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Opening doors with a wave of the hand

One of the latest developments in the access control industry is the use of hand gestures to interact with access control systems, which in the future could also enhance a coming generation of mobile device-based access control credentials.


April 2, 2014
By Dr. Tam Hulusi

In much the same way that mouse technology was a disruptive innovation that revolutionized the computer interface, gesture-based technology is poised to change how users open doors and perform many other access control tasks.

Gaming is one of the first places where the industry has seen the impact of gesture technology. There also are developments underway for interactive TV users, who can now gesture in the air from their seat on the couch to swipe through on-screen TV and game console menus.  Other gesture technology applications that are in development include robots that help care for the elderly, and digital signage that can display content based on what is relevant to the customer.

Transformative capabilities such as these may soon be coming to the access control industry.  With gesture technology, individuals will be able to control RFID devices with a simple user-defined wave of the hand.  It is expected that gesture technology will generally be used as additive capability for ID verification, introducing new authentication factors that go beyond the existing authentication scheme of something the cardholder “has” (the card), to a new gesture-based version of something the cardholder “knows.” The latter factor has typically been a password or personal identification number, but tomorrow this could be a user-defined series of hand motions.  It will also be possible and potentially desirable to make gesture the only element in a single-factor authentication scheme, although this likely would be reserved for areas with lower security requirements.

In a mobile access control environment, gesture-based access control technology will leverage a smartphone’s built-in accelerometer feature to enable both two- and three-dimensional gestures.  A user could present the phone to a reader, rotate it 90 degrees to the right, and then return it to the original position in order for the credential inside the phone to be read, and for access to be granted.  The smartphone will know how the screen is oriented because its accelerometer senses movement and gravity.

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Gesture technology is expected to deliver many benefits.  Gestures will make it much more difficult for a rogue device to surreptitiously steal the user’s credential in a “bump and clone” type of attack.  Gestures also can potentially be used to unlock apps, and as an alternative to mechanical keys for locking and unlocking doors.  Additionally, gestures could be used when a person is being forced to enter under duress, enabling a secret signal to be communicated to the access control system and security personnel.  These and other capabilities delivered by gesture technology will improve user convenience while increasing speed, security and privacy.

Dr. Tam Hulusi is Senior Vice President, Strategic Innovation and Intellectual Property, HID Global


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