No touch, no problem: the role of QR codes in access control solutions

Derek Wang

2020 has become the comeback year for QR codes, not least because the global pandemic has put contactless technology in the spotlight. Everyone wants to keep contact with surfaces to a minimum (and let’s be honest, even before the pandemic nobody really wanted to touch the doorknob). As a result, QR codes have enjoyed a resurgence in use; from the hospitality sector by enabling digital menus to access control solutions by allowing contactless, efficient visitor management. This article looks at different cases where QR codes have been a beneficial addition to security systems and how this technology can be combined with different devices.

How QR codes work in practice

While QR codes aren’t specifically designed for high-security demands, they provide a flexible way of managing access in restricted areas and are particularly suited to the main entrances of buildings. Based on the open architecture, this kind of access control solution can be combined with different components of the security system, such as network intercoms, for further verification of identification.

The general operating principle stays the same no matter the application:

The visitor’s credentials are saved in the QR code which is submitted to the individual’s device. The camera on a network intercom situated at the door acts as a reader to provide those credentials to a network door controller, which has the associated validity date and time for those credentials. Access to the area is then granted. This is particularly useful when the same building or area is used by numerous people that don’t all have the same access rights.

How QR tackles changing visitors and 24/7 opening times

A digital start-up center in Germany faced this very challenge: The building, located on a university campus, contained coworking areas that could be used 24/7 by registered individual users, including students and entrepreneurs, and also had offices rented out to start-ups. This set-up created unique requirements to provide open accessibility to the building, but also to ensure the security of offices and materials at all times.

A solution with QR codes provided the needed flexibility of changing visitors and flexible arrival times. A co-worker could, for example, rent a day pass online, which would get him a temporary QR code that granted access to the booked space in the building but no further. The arrival time could be adjusted remotely if necessary. Regular visitors like students could be set up to only get access during the opening times of the university, while entrepreneurs would have unlimited access to the building (and key cards for doors and elevators indoors).

The QR codes also allowed security operators to track who entered the start-up center at what time. A feature that provided an overview of the number of visitors and could be useful in case of an alarm to trace back who was on the ground. With added network surveillance cameras on-site, it’s possible to identify individuals on video if needed.

Managing access for vehicles and drivers

This type of access control is not only useful for controlling the flow of individuals into a building, but for all traffic on a bigger site.

Some companies, especially in the industrial sector, have a constant flow of vehicles delivering materials or picking up products. That’s where vehicle access control is an important feature. Adding QR codes to typical solutions, like intercom systems, would add an extra layer of identifying information about the driver, increasing efficiency and enhancing site security.

A company in Brazil took advantage of these benefits: A supplier for the tissue paper industry needed to meet certain security requirements applied to the logistics chain, part of which was the movement of staff and vehicles on site had to be tracked. The challenge was to link the release of the driver to the release of the vehicle from the premises, as the company’s fleet of vehicles was shared by several drivers.

QR codes were used to generate credentials for the drivers which were sent to a network door controller and the driver wanting to enter the premises. The pre-authorized drivers were linked to a registered, shared vehicle and the system checked whether the stored information matched the credentials at the time of access. The automation of this process eased the vehicle flow and improved control over the movement of people and vehicles on site.

Plus, the combination of QR codes and two-way communication using intercoms took away the need for a physical guard. It allowed communication between the outside of the plant and the main entrance, verifying access rights and supporting with other issues.

Combined forces: Enhance QR with network audio and analytics

Overall, the cases show that QR codes help to improve access management in different applications. Turning access control into a contactless task adds more efficiency and contributes to a more sustainable approach, with reduced costs for maintaining cards and other physical solutions.

Naturally having the combination with an intercom isn’t the only way to enhance access control. For a vehicle access system, adding network speakers can be useful to inform the driver that the access is denied, or that the QR code expired. An alert can be triggered if necessary. If cameras are integrated into the system, a denied access or an alarm caused by a door that was forced open could also trigger the recording of the entrance and the person trying to access the premises.

If the recent pandemic has raised awareness of the potential for QR code access once again, the options to extend solutions are numerous and will only increase in the future.

Access control solutions