Wearables in access control
Wearable technology is on the verge of turning mainstream and the consumer electronics industry has convinced itself that wearable technology will be the next big opportunity. But what part will wearables play in the future development of access control? The Future Lab talked to manufacturers, researchers and experts in wearable technology to find out. Here’s what they said.
Michael Szücs, Director of Marketing and Business Development at 9Solutions, says the key characteristic of wearable technology is that the devices collect real-time information about a person’s parameters and transmits this data to the cloud, enabling decisions to be made accordingly.
“Our Bluetooth-powered locating tags provide real-time information that is also used in locking and access control environments as well as triggering automated alarms based on their activity”.
“Typically, wearables should improve safety and people’s quality of life,” Szücs says. He cites the 9Solutions’s approach as an example of a real-life application of wearable technology within the healthcare and wellness segment. “Our Bluetooth-powered locating tags provide real-time information that is also used in locking and access control environments as well as triggering automated alarms based on their activity,” he says.
“We have tracking tags that dementia or memory disorder patients wear in geriatric wards or in the home. When they approach their room, the node infrastructure recognizes them, and the doors to their respective rooms automatically open while the other doors remain locked.”
Apart from protecting the elderly, these tracking tags may also be used for locating staff to optimize workflow, and for monitoring babies, children and assets.
While the market remains tiny, smart wearables are opening up opportunities for manufacturers of security products. “One area is health and safety at work,” says Nick Hunn, founder and CTO of WiFore Consulting. “Technology is already being built into access control and location devices, providing instant feedback on who you are and whether you’re allowed to be there.”
Meanwhile in the area of assisted living and personal emergency response systems, geofencing is mainly being deployed to guard against wandering elders, notifying their carers if they leave a designated area.
Caj Södergård, Permanent Research Professor in Digital Media Technologies at the VTT Technical Research Centre
of Finland, says that promising security applications for wearable technology include the Nymi wristband, which uses biometric heart data to unlock digital and physical doors. “There are also developments with NFC and RFID,” he says. “You can even have an NFC ring, which is more intimate than a watch. You can unlock your mobile phone, for example, by just sweeping your finger. We have developments in that direction here at VTT, but it is really very new.”
Appealing as smart wearables may sound, how to make the transition from nice-to-have to must-have? So far, nobody has proven that smart glasses or wristwatches can ever gain mass market appeal, even though the likes of Samsung Gear and Apple Watch are successful attempts at merging tech savviness with fashion.
“The consumer electronics industry has convinced itself that wearable technology will be the next big opportunity, with analysts predicting a market worth over USD 30 billion by 2020”
“That belief is driven by a desperate need for companies to find something to follow on from laptops, tablets and PCs – all of which are being commoditized”, says Hunn.
Hunn says the products most likely to succeed are those that can find a natural place in our lives. “I think people are beginning to feel fed up with learning about new technology. In short, the product has to be compelling enough to convince the consumer that it is worth having.”
New ecosystems and interoperability
Södergård sees the use of wearables creating new ecosystems, with interoperability as the trigger. “A lot of things have to interwork for everything to function: the media system, access, heating, lighting and facility management,” he says. “There are many players here and my guess is they will all work together. The big players within digital services – especially Google and Apple – and those in the security domain, such as Assa Abloy will be able to offer fairly complete solutions to the customer.”
Hunn says: “2014 is a formative year, but 2015 will be more important: then we’ll see whether the initial purchases find favor with consumers or whether they dismiss them as superfluous. The diversity of ideas, products and companies involved could make for more innovation than we have ever seen before in consumer electronics, but how things will turn out is difficult to predict. Still, the ride will be fun.”
By Sonora Ocampo and John Ambrose
Nick Hunn has been closely involved with short-range wireless and communications, for the past 20 years, designing technology that helps bring mobility to products, particularly in the field of telematics, M2M, smart energy and mobile health. He is the author of The Essentials of Short Range Wireless – a book that explains the application of wireless technology to product developers – and is writing his second book about the use of Bluetooth low energy for Appcessories and the Internet of Things.
Michael Szücs has been working in the security and identification industry for more than a decade, and is an expert in international sales and marketing of advanced security solutions. He has in-depth knowledge of the latest trends in real-time locating and electromechanical locking technologies as well as access control solutions. In 2013 he joined 9Solutions, a fast-growing manufacturer of advanced real-time locating solutions for increasing safety and security in the healthcare sector.
Caj Södergård is Permanent Research Professor in Digital Media Technologies at VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland. All the Finnish government-owned applied technical research is done at VTT. They cover most technological sectors, electronics and ICT – from silicon to the cloud.
On the electronics side, VTT has semiconductor facilities, MEMS, microelectro-mechanical systems, and MEMS sensors, for use in the automotive industry, for example. Researchers also carry out big data analysis.