Access control keypads have been able to not only keep up with the changing technological times, but are actually considered an important part of a successful high-security design today. Whether they are standalone, combination readers, wireless, outdoors or indoors, keypads are experiencing a resurgence in popularity. And the technology behind them is making them look sleeker and function smarter.

“For access control, keypads are being used in combination with cards and, more often than not, a smart card where the PIN is stored on the card itself — not on the panel,” says Dave Adams, senior product marketing manager, HID Global, Irvine, Calif. “Keypads help ensure privacy and give a better assurance of the identity of the person holding the card.”

Where high-end security is not the goal, keypads still have a place, says David Malen, general manager, Camden Door Controls Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “They are more of a convenience, safety and protection device. We see a lot of applications for them in lower security environments such as nursing homes, daycare facilities and back room storage areas.

“We see two trends for keypads right now,” he adds. “One is the high-end integration of multiple technologies and the other is the modernization of the stand-alone keypad.”


One such modernization of keypads is wireless functionality.

“One thing we are working on is wireless battery-powered keypads,” Malen describes. “We are specializing in the 900 MHz spread spectrum technology, which transmits over three frequency ranges. This is a new radio frequency we have brought to our automatic door market to solve problems they have experienced for years. Applying it to keypads has obvious benefits, such as eliminating time spent running power and wires and such.”

Alarm Lock, a division of Napco, Amityville, N.Y., was due to release a wireless keypad last fall (as of this writing). “It is a standalone keypad with all of the intelligence and decision-making at the keypad itself, but communicates programming-wise via wireless over 900 MHz radio,” relates Bob Swoope, vice president of sales. “The main benefit of the wireless keypad is the ability to program, receive audio logs and do global commands without having to go to the door and also not having to run wires back to a central panel.”

Fully wireless keypads require a lot of two-way information, says Mark Hillenburg, product architect, DMP, Springfield, Mo. DMP is also in the process of developing two wireless keypads.

“With a keypad you are sending quite a bit more information wirelessly back from the access control or intrusion panel. The benefit is that wireless devices can now do more than just the door contact. Fully wireless keypads also make it quite a bit easier to install than traditional keypads.”

One of DMP’s wireless keypads will feature a graphic touch screen, which is another emerging trend in keypads. “That is where everything is heading: a reader with a graphic screen that presents the buttons at the appropriate time, basically like an iPhone,” Hillenburg describes.

Graphic touch screens or capacitive screens, allow for additional messaging functions to be integrated with the keypad.

“We are seeing a lot of capacitive LCD technology being put into a combination keypad/display device,” Adams acknolwedges. “It offers much more functionality. The same keypad can be used for messaging, multi-purposing the keypad.

“The ability to deliver information to an access control user as they go about their business is very interesting. They might present their card or enter their PIN and be told they have a meeting in 15 minutes. Capacitive LCD technology allows keypads to serve as the messaging system,” Adams describes.

Many of the touch-screen keypads combine both access and intrusion features, such as one from Risco Group, Melville, N.Y.

“New technology allows us to utilize a capacitive sense technology,” says Bob Barry, vice president of integration sales and support, Risco Group. That eliminates a lot of physical material needed to create a keypad. We get rid of tactile buttons and components with this technology because it is looking for a change of state of capacitance, or the presenting of a finger. All this takes place within three-tenths of a second. A further benefit is that this technology reduces and minimizes those pieces and components, which lowers cost.”

Messaging also can be accomplished using voice, as is the case with the keypad from Mobotix Corp., New York, N.Y. Designed for high-end homeowners or small to medium-sized businesses, the keypad system is easy to use and install, says Steve Gorski, general manager Americas, Mobotix.

“It is a modular system. One of the components it ships with is a wire that allows integrators to run Ethernet over a standard two-wire cable. Using a wire adaptor they can wire the device up to a standard door, which is beneficial, particularly in older homes.”

Essex Electronics, Carpinteria, Calif., has focused on adding functionality to its rugged keypads. “We have increased functionality by being able to integrate control into the keypad,” says Gregg Stokely, sales manager. “We can speak Wiegand, ASCII, we can interface to a lot of different controls. We also have included functions where the keypad is literally a minor control device. It can talk to the door controller, but also talk to the lights and turn on functions.”

Other electronic developments are either starting out or coming from the high-security or government sector.

“On the advanced end we are starting to see credentials coming out that have displays on them that will give you a one-time password that you need to read off the credential and enter it in,” Adams says. “Random PIN generators are contained within the card body itself. That is pretty advanced, but it is an early emerging trend in physical access.”

