Biometrics is the use of a physical characteristic—such as fingerprints, retina or iris prints, palm prints, etc.—to identify a person and control access to a system, whether it is a building, car, computer or home. Biometrics is ideal for a home security system because there are no passwords or codes to remember. In addition, the physical characteristics used are constant (do not change over time) and are difficult to fake or alter.
Historically, biometrics have been used to control access in government and corporate settings, but as costs come down, many homeowners are choosing biometrics to replace standard locks. As a result of the market penetration, the biometric technology marketplace is projected to be an $11 billion industry by 2015.
When integrated into a security application, a database is kept that records a person’s unique biometric identifiers and then, at a later time, allows the database to authenticate users by recognizing a biometric match, said Chris Stubstad, founder and president of Avid Biometrics, Scottsdale, Ariz.
To create the database, the system scans the chosen physical characteristic, and then, based on a pattern of lines, it makes and stores a mathematical formula that represents that pattern.
“In residential applications, biometrics is primarily seen in access control products, including traditional door locks, magnetic strip-based doors, and in security safes,” he said.
The key advantages to homeowners are convenience and reassurance.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’ll never be locked out of your house again, that you can control who has access to the various parts of your home and when, and that your home is not open to anyone who has a key,” Stubstad said.
A major challenge for the homeowner who desires this level of security, however, is that there are not enough products on the market that are truly turnkey solutions.
Another obstacle for residential use is cost. Biometric door locks are more expensive than typical locks.
“They can also seem more complicated, although acceptance should grow as electronic devices become increasingly present in people’s lives,” said Todd Morris, CEO, Brickhouse Security, New York.
The biometric products that are required for a complete residential solution include door locks, scanners, Ethernet for control and communication, a dedicated computer, and a secure network infrastructure with a firewall for nonhackable communication between door panels and control software. Since buzzer or magnetic locks, biometric scanners, computers, and communication networks all require electricity, biometric home security systems are an excellent opportunity for contractors to offer homeowners a more complete security system, Morris said.
“Biometrics is becoming more common in high-end homes and another component of the security system for contractors to wire,” he said.
Biometric components are mostly not integrated with the rest of the home’s security system. Therefore, if the alarm system ceases to work, the access control system still operates.
“Biometric systems might share the same dedicated computer if the access control system is also recording video. While not necessarily considered integrated, they are sharing a single resource and secured, single Ethernet network,” Morris said.
Biometric systems, however, are generally integrated with other home systems, such as home automation, to enable remote control of biometric access if changes need to be made.
Take the lead
Stubstad advises contractors to continue to keep up with advances in biometrics and to learn about the already-popular products on the market, since it is only a matter of time before the technology is readily available and accessible.
To be ready, read the manuals and specs and learn how to integrate biometric access control with current electronic locking technologies.
“Biometrics may be in its infancy in the U.S., but the demand is expected to grow exponentially as consumers begin to adapt to the technology and feel comfortable using it,” he said.
Morris said contractors need to know that biometric technology is not that complicated.
“There are two pieces that the contractor is concerned with: the actual wiring for the power and Ethernet systems and programming network security and firewalls,” he said.
The latter issue can be solved by partnering with an IT expert or by hiring IT personnel.
The biometric market is an incremental upsell for the electrical contractor that is already running Ethernet through a home. Other opportunities will abound as the home construction and retrofit markets pick up again and as high-end homes require more upscale and sophisticated security, audio and audio/video systems.