Access Control: Touchless, Frictionless, Or Both?

his past year, the security industry experienced a flurry of technological advancements during the time of COVID-19 as security solution developers look at ways to support return to work initiatives and healthy workspaces. As a result, two of the biggest developments on the technology side include the introduction of both touchless and frictionless access control solutions. While both promote similar benefits—supporting the ability to enter a space without needing to touch a device—there are some differences in the technology and the solutions themselves that are important for facilities customers to understand.


Access control solutions that don’t require a person to touch a shared device to enter a building have been part of the security industry for years. In fact, the introduction of Prox card technology and readers has been the leading driver behind this capability, eliminating the need for someone to punch a code into a keypad to gain entrance. But that is as far as touchless went. For example, after presenting a credential people still needed to touch a door handle to enter a building.

access control solutions
Even before COVID-19, access control solutions that removed touchpoints and bottlenecks at entryways were increasingly of interest to facility management professionals planning security systems. (Photo: Getty Images)

Today, the touchless experience is being incorporated into the entire building access experience with greater integration between the access control system, such as readers and video intercom systems, with the automatic door opening system. Building owners and facility managers are now investing in the integration between the two, so when a person swipes a badge, not only does the access control system transmit a signal to unlock the door to allow a person to enter, but it also transmits a signal for the door to automatically open.

In the past, these two functions were not traditionally connected. Automatic door opening systems exist in many buildings to ensure ADA compliance, not to promote hands-free capabilities. Now, automatic door opening buttons are also moving into the touchless space, with the development of automatic door opening devices that only require a hand gesture in front of a sensor to tell a door to open.


While touchless removes the need to physically touch an actual device to gain access, it still requires a person to present a credential, whether it’s a smart card or a mobile phone containing a mobile app, in order to be granted access.

Frictionless access control eliminates the use of all credentials, and instead the person becomes the credential as the physical access control system relies upon facial recognition technology to determine whether a person should be permitted to enter a facility. Frictionless access control is a true contactless experience.

The number of access control devices that offer a frictionless experience is growing, thanks to continued advancements in artificial intelligence technology and faster processing speed, which enable databases to be quickly scanned to confirm that an individual is in fact allowed to enter a building and not on a watch list.

Previously, facial recognition technology was too slow to process large groups of people accurately. Also, this technology was typically used as a siloed application, meaning it did not tie into an access control system. Those who deployed facial recognition technology had to employ a dedicated person to watch for any red flags, such as when the system would recognize a person as a known shoplifter.

The integration of facial recognition technology with a physical access control system enables solution providers to deploy a frictionless experience that can be leveraged by high volume areas. In non-COVID-19 times, this would prove valuable for manufacturing facilities where a large volume of employees come to work at the same time, but having each person present a badge could create a bottleneck. Or, it can be leveraged by a large office building where hundreds of people need to present a credential at a turnstile before being able to proceed to the elevators.

Over the coming years, users should expect both touchless and frictionless access control solutions will remain at the forefront of in-demand access control solutions. Working in concert, these two security approaches can meet the distinct needs of a wide array of facilities.


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