Now They're Talking!

Smart locks move from stand-alone to network communication.


The practicality of maintaining access control data in a host computer and programming stand-alone locks on a tour depends on the quantity of locks and the frequency of changes required. For example, touring a dozen locks with a hand-held computer only takes a few minutes if the locks are near each other. However, reprogramming 100 or more locks located in several buildings could take all day. Touring remains cost effective compared to rekeying mechanical cylinders if the tour is infrequent. However, the administrative cost of reprogramming many locks frequently, such as in a college dormitory, can be significant.

Seeing this as an opportunity, several manufacturers introduced modified versions of the electronic hotel lock. Security personnel can pre-program the locks with access control data, such as time zones, and group access levels with a tour. Programming a new user code when a user loses his or her card or when the occupancy changes is then simply a matter of issuing a new card. On the first use, the new card voids the previous card, authorizes the user card and programs the lock for a future user. The user card holds user data on one track and access control programming information on another. Using a read/write encoder, security administrators can reprogram cards or add access control data to existing cards. Still, these locks do not allow real-time monitoring and control.

Network Systems
Network access control systems offer three distinct advantages over stand-alone smart locks. They allow security personnel to remotely lock and unlock doors, monitor events and retrieve event information, all in real time. Responding to these requirements, several smart lock manufacturers adapted their products to communicate with network access controls. Recognition Source LLC developed wireless point-to-point data communication systems that allow battery-operated locking devices to communicate data with each other and a central access control panel. The company offers a series of traditional mechanical lock configurations that link to their wireless communication modules. The result is a system of battery-powered stand-alone locks that interface with network access control systems.

Several manufacturers offer battery-operated locks that maintain user codes and feature a variety of functions including time-controlled access levels and audit capability. Ever-shrinking microprocessors and memory chips allow for more compact locking hardware. Product designers continually strive to stretch the service intervals of battery-powered locks through the use of micro-motors and miserly processors. Kaba Ilco adapted a power-generating technology first used in high-security safes. The Kaba PowerLever(r) lock features advanced access control functions in a unique lock that gets its power from the user. Each time a user presents a valid magstripe, proximity, or PIN credential and turns the lever, an internal dynamo generates electricity that it stores to maintain system memory and operate the unlocking mechanism. The technology virtually eliminates battery replacement while offering computer-linked access control.

As building owners increasingly purchase computer-based locking hardware, systems integrators seek alternative energy sources. One emerging technology that shows promise is photovoltaic glass. Schott North America Inc. offers a unique glazing product that provides sun screening using solar cell technology in a glass laminate. As this technology finds new and unique applications, it will be possible to power smart locks from the vision light in the door. Because the solar panel is a lamination, it can be used in security glazing.

Schlage Lock Div. of Ingersoll-Rand Corp. took a different approach with its recently introduced VIP series locks. They receive power and data from external access control systems. A four-wire connection through the hinge to an interface board links the lock to a third-party access control terminal. The interface board receives its power from an independent power supply, thus the power required to lock and unlock several doors does not tax the access control power supply. Each interface board connects to four locksets using four conductors for each lock. Since the locks receive their power from an external source, there are no batteries to replace. The interface board translates card data and forwards it to the host access control.