The Keyless Locker: Smart technology and data gathering are a winning team

By Jeff Gavin | Jun 14, 2024
keyless locker
Keyless locks and powered lockers may become must-haves at the gym, office, hotels and more. 

Keyless locks and powered lockers may become must-haves at the gym, office, hotels and more. Their popularity is driven by ease and security. At the risk of repeating a tired term, call it the “new digital age”—one that spells new work for electrical contractors.  

The locker room is a good example of the growth in digitized locks. Evolving from the once-revolutionary keypad lock with a 4-digit access code (which is still popular in the United States), the concept of keyless locks has taken on a new form. 

John Wright is the North America business leader, retail and fitness, for Salto Systems Inc., Norcross, Ga., a global organization with three U.S. locations. The firm is working to migrate the mechanical key to a fully electronic form. 

“The locker is now part of the guest experience, and it has become automated,” Wright said. “At a gym today, you might go through [an] automated check-in process, or you check it in at a desk. You are given a credential and you either pick your locker or are assigned one before you enter the locker room. Locker access is enabled through a wristband, fob, card or even fingerprint.”

Wright shared that in Europe, locker digitization is a “heavily embedded solution.” Asia is also a popular market. 

“It is used everywhere. Most of the fitness centers in Europe are using some type of smart credential that’s either RFID [radio frequency identification], NFC [near field communication] or a BLE [Bluetooth low energy] type credential in an app for locker access. In North America, where adoption is slower, we still mostly use bar codes and QR codes. That is starting to change.

“An RFID uses a tiny radio transponder (tag), a radio receiver and a transmitter. NFC enables communication between two electronic devices of 1.6 inches or less. Think of a key card or using “tap to pay” with your credit card or smartphone at a checkout payment panel. BLE is a cost-effective Bluetooth sibling operating at a different channel and using far less power while maintaining a similar communication range (55–78 meters) of Bluetooth. 

“You’re seeing really nice locker rooms at places like Midtown Athletic Club and others that have used advanced locker technology for a long time,” Wright said. “It’s been a trickle-down adoption, maybe in the works some 14 years now.”

According to Onhan Baysoy, sales director for electronic lock developer Digilock, Petaluma, Calif., “Luxury facilities like pro sports, high-end spas and golf or ski resorts were early adopters of digital lockers. They were all seeking a better locker room experience for their patrons, so they could enjoy the facilities knowing their belongings were secure and without the hassle of carrying or possibly losing their locker key.”

Serving the business owner

“Smart lockers and locks, because they are digital, capture data that can inform building owners about user habits, how the lockers are used, and when,” Baysoy said. “The data also helps with space optimization decisions and many other touchpoints with the management of a locker room space.”

To further explain how data can be sliced and diced, Wright gave the example of a high-end private golf club in Palm Desert. 

“Each club member has three different lockers. They have a fitness locker, a golf locker and a dining room locker that might store a member’s fine alcohol and cigars. You can analyze how often a member uses the dining room and when. See times where you might want to drive traffic. Lockers can give you some different information. When does he or she use a locker? In addressing security, who was where, when? It is likely the fitness locker is used for an abbreviated period, so multiple members use it. Not every member needs an exclusively assigned single locker.”

Powering smart lockers

Smart locks can be wired or wireless. Each approach presents some merits and installation challenges. 

“Wired locks require reliable power sources, and installers must ensure adequate power is available at each locker,” Baysoy said. “Wiring infrastructure is important for wired locks. Installers need to plan before installation as they are connecting digital locks to a centralized control system.”

Baysoy pointed to an installation that might require running wires through walls, ceilings and flooring. Careful coordination with other contractors comes into play, as do building codes and regulations. 

If it’s a wireless ecosystem, sometimes the building type matters.

The locker room is becoming electrified with digital locks using RFID.