Another technology that has been around in government and high-security applications for many years has recently become available to other manufacturers and OEMs after the patent ran out. ScramblePad, originally developed by Hirsch Electronics, Santa Ana, Calif., is now available from other manufacturers, including PCSC, says Brian Lyle, director of sales. The ScramblePad scrambles the numbers every time, so the numbers are never located in the same place (so someone couldn’t steal a PIN by watching which buttons are pushed). “ScramblePad could definitely open up some different markets,” he says.


Electronic advances are also leading to physical changes in keypads, particularly in the area of aesthetics, Barry says.

“The multiple componentry, resistors [and] capacitors are all put on a single solid-state chip now. By doing that, you have a single chip occupying a fraction of the space necessary to populate the printed circuit board. So now we can provide both access and intrusion control all in a nice, classy LCD touch screen interface. People don’t want to see the hard technology that goes into access control anymore. They want it blended into the background,” Barry believes.

New keypads are more than just “pretty,” Lyle says. “The newer style of readers includes touchpads that go on door frame mullions. The physical style is becoming more ergonomic for the actual install. The old style touchpad was a standard 4 by 4. Newer models are helping integrators sell keypads because they are more ergonomic and physically acceptable.”

This is the case with Mobotix, Gorski says. “It is a small device with three buttons on top to leave a message, ring a doorbell, etc, then the keypad below. It is very sleek and modern in design.”

On the other end of the physical spectrum, however, is the ruggedized, vandal- and weather-resistant keypad, ideal for outdoor applications (in which the newer LCD touchpads cannot yet function).

Some manufacturers, such as HID and Alarm Lock, accomplish this by potting the reader.

“We use a two-part process,” Adams says. “The printed circuit boards inside have weather-resistant coating. Then to put the icing on the cake we pot the whole reader. During the manufacturing process we pour it into a form and envelop the whole thing, making it a solid brick, impervious to moisture and vapor.

“Choosing the right materials for the pushbuttons is also important for rugged use. Mechanical key pushbuttons last a lot longer than membrane push buttons,” he states.

Camden accomplishes ruggedizing by eliminating buttons altogether. “We are launching a line of keypads designed to be very durable with thicker faceplates and military-grade keypads,” Malen says. “There are no moving parts. The keypad is solid aluminum with sensors under the number pads that trigger the device.”

Essex also uses that technology in its stainless-steel rugged readers. The technology behind it, called Piezo, actually uses charged quartz crystal underneath, Stokely says. “The technology we use within the sensor is Piezo electric technology. When you push a button, you are not pushing a switch or contact or membrane. You are actually touching a crystal. The Piezo elements have properties that when you bend them just a little bit it creates a small charge. When it senses that charge it knows someone is pushing a button. These types of keypads can last literally billions of cycles.”

Whichever style of keypad a client wants or needs, the consensus is that keypads are not only here to stay, but they are an indispensable part of many access control systems.

“They are the one way you can ask a user what they know,” Adams explains. “It could be done through voice but there are too many variables. Keypads are a well-known technology. End users are familiar with how to use them and they are here to stay as we rise to the new level of authentication that requires us to make sure the person knows something secret [the PIN].”

And the next generation of keypads will provide some new and exciting ways of providing that information, and getting some back.


Smart Phone as a Keypad?

The emergence of LCD or capacitive screen keypads begs the question: Will it be long before the smart phone is used as a remote (or even actual) keypad?

“We are seeing a big trend towards the use of smart phones and other devices such as the iPad and homeowners starting to use them to control things through their access control or intrusion system,” says Steve Gorski, general manager Americas, Mobotix. “We can use an iPad to open the door now. Maybe at some point it could be used as a keypad. We can do it the other way already, so it is not far off that it will be reversed.”

Mark Hillenburg, product architect at DMP, agrees.

“Certainly you could use the phone as a keypad via Bluetooth. On the intrusion side we have complete control of the panel with any cell phone. We can arm and disarm. We have a number of dealers that sell small systems where they don’t have a keypad and completely control it with the phone. I think [access control] will also move in that direction. There is a limitation now in terms of how pervasive the market is for smart phones. It would require an app, whereas the way we do it now only requires text messaging. Today I don’t have the ability to text a system and say ‘Open this door,’ but it could be done. I would say in the next year or two the world is going to move toward the iPad or smart phone as their keypad. Then everything you come in contact with will be touch screen graphics.”