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Open door policy

Interest in no-touch and low-touch access control has piqued as end users attempt to keep COVID-19 at bay


August 26, 2020
By Neil Sutton
Image courtesy Invixium

Two codes of conduct seem to trump all others in public spaces today: wear a mask and stay six feet away from everyone outside of your social bubble.

Another rule that may go unspoken but is now deeply embedded in our collective common sense is, don’t touch any-thing you don’t have to. The access control world has been moving towards touchless solutions for years now but there is a new urgency to get those solutions into the market as institutions aim to make their facilities as people-friendly, and virus-unfriendly, as they can.

It didn’t take long after the COVID-19 pandemic broke for the demand to kick in, says Darren Blankenship, assistant vice-president, vertical market development, dormakaba.

“Yes, there has been a dramatic increase in inquiries for touchless, anti-microbial and any other solutions that can mitigate a virus or bacterial transmission. We are reacting to that,” says Blankenship. The company launched what Blankenship calls a touchless project in late April/early May, adding “a tremendous amount of emphasis” on touchless and antimicrobial offerings.

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Dormakaba’s portfolio covers a wide range of access control solutions — including everything from door hardware to electronic access systems to pedestrian traffic management solutions, such as gates and turnstiles through the company’s Alvarado division. All are now being channeled into helping end users address virus mitigation, says Blankenship.

David Price, vice-president of communications and corporate development at Toronto-based Camden Door Controls, says his company is “back-ordered on touchless switches, like everyone is. We’re ramping up production volumes to get in front of it as quickly as possible.”

Price says there has been a “quantum leap” in demand for touchless products and every new installation project the company is involved in is now specified with touchless switches.

Who’s buying?

As expected, the appeal of these types of products is broad. The ubiquity of the pandemic means every organization in every country is affected in some capacity, but there are some markets whose need may be greater than others right now. Senior living facilities are expressing a need for touchless solutions, indicates Blankenship, as are health-care institutions.

Likewise, property managers are looking for appropriate access control solutions in build-ing common areas and washroom facilities, he notes. The hospitality industry also has a vested interest.

“Hotels are trying to open up again but they also have to build that confidence within their guests that they’re doing everything they can to mitigate [virus] transmission,” says Blankenship.

Another major market adopter, he says, is the education sector.

Price agrees, adding that some of the largest projects Camden is working on are post-sec-ondary institutions. “We are working with large universities that are looking to change literally thousands of switches over from manual push-buttons to wave-to-open or wave-to-exit type switches,” he says.

Low touch

Not every access control solution can be completely hands-free, but there are solutions that place a premium on low-touch to minimize their human impact or employ an antimicrobial coating or treatment that may limit the surface lifespan of the virus.

Andrew Adams, associate vice-president of product management, dormakaba, says the materials door products are made from have come under increased scrutiny. “We’ve seen the third-party documentation that’s out there in terms of which material can kill COVID-19 the fastest,” he says. “We’re exploring all options. If you have to touch the device, how can we ensure that our devices are helping in a proactive nature, establishing a clean facility.”

Price says Camden is also investigating the most effective materials to deter the spread of viruses. “We’re looking at both the antimicrobial sprays and applications, as well as copper alloy finishes that can reduce the lifespan of a virus from 72 hours to much less,” he says.

One option is to deploy switches that can be activated easily without the touch of a hand, adds Price. Camden offers a 36-inch column switch that can be triggered with a bump of a knee, elbow, hip or foot.

In many cases, institutions are regularly and vigorously cleaning any surfaces that come into human contact, whether they’re door handles, push bars or elevator buttons. While this might be an effective precaution, it comes with its own set of challenges, says Adams. Using the wrong solvent may affect the finish of door hardware, for example.

“We’ve had to communicate how to clean our devices,” says Adams. “Now more than ever, institutions and facilities are updating how they clean touchpoints throughout their facilities. If you have to touch it, they want to have processes and procedures in which to ensure the people in facilities can say, ‘We’re doing our best to clean all of them.’”

