Essex Electronics and HID Global to Offer RFID-Enabled Turnstiles

The two manufacturers have partnered to create the iRox-T RFID reading unit, which can be built directly into turnstile and access-control systems to make them seamless and less complex to install.
Published: June 25, 2019

Essex Electronics is building HID Global‘s RFID-based technology into its new iRox-T turnstile reader that will be used by a large percentage of turnstile manufacturers in the United States. The partnership between Essex and HID Global—and an agreement with turnstile manufacturers—means that RFID-enabled access control will expand into commercial and residential buildings across North America, the companies predict.

HID Global has already provided its 13.56 MHz HF RFID readers for use at access–control beyond doors, at gates, including turnstiles, according to Mike Stanfill, the company’s senior director of sales for North America’s Extended Access Technologies Business Unit. But now, he says, the system will provide a seamless RFID-enabled turnstile as part of HID’s “Connected Building” strategy. The turnstile-based technology is one part in HID’s long-term plan to offer a Connected Building approach for use by office workers and visitors to enable access to parking lots, front doors and elevators, as well as to allow electric car charging, cafeteria points of sale and printer access.

The iRox-T turnstile reader

The iRox-T access-control system with HID’s RFID functionality has been tested and certified by six turnstile manufacturers: Alvarado, Automatic Systems, Boon Edam, Gunnebo, Orion Entrance Control and Smarter Security.

The inclusion of HF RFID into turnstiles serves a growing U.S. trend toward secure and connected building lobbies, Stanfill says. Traditionally, he explains, “There’s been a lack of security” at lobbies and entrances. Physical security personnel cannot always track the arrival of every person, which means some individuals might enter buildings or use elevators to access areas that are off-limits.

For the new turnstile solution, HID Global has developed its module with encryption, custom keys, apps and RFID functionality. That includes contactless 125 kHz proximity reader to accommodate legacy systems (when workers carry 125 kHz badges), as well as a 13.56 MHz HF reader compliant with the ISO 14443 and ISO 15693 standards for use with its Seos cards, other 13.56 MHz HF technologies and mobile access systems. Already certified with the six turnstile manufacturers, the Essex Electronics iRox-T reader with HID’s embedded iCLASS SE technology supports Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Near Field Communication (NFC) for access with mobile devices.

Turnstiles come in a variety of form factors, and they are not inherently access-control devices. In fact, the history of turnstiles has been mechanical rather than electronic. The steel casing of those turnstiles has posed a challenge, as has the need for antennas and reader form factors to ensure proper signal strength through the metal casing. While RFID-based access-control systems have been installed with turnstiles, the technology was not always well-received. “There were major issues with embedding readers into turnstiles,” Stanfill says, because the systems were not properly installed.

For instance, he adds, the 13.56 MHz systems require relatively close proximity reads and could demonstrate read-range problems in the presence of stainless steel. Therefore, HID and Essex built their solution to provide a more seamless approach. Essex is building the HID module into a plastic case with a custom antenna so it can be readily deployed into turnstiles. The resulting solution is intended to not only be easier to install but provide better read performance.

The system offers NFC and HF RFID functionality, and it also comes available in a BLE-enabled version. BLE provides a longer range and enables individuals to use their smartphone as an access device, even if the phone is stored in a pocket or purse. However, the long read range can cause challenges in locations containing multiple doors, or where large numbers of people could confuse the system (such as signaling the door to open when they aren’t yet entering). HID’s Twist and Go solution does address this issue, the company reports.

Mike Stanfill

With the iRox-T unit, turnstile companies will install the access-control system as part of their turnstile unit themselves. The electronics can be recessed or concealed within the turnstile infrastructure, Stanfill explains. He adds, “We offer WebEx training for channel partner or turnstile manufacturer technicians.”

The turnstiles reader from Essex is part of HID’s larger connected building strategy, Stanfill says, which could enable users to employ their badges or smartphones to gain access to a building and then receive approval to print a document at a printer. They could tap their phone or badge against a point-of-sale device in a lunch room, or at a snack counter or cooler.

They could also use the badge or phone to clock in and out of an office, and to access parking lots and charge electric cars. “We’re involved with three major manufacturers of electric charging stations,” Stanfill says, which are interested in building HID-enabled units in their devices. HID Global is already using the Connected Office technology at its facility in Austin, Texas.

In addition, Stanfill says, the RFID technology could be built into employee lockers and office furniture. In that way, offices could utilize RFID-enabled locks on desks, cabinets and drawers that would require an individual to tap a badge or phone in order to gain entrance to secure paperwork or his or her own personal effects.