Now They're Talking!

In the early 1970s two technologies came together that forged a revolution in door locks. Intel Corporation was looking for applications for its new generation of microprocessors, a quantum leap in solid state technology. Meanwhile, Pitney Bowes Inc. was seeking to license the electronic access technology they had developed to increase security on their postage machines.

The Birth of the Electronic Hotel Lock
Yale Lock and Hardware negotiated a license agreement with Pitney Bowes as the platform for an electronic hotel lock. Using an Intel processor, Yale developed a lock that would read data to a magnetic stripe card on two tracks, one for access and one for programming the lock. This technology allowed hotels to re-combinate guest room locks without having to send a locksmith to the door. When a guest went to his or her room, the card used to unlock the door voided the previous user's card, authorized it for the current guest, and programmed it for the next guest.

The early development was archaic compared to today's computer technology. The first prototype locks were connected to a timeshare computer via acoustical modem. Data came via teletype machine. Later, Yale's prototype lock connected to a circuit board about the size of a flatbed scanner through an "umbilical cord." Finally, Yale packaged the card reader, battery pack and circuit board with the Intel processor into an enclosure that looked remarkably like a commercial mortise lock.

Then, during the "salad days" of computer technology, Intel introduced the 8088 microprocessor, the heart of the desktop computer. The IBM XT was small and affordable, compared to the monster servers that required their own environmentally controlled rooms to process data that fits in today's PDA. The PC would allow front desk personnel to manage the access system while guests checked in, thus making the concept feasible.

Yale launched its revolutionary lock in the late 1970s, though it was not the first to manufacture an electronic hotel lock. A small New York manufacturer, Ellison Co. (not related to Ellison Bronze Co.) sold recombinating hotel locks in the New York metro area in the early 1970s. As is often the case, the first to introduce a new technology is not successful, and Ellison did not survive.

Problems and Upgrades
At first, hotel owners scoffed at the idea of paying money to replace good old, reliable mechanical locks with these new-fangled electronic gadgets. However, when large hotel owners saw the savings they could achieve by replacing nickel silver keys with plastic cards, they warmed up to the idea. Las Vegas casino owners saw a huge benefit in being able to retrieve an event history from a guest's lock. This resolved many disputes about "stolen" valuables. After security reviewed an audit trail retrieved from a complaining guest's room lock, stolen valuables often became "lost" valuables. Ultimately, hotel owners rushed to purchase the cost-saving technology, but Yale found itself surrounded by competitors and withdrew from the hotel lock business. The company returned to the market through acquisition years later.

The concept of a credential reading locks with an event memory soon found its way into the commercial security market. However, commercial access control is quite different from hotel lock security. In commercial buildings, it is seldom necessary to change coding data daily. Conversely, the locks must hold hundreds of users, not just one or two hotel guests and a few service personnel. Advanced access control technology includes assignable time zones and master keying structures by user and location. Entering such complex data for each user through a card or keypad is impractical at best, so manufacturers moved to programming locks at a remote computer and uploading the data through a portable computer or PDA. This concept of networking by walking around (also commonly known as sneaker-net) remains common today.

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.

Upon verification, the host access control system sends a lock or unlock command to the interface board, which sends power to the locking mechanism. User access levels and event information reside in the host access control system. The Schlage VIP series locks support magstripe and HID proximity configurations. In addition to the locking hardware, the lock includes a door monitor switch and request-to-exit switch linked to the secure side lever. The lock sends a signal to the host when there is a legal exit, forced door or propped door condition. The host system records unknown cards and access attempts outside user access levels. An optional internal switch within the lock detects and logs the use of a mechanical override key.

Geoffrey Access Systems, a New Jersey-based access control system provider, adapted their panel to connect to the Schlage VIP lock directly, without an interface board. The Geoffrey system manages on-line and off-line locks and integrates access control technology with CCTV and badging features. The hardware cost-locking hardware, request-to-exit switch, door monitoring and card reader-is comparable to systems with these components installed separately and linked by wiring. However, the installation cost of network-compatible locks is considerably less because there is only one hardware preparation and single cable termination. The lock installs using standard door reinforcement and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) door preparation. The wired hinge or pivot requires only four wires for data and power transfer.

A network integrated lockset is of particular value on fire rated doors, particularly on remodel projects. Current building codes prohibit field modification of rated fire doors and frames by personnel other than the door manufacturers' technicians. Metal doors with internal raceways pre-built into the door structure allow technicians to install network compatible locks without voiding the testing laboratory labels. Listed frame assemblies do not require modification for electric strikes and remain intact. Stand-alone battery-operated locks will continue to enjoy strong sales due to their advanced access control capabilities at low initial cost. Building owners and managers who need the features of real- time monitoring and control will find that integrated access control locks and alternative energy sources will provide reliable solutions to their security challenges.

Dick Zunkel is a frequent contributing writer to ST&D.