Blankenship adds that dormakaba has retrained its sales staff to best answer these types of questions and is the process of building a remote learning centre to train staff, end users and channel partners about mitigation efforts. The learning centre is scheduled to open mid-August.

Evaluating biometrics

Much like traditional door hardware, biometric means of access control have been viewed differently in the wake of the pandemic.

“Contactless technologies like face and iris recognition are currently forced to adapt to the emergent threat,” notes Dimitrios Pavlakis, industry analyst, digital security, ABI, who spoke to SP&T News via an email interview.

“Biometric AI and machine learning algorithms are pushed to new heights and extend governments’ protective, monitoring and screening reach. However, applications that rely on fingerprint and vein recognition modalities are suffering a significant loss due to being heavily reliant on contact-only sensors, thus posing a great hygienic risk and severely limiting infectious control protocols.”

He adds that some nations that rely more heavily on biometric identification have “effectively terminate[d] all biometric-based access control, workforce management and attendance applications in certain high-risk regions.”

Shiraz Kapadia, CEO of Toronto-based biometric security firm Invixium, says he believes the market was already moving towards contactless modalities, well before the pandemic struck. The company launched its IXM TITAN product in 2018 — a multimodal face recognition device with fingerprint or vascular recognition as a back-up identifier.

Touchless biometrics were already preferred in some industries where using fingerprints may be impractical, such as mining and petrochemical, says Kapadia. But the pandemic hastened the decision for some organizations to look for touchless options. “Obviously, we didn’t envision that we will be dealing with a pandemic and the world will only want touchless in a span of three months,” he says.

He says Invixium has sold more TITAN products in the last quarter than in the two previous years since the product launched.

The preference for contactless biometrics may be long-term, indicates Pavlakis. “Con-tact-only applications are likely to suffer in certain areas including enterprise, health care, border control and generally any use-case scenario that deals with workforce management and access control,” he states. “Vendors will rethink fingerprint and vein verification modalities and governments will try to give additional emphasis to face and iris technologies.”

This will inevitably create challenges for law enforcement and other authorities that currently utilize fingerprints as a major means of identification, notes Pavlakis.

But, argues Kapadia, that may be one reason why traditional biometric indicators will continue long after the pandemic.

Inevitably there will be a decline in the market, but “I don’t think fingerprints will disappear, because there are databases filled with fingerprints. It will continue, it will persist.”

Integration with screening technology

In some cases, access control technology is being integrated with devices that can scan for COVID-19 indicators like elevated body temperature. Kapadia says the company recently made an enhancement kit available for its IXM TITAN line, which allows for the integration of a dual camera solution for temperature screening.

The solution links with the company’s software, IXM WEB, which is able to report on employee and visitor health, in addition to access and time tracking, and payroll integration.

“Not only are we able to do touchless biometrics for access control and time and attendance, but now also detect elevated body temperature and trigger different workflows. As an example of temperature-based access control, if someone is detected with elevated body temperature, the door will remain closed,” explains Kapadia.

He added that existing IXM TITAN devices already in the field can be upgraded to include the new temperature screening feature.

Blankenship says that dormakaba products are also adapting quickly to meet these new customer demands.

Aspects of its Alvarado line, for example, can now be deployed with temperature-taking equipment, real-time building capacity monitoring and even hand sanitizer.

Body temperature technology is a popular commodity right now and its hold on the market may last for the next few years as organizations globally work through the rigours of the pandemic, suggests Kapadia. But the appeal of touchless is likely here to stay.

“Even if the vaccine comes out and we are in a post-pandemic era, people will still prefer touchless technology, and they will be hesitant to touch common surfaces,” he says.

However integrators and end users choose to proceed, Kapadia says they shouldn’t feel pressured or panicked into buying solutions as a quick fix for what currently ails us.

“Make sure that you ask the manufacturer the right questions about the technology. Do your due diligence,” he says. “So whether you buy my technology or somebody else’s, buy something proven to do the task you need.”


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