“I’m in New York,” Baysoy said. “Most buildings are older and so it is a different scenario when talking about wireless locks, because they rely on radio frequency communications and protocols such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and others. Installers would need to assess the wireless environment, including sources of interference. There are signal range limitations with wireless, so you are working to ensure reliable communication with antennas, repeaters and such.”

Baysoy added that the life of battery-­operated electronic locks has a range. Some electronic locks last about a year. However, others on the market can last up to five years or more, making battery-­operated locks more sustainable than hardwired locks. 

“Battery locks are tying back to some type of BLE hub and then to a system where you can see and control the lockers,” Wright said. “We use BLE from locker to hub because it uses the lowest amount of energy and extends battery use. Some of our battery locks can last up to 10 years with Bluetooth connection. The BLE connection might be powered through PoE [power over ethernet] or plugged into an electrical outlet. A linked computer also needs power. Overall, not a super heavy power lift.”

The most robust wireless systems are easily going to be tied to direct ethernet, Wright said. “They give you the most powerful system.” 

Designed for success 

Though wireless may offer flexibility and be less costly, Wright finds many locker systems are still going to be wired. Be it a locker room or other application, planning is essential.

“A wired solution can go from needing little power to a lot of power, depending on the lock and how you’re using it,” Wright explained. “In a network design, wired smart lockers will need reliable power sources, and installers must ensure adequate power is available at each locker. Wiring infrastructure is important. You are connecting digital locks to a centralized control system.”

Wright said when there is a port in a locker to for charging devices, keyless locks are wired back to a subcontroller. 

“If we take 24 lockers and put them on one subcontroller, every subcontroller needs power to enable the wireless locks,” he said. “If we link eight subcontrollers together, we need eight receptacles. We also have a main controller, which is going to need power. Now we have a total of nine receptacles needed to power a bank of 198 lockers. If we are doing locker lights and charging in the locker, power is needed there, too.”

Digilock and Salto are strictly smart lock developers and manufacturers. The companies’ stakeholders are mostly locker or furniture representatives, general contractors and project managers. With smart locker projects, communication with all partners helps ensure success. That can trickle down to electrical contractors. The more a contractor knows about digital locks, the better.

Both companies collect user and owner feedback to improve their products. According to Baysoy, an advancement his firm made was based on contractor feedback. 

“Some lock products on the market are complex to install. Let us say you have a locker bank of 500 hardwired locks—you must run a wire from each lock to a controller, which requires a lot of wiring,” he said.

To offer easier installation, Digilock’s Pivot hardwired locks are daisy-chained together, so wires run from lock to lock within a locker frame, and then a single wire runs to the controller.

Beyond the locker room

“The locker or the guest experience has become more automated in general,” Wright said. “And not just the lockers, but the sign-in experience. That automated function has extended across markets. Total access into a building is automated. The smartphone has really pushed a lot of that forward. Hotel check-in is just another example. You can find out on your phone your room; you do not even need to go to a reception desk. This ease has extended to all sorts of venues. Hospitality is a big market.”

Today’s digital lockers may have charging capabilities and LED lighting. 

Wright added smart locker applications are extending into the corporate smart office, a market that has appreciably grown after the pandemic and the emergence of hybrid offices. He called it a market “on steroids.” 

“[In the office], we are transitioned into a lot of shared space, but you still need to store your bag, coat [and] a laptop. A smart locker works well in this environment,” he said. “A smart lock card or other form might also give you access to the office building and/or its satellite locations. The gathered digital data helps property owners determine, for instance, how many lockers do I need on that floor? Do I have too many, or not enough?”

Digilock and Salto are involved in other verticals that include healthcare, municipal buildings (e.g., police stations) and residential.

While keyless locks are taking many forms, so too are their entry into multiple markets. The merits of convenience and security in the gym extend to areas such as office and hospitality, education, retail and manufacturing. Now is the time to lock it in.

Header image: Smart lockers with keyless locks are increasingly used in office and educational markets. 

Gantner / Digilock

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected].





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