With the introduction of high-value retail kiosks and “intelligent vending” systems, self-service providers have identified a need for more enhanced physical security solutions that can be controlled and monitored remotely.
In this age of advanced technology, consumers have the world at their fingertips. Mobile apps and smart phone technology continue to impact the way they interact with and access everything, setting expectations for convenience and accessibility on a broader scale, across a wide range of applications. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the self-service industry.
With consumers on the go 24/7, providers of goods and services are investing in self-service enclosures that allow their offerings to be accessed from virtually anywhere, resulting in an instantaneous, automated customer experience. As more providers install self-service enclosures such as self-checkout kiosks, ticketing terminals and electronic rental lockers in high traffic areas, loss prevention presents a significant challenge for providers.
In traditional self-service applications, lock-and-key mechanisms have been the prevalent means of access control and security in many designs. With the introduction of high-value retail kiosks and “intelligent vending” systems, self-service providers have identified a need for more enhanced physical security solutions that can be controlled and monitored remotely.
It is essential that designers of self-service enclosures give careful consideration to the hardware that controls access to the enclosure. Design engineers can help self-service providers improve control, increase security and reduce asset loss by integrating intelligent electronic locks and latches into equipment designs.
The rise of intelligent self-service
The self-service industry has come a long way from early food vending and ATM machine designs. Today’s self-service enclosures are designed to dispense everything from consumer electronics to high-value luxury items, and are being deployed in more public locations — and consumers are embracing the trend.
Research shows that many consumers prefer a “virtual” customer experience to interacting with a salesperson or cashier in a retail environment. In a 2019 retail shopping study conducted by SOTI, 73% of U.S. consumers surveyed revealed that they desire technology that enables a quicker and more convenient in-store shopping experience with limited human interaction.
The global intelligent vending machine market size is projected to reach $2 billion by 2026, from $1 billion in 2020, at a combined annual growth rate of 11.7% during 2021-2026. In response, retail vending and self-checkout systems designers are developing new uses for enclosures and kiosks that take the concept of self-service to the next level.
Current kiosks in clinical settings have expanded to prescription and drug vending to enable better patient care. Electronic locking options provide the security and accountability necessary to ensure that high value pharmaceuticals and confidential patient information are protected. They also minimize the need to physically touch keypads and access panels through the use of electronic locks that can be actuated via wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth-enabled devices and RFID, which can help limit the number of surfaces that are touched within the medical environment.
Intelligent parcel lockers
Another area where electronic locks can provide security is on intelligent parcel lockers, also known as pick-up drop off parcel lockers, or PUDOs. These self-service enclosures are typically owned by a parcel distribution service or retailer and allow users to pick up their packages in one place, from a secure location. Electronic locks can be installed within the panels of these individual “lockers” and set to release once the customer has entered their unique access code into the PUDO interface.
|Image courtesy of iStock.|
Bicycle and scooter rental kiosks have become commonplace around the world, mainly located in larger cities where traffic is congested and there is demand for alternate modes of transportation.
Electronic locks can be used to lock each bike securely in place when not in use, and allow easy release when activated by the payment system or user interface. Electronic locks used for these applications must be designed to withstand harsh outdoor environments.
With demand for automated retail services increasing, technology has evolved to meet the needs of this growing industry as well. Manufacturers are incorporating networked technology into kiosks and enclosures that allow operators to track inventory and generate sales records remotely. These intelligent vending systems are often equipped with remote machine monitoring that can be integrated into existing IT systems, allowing kiosk owners to monitor multiple machines under one network.
Electronic locks and latches can be connected into these networked systems, allowing the provider to track routine maintenance access and be alerted to unauthorized access to their machine, just as they track information about their services through RMM. With this kind of intelligence, owners can manage their self-service systems more efficiently, and it can be done remotely — in real time.
How electronic access works
Electronic locks and latches allow self-service providers to add intelligent security into their enclosures that integrates with their existing RMM system. When used as part of an electronic access system, an electronic lock creates an electronic signature that can provide user authentication, audit trail and reporting capabilities, simplifying security administration and eliminating opportunities for theft.
