstein says. “With the latest standard, they want two levels of validation: contactless smart card and magnetic stripe. That could be tough to achieve in a seaport environment. TWIC is one of those areas where demand for harsh-environment, high-performance readers is going to force manufacturers to come up with something.

Another result of more “intelligent” readers affects both how they perform and how they are installed, Dageenakis adds.

“High-performance readers will adapt as the industry moves toward more security and expanded functionality,” he says. “Door readers typically do not make decisions at the door. But a lot of additional functionality, like door logic, is being pushed out to the edge of the door — ‘edge devices.’ High- performance readers will morph from just readers to readers and panels and more. And they will combine all those things into one, easily installable form.”

Many biometric readers have special enclosures available to make them usable in a variety of outdoor applications.

Maximum Performance:
For Biometric Readers, Image is Everything

With their growing popularity in the access control arena, biometrics face many of the same physical and performance-related challenges as card readers. But biometrics are a unique entity, with their own set of challenges and solutions.

“I think ‘high performance’ for biometrics is something that works in any condition, with any people,” says Bill Spence, vice president of transaction systems for Lumidigm, a fingerprint reader company based in Albuquerque, N.M. “When you talk about biometrics, it’s not just that it has to work with a card. With biometrics you not only have to work in any environment, you also have to work with any kind of people. Biometrics is a human reader.”

The fundamental goal for any biometrics reader, operationally, is to capture the best image to identify the person quickly, he adds.

Physically, some biometric readers are challenged in that goal by weather conditions. Special housings or other physical ruggedizing is often necessary in order to make them fit for harsher environments.

“On our biometric line, we have different housings designed for harsh environments,” Lester LaPierre, marketing business development manager, Ingersoll Rand Security Technology, Hamilton, Bermuda, says of their hand geometry readers.

Ingersoll Rand offers an enclosure for harsher environments, and an integrated reader option to warm the platform where the hand is placed.

Weather shields are a common thread for many biometric readers. Identica Holdings, Tampa, Fla., makes a vascular pattern reader, which measures the veins below the surface of the hand.

“The product will work both inside and outside,” says Terry Wheeler, COO and president of Identica Holdings. “Outside it uses a weather shield. This is an automated enclosure that our product goes in.”

This is also the case with Bioscrypt’s 3-D facial recognition product. “When we are talking about how rugged the reader itself is, it’s more of a materials issue,” says Matthew Bogart, vice president of marketing at Bioscrypt, Sunnyvale, Calif. “It can be used outside, but typically that requires some type of housing to help with the elements.”

For others, the technology itself helps durability and performance. “We actually look beneath the skin to see the identical internal fingerprint,” Spence says. “We are not affected by water, which would wash away fingerprints on a conventional fingerprint biometric application. So it can be used easily outdoors. It is impervious to dirt and not dependent on pressure.”

Readers such as this one from Lumidigm look beneath the surface of the skin, making good image capture possible in all sorts of conditions.

However, when it comes to biometrics, physical performance is about more than where it can operate. It’s about image capture and throughput. “The value proposition for biometrics is not only that it can be built with those same types of materials, but that throughput is typically quicker than when you have to stop and punch in a number to get through a door,” Bogart says.

Biometrics achieves fast throughput by capturing an image quickly and accurately, Bogart adds. “One of the things people are looking for in high performance is throughput. How quickly can people walk through? Another is the ability to do the match so there is not an error.”

High security has also long been a hallmark of biometric use, and that is still the case, particularly in the government sector. “HSPD-12 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12) is a huge mandate,” Bogart says. “Every building in the U.S. government will need a biometric reader for access.”

Spence agrees. “High performance can mean extremely high levels of security,” he says. “In those environments you have to look at the ability of the device to balance security and reliability. In that case you need a product, or reader, that is very good at getting a good image every time.”

Ultimately, it comes down to what type of performance is needed for the installation. “Particularly for biometrics, one has to look at what performance metric is most important,” Spence says. “Is it high security? Is it high throughput? Is it the ability to work outside? The bottom line of every single one of those high performance aspects is the ability to get a good image. Image is everything. If you get a good image to start with, you can do a good job of getting verification.”