Thursday, 28 February 2013

Digital keys - the combination of 5 breakthrough technologies

Digital keys perform all the same functions as smartcard and mag-stripe access control systems, yet they are more secure and convenient, they can be installed by anyone in minutes, and they are one-tenth of the price. What makes digital keys so special yet so affordable is that they don't require five key parts of their card access control predecessors.

Digital keys access control systems;

  1. don't require on-site mains power 
  2. don't require on-site networking, wiring, wi-fi or supporting infrastructure (e.g servers) 
  3. don't require cards 
  4. don't require on-site computers; 
  5. don't require on-site software. 

1. Ditch the on-site mains power. 

The battery powered electronic strike breakthrough

So whats so amazing here? Battery powered electronic locks have been around for ages. To understand this breakthrough though, you need to think of digital keys not as an 'electronic lock'. Instead think about digital keys devices as 'a reader and an electric strike' (in an access control system). 

So what is a reader and electric strike and an access control system? Think of office and hospital smartcards. Do you know that little metal thing that sits inside the door frame that catches the knob that comes out of the door lock, well that's called a 'strike' or 'striker faceplate'. Put some power behind it, and its called an 'electric strike'. 

With smartcard systems, the strike pivots out of the way when you present your access card to the reader, enabling you to push the door open. And the reader is that little grey or black plastic box on the wall that you present your card to. 

The reason why that little black box is called a 'reader' is because after you present your card, the circuit board inside the box 'reads' the information on your card. Then it reads the same information on a computer to see if it matches. If it matches the door opens. So the reader has to be connected to a computer at all times. The connection is generally with wiring(although nowadays there are wi-fi connections). So hence the need for onsite power. 

Further, there is a lot of power required to enable the strike latch to disable itself and pivot out of the way so you can open the door. Otherwise if it wasn't strong enough, you could simply push the door open and it wouldn't be secure.

Recently significant advancements have been made in battery technology. This is thanks mostly to the R&D in extending battery life in mobile phones. These breakthroughs have been applied to the electric strike, as we no longer need to have the connections to the onsite computer thanks to part 2 below. And you can get on average 2 years life out of the batteries in a digital keys device.

2. Ditch the on-site wiring, networking, wi-fi, and the supporting network infrastructure 

The cloud-based time-sensitive code generating technology breakthrough 

This technology enables us to hold onto the 'when and where' in access control. Unlike its card predecessors, however, this technology requires no ongoing communication or 'reading' between the reader device and a central computer in real time. So how is this possible? 

In the cloud sits algorithms that essentially enable billions of random numeric codes to be assigned to specific future dates and times, ready to be downloaded at any time. So you have a specific random numeric code for say August 7th 2014 from 1pm - 2pm, lets say 948924. Then there is another code for 2-3pm on that same date, and every other possible time and date in the future. Those same billions of numeric codes(and the algorithms) are loaded into the digital keys device(the reader). In the digital keys device there is also a clock and memory. 

So if you want to access a specific door for that specific time you simply download a digital key from the cloud in the form of that 'time-sensitive random numeric code'. Then when you present that code to the digital keys device, the device checks the time, and then it looks inside itself for the correct code for that time. If everything matches, hey presto, the door opens. 

In the next step we will look at 'how' you present the code to the digital keys device.

3. Ditch the cards 

The Near Field Communication Technology breakthrough

The way you 'present' your 'random numeric time-sensitive code' to the digital keys device is with a technology called Near Field Communications(NFC). Nearly 100 phone models(latest count February 2013) incorporate NFC technology. 

NFC are radio waves that enables you to transfer files, images, documents etc from one NFC device to another. 

So in this situation the numeric code you have just downloaded from the cloud is saved to the SIM card of the phone (via an app) and then you send that code to the digital keys device with NFC to open the door. 

The other advantage of having this technology is that you can add extra layers of authentication - e.g having a PIN in the app before hitting a button in the app to send the code to the lock (bit like a bankcard and PIN). And you can also switch this off and on in an instant (in case of a elevated threat level). In some uses that random code that you downloaded from the cloud, can be used as a back-up. But in some uses, such as in crowded hotel hallways where you don't want people peering over your shoulder, you can simply use the NFC function on the app to open the door.

4. Ditch the onsite PC's and servers

The Smartphone technology breakthrough

This is probably the easiest part to explain - put simply 'our smartphones do everything that PC's do'. So in this situation you are using your smartphone to access the cloud to download your digital key. 

5. Ditch the PC-based software

The cloud-based software and smartphone apps breakthrough

Cloud-based software and apps enables you to assign people to use the time-sensitive digital keys. Digital keys smartphone apps make it so simple. 

After you download the digital keys app from the online stores, all you need to do is press one button to get a quick digital key, and another button to send that key to anyone. Its as easy and quick as sending a one word text message. 

There are buttons to 3 month digital key to work from the current moment in time for 3 months(handy for short term tenants).

There is another quick button for getting a digital key from the current moment in time for 30 minutes(handy for letting in a repair man). Then there is another button that brings up a calendar that enables you to select the specific date and time for the digital key. Everything is recorded in the digital keys app outbox i.e 'who has what key, and for how long, and what is the back-up code of that key?'

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