Touchless security becomes the expectation in the age of social distancing

by Jared Shelly

The COVID-19 pandemic is a tale of two worlds. In New York City, 400,000 people finally returned to work this week. From retail employees to construction workers, people are getting back to their daily lives, even if it means wearing masks during their subway commutes.

The return to normalcy is playing out in cities across the United States but stands in sharp contrast to many parts of the world. The COVID-19 caseload has surpassed 7 million worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. It reported that 400,000 died and that the number of new daily cases worldwide had hit a new high, with many new cases coming from Southeast Asia and the Americas.

But as the United States resumes some semblance of normalcy, limiting contact has become an integral part of everyday life. Walmart and Target are providing contactless pickups. Whole Foods is disinfecting credit card readers after each use. Burger King is offering touch-free drive-thru service.

As people get used to touchless interactions as consumers, they’re more likely to expect them at security access points. They’ll think twice about pressing punch codes or fingerprint scanners. They’ll hesitate to hand over IDs to security staff or sign in at building entrances. Sure, staff could consistently clean but that takes serious diligence and could slow down a queue during peak times. Making clusters of people wait in line won’t be popular in the age of social distancing.

That means contactless security access solutions are poised to gain popularity, from low-cost options like key fobs and card readers to more sophisticated technology like touchless fingerprint sensors and facial recognition.

“If you can hold your phone inches from a reader at the supermarket to make a payment, you’re going to expect the same sort of technology at security screening points,” said Howard Belfor, president of Belfor & Associates.

Tony Foglia, principal at AI Biometric Investments, adds that security professionals who previously installed biometric sensors are now getting pushback from clients who now want contactless solutions.

“Anything that requires a physical touch is going to be under some degree of scrutiny,” he said. “The more people who touch it, the more likely it’ll wane in use.”

Tech to the rescue

The COVID-19 outbreak will accelerate growth of the contactless biometrics market five-fold by 2030, according to Future Market Insights. It found that “organizations are increasingly looking for ways to deploy biometric sensors that avoid touch in shared and public spaces,” and predicts that “enterprises and consumers are highly likely to keep adapting to convenient and hygiene-centered ways” of limiting contact.

Near-field communications is one technology bound to gain utilization. It turns mobile phones into access control devices that can buzz visitors past a sensor. The technology is similar to tap-to-pay technology at checkout counters. Security sends a trusted credential to a person’s phone which they hold near a reading device to allow access without any physical touching.

Touchless 3D fingerprint sensors could also be examined. This allows people to wave their hand through a device that reads their fingerprints and grants them access. (It’s similar to the ticket scanning systems used at ballparks and stadiums across the country, only you scan your hand, not a ticket.) It can be used in industries that specifically require fingerprints for entry, or those that require multiple forms of authentication. It can also be used to allow people to go quickly and easily through a queue without slowing down.

The power, resolution, and capabilities of cameras have made facial recognition a viable option as well. More pixels mean more points of information, and software algorithms can use each of those data points to better recognize faces and determine who is supposed to be granted access and who isn’t. It can even be done via a smartphone, and doesn’t require a visitor to physically touch anything in the building.

“I believe cameras will replace 30 percent of existing access readers in five years due to continued higher resolution capabilities and more advanced facial recognition algorithms that adequately adjust for face masks and can even determine body temperature via thermal detection,” said Foglia.

Don’t rush the decision

COVID-19 forced many industries to quickly transition to new policies and procedures. Security is forced to do the same. The challenge when implementing touchless security access is to make a thorough, thoughtful decision without much time to spare. Offices and businesses are already starting to reopen and more will gradually join them. But that doesn’t mean you need to make a hasty decision. (Remember, good old fashioned key fobs could do the trick.)

Make sure you’re partnering with the right vendor and choosing the tech that fits your business. Don’t imagine what your risks might be: do an assessment with the help of a security professional or your internal security team.

“Sometimes you don’t see the spots on your own nose,” said Belfor. “When you know your risks, create a functional requirement. Focus on the function you need a tech solution to do, not a specific product you want.”

He says that the changes necessary to make security access contactless could be relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.

“All the modern access control systems will very easily adapt these technologies. There won’t be any huge retrofitting occurring,” said Belfor. “There might be a changing of reader mechanisms at a door that can accept tech that’s not being touched. But I suspect most of this stuff will occur pretty quickly and painlessly because we’re already in a Bluetooth and WIFI environment. Once these things can be encoded or encrypted, they’ll be able to roll this out at public venues quickly.”

Jared Shelly is a freelance writer who writes about business and emerging technology. The opinions and positions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions and positions held by Patriot One Technologies and inclusion of persons, companies, or methods herein should not be interpreted as an endorsement.

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