An electronic access system combines three integral elements into one cohesive system to provide intelligent security for self-service applications. A complete solution includes an electromechanical lock or latch, a user control interface for accepting users’ electronic credentials and controlling lock access, and a back end system for monitoring and controlling access credentials.
The electromechanical lock is the primary component of any electronic access solution, as it ultimately influences physical security, installation options, system electrical requirements and the industrial design of the overall system. Certain electronic latches, for example, contain sensors and multiple output signals that provide data for both local and remote monitoring, making it ideal for machines with high-value inventory such as consumer electronics, which are appealing to criminals. This compact locking mechanism is mounted inside the equipment, eliminating pry points and allowing a clean exterior appearance that protects it from vandalism.
Electronic locks are ideal for self-service enclosures as they can provide an indisputable audit trail of access for all enclosure doors and panels that are secured electronically. Each time the door or panel of an enclosure is opened or closed, a signal is sent to a monitoring system to confirm and log access. Depending on the configuration, electronic access reporting can provide more than just simple open/closed information — such as which credential activated the electronic lock and the time and duration of the event.
Electronic locks allow networked access control through the validation of user credentials. In customer transactions, the electronic lock controls entry through the software interface, and access is restricted to the one compartment or locker that contains their purchase. For example, in a kiosk that rents chargers for electronic devices, the electronic lock responds to the consumer’s purchase request, unlocking a specific locker compartment. The electronic lock can also secure the compartment door when the consumer retrieves their fully charged device, reengaging the latch and locking the door.
On the other hand, repair technicians and inventory managers have very different requirements. Owners may want to limit access by service personnel to specific areas of the enclosure. For example, an electronic rotary lock installed on the interior of a service panel that responds to the technician’s proximity card, while the latch on the product compartment doors could respond to a separate Bluetooth reader accessible via the inventory manager’s smartphone.
Compared to traditional lock-and-key mechanisms, these intelligent access controllers are easily reprogrammed when personnel change, safeguarding the kiosk or enclosure from theft. With an electronic access system, operators can manage and monitor unique user access codes and change codes without physically distributing new keys or access devices to employees.
Designing for functionality, aesthetics
In addition to the security that electronic access solutions provide, they can also improve the overall design of the enclosure with regard to its look, feel and functionality. One of the most important aspects of any self-service kiosk or enclosure design is not only what it does, but how it looks to the consumer. Design engineers must balance aesthetic appeal with usability in order to execute effective self-service design.
Many modern kiosks feature a 360-degree design — meaning that they are viewable from all angles, so components previously located on the exterior of the kiosk, such as cords and cooling fans, are being designed into the enclosure interior. Electronic locks can be easily mounted within the enclosure, allowing a clean, flush surface that not only removes pry points but complements the visual statement of the design as well.
With advances in wireless smart technologies such as Bluetooth and RFID, the majority of new self-service enclosure designs are focused on minimizing wiring and broadening compatibility. Flexible electronic locking designs simplify integration with existing access solutions, whether mechanical or electrical.
This includes how the electronic lock works with the physical environment (such as mounting hardware and the electronic lock’s engagement with the physical enclosure), and with the existing electrical wiring, controls and power systems.
The most efficient electronic locks are designed to minimize wiring and power consumption. Reliable electronic locks feature gear motor drives that provide higher load capabilities using less power, reducing an enclosure’s overall energy consumption and providing consistent operation over time, in comparison to traditional solenoid-driven mechanisms.
When selecting the appropriate electronic access system for a self-service enclosure, it is essential that it not only meets the security requirements of the applications, but also functions correctly to provide a quality end user experience — without compromising appearance or branding.
As the demand for automated consumer services and retail vending continues to escalate, choosing the right security solution is critical to self-service design. Selecting the appropriate electronic access solution provides reliable, secure access control for self-service applications, and can be easily networked into existing security systems.
Electronic access allows the owner or manager of the self-service enclosure to easily monitor and control everything from the lock’s electronic and physical states, to data on potential tampering, jam conditions and door closure status. Integrating a quality electronic locking solution can not only improve security, it also enhances the functionality of the equipment and allows a clean exterior design and attractive user interface that consumers have come to expect.