Thomas Paine, an early American philosopher, once said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Although these insightful words were written in reference to the American Revolution, they embody the sufferings of so many people today, due to the proliferation of COVID-19.
In an attempt to address the issue of physical contact with surface-laden infections, manufacturers in the areas of electronic access control and security have sought to create an assortment of contact-free methods whereby the general public can gain access and leave commercial structures, multiple-tenant apartments, office buildings, and more without the fear of contracting this disease.
According to Lisa Corte, director of product management, electronic access control, ASSA ABLOY Opening Solutions, New Haven, Conn., “The need for touch-free access has been accelerated by the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reducing touchpoints at high-volume openings is essential not only to create a safer environment, but also to ensure some level of continuity within our daily lives.”
The security industry has long provided touch-free access by way of a variety of devices capable of identifying users through a unique identifier. One example is the proximity reader. Although the read range is typically 1 to 4 inches, the industry has expanded it using radio frequency (RF) technology so the user can be up to 20 feet away from the reader in some cases.
“Due to pandemic related concerns some companies are re-purposing long-range readers, traditionally used for vehicle gates, etc., to be used with pedestrian doors,” says Greg Peninger, regional sales manager, Rosslare Security Products, Southlake, Texas. “These long range readers paired with an ISO-styled printable card and a door opener can provide completely hands-free entry or exit.”
Biometrics are another choice that fosters a touch-free environment when accessing buildings. Facial recognition and eye-based access are the two most common. Smartphone access, although not new, has seen an increase in use as commercial companies seek to help employees return to work.
One example of a mobile access app designed specifically for access control is ScanPass, manufactured by Connected Technologies of Monument, Colo. “Connected Technologies developed ScanPass Mobile Credential so end users can use their smartphone for contactless, friction-free access control,” says Mike Simon, managing partner, Connected Technologies. “Users simply point their smartphone at a bar code [label] affixed at the door.”
There are other manual options that work well for touch-free access. Using an encrypted wireless system, it’s possible to provide trusted users with a small wireless transmitter that can be kept on their person at all times, such as a wireless key fob.
“An alternative to installing a sensor device that will enable a door to open automatically is to provide each building occupant with a manual activation device that only they will use,” says David Price, vice president of communications and corporate development with Camden Door Controls of Mississauga, ON, Canada.
“Touch-Free” Door Operators
Having a touch-free method of accessing a door does not always address the issue of contact-free ingress and egress from a health standpoint. Many access control professionals believe that automatic door operators are an absolute necessity.
“Low-energy operators are definitely a crucial part of the solution mix,” says Darren Blankenship, vice president vertical sales, dormakaba, Indianapolis, Ind. “However, based upon the function of a building, many other automated and touchless solutions are also available.”
For example, in an airport, you’re likely to see automatic revolving doors, touchless breach control exit lanes, sliding doors and self-boarding lanes that reduce contact and support social distancing. “All of these operate automatically so the user does not have to open them by hand,” Blankenship says.
Brad Sweet, commercial marketing leader with Allegion of Carmel, Ind., agrees. “Automatic operators create a seamless opening. They can be used in secured/locked door situations as well as non-secured openings. We believe this is the best option to create a truly touchless opening.”
Door operators come in two basic types: low-energy and high-energy. The basic difference between them is where high-energy door operators open and close with speed and force, low-energy models close and open relatively slow, giving people more time to enter and leave. They also allow you to open them manually by hand, which is exactly what we do not want people to do. Low-energy models are typically more suitable for access control.
Hands-Free Door Control Expansion
Those who work within physical security have already been introduced to a number of technologies and devices that provide touch-free door control. The touch-free trend has been somewhat slow coming, but this reality changed significantly when COVID-19 began its trek across the globe.
“Touchless access devices have been around for many years and have been extremely sought after as a solution in the healthcare industry,” says Garrett Kaufman, president with Essex Electronics, Carpinteria, Calif. “[We] identified the need for a heavy duty, professional-grade, hands-free switch seven years ago when [we introduced] Hand-E-Wave.”
Nowhere is this as important as ingress and egress. For example, instead of using contact-type push buttons to activate door operators, now we see a new breed of hands-free activation that typically relies on Infrared (IR) proximity or motion sensing.
According to Shane Geringer, president and CEO of Security Door Control, Camarillo, Calif., touch-free access has been a necessity all along in certain applications, like Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance or pharmaceutical facilities.
Touch-Free switches also can be used to control lighting, manual gate controls by a guard or central station operator, as well as an assortment of other applications. In fact, in any use case we look at, where a manual means of on/off control is required, a touch-free switch can be inserted, such as traffic control at crosswalks and manual actuators for revolving doors, to name only two.
Looking forward, Blankenship says, “We know that COVID-19 will be eradicated over time, but the effects on the market psyche and the demand for healthier solutions will remain for the long term.”
ASSA ABLOY’s Corte anticipates requirements for low-touch products to continue as more automation around the door opening is introduced. She says the pandemic has highlighted the importance of proper hardware cleaning techniques. This is especially critical for high security areas that rely on dual-factor authentication and that require some form of contact.