Please upgrade to the new Edge browser, or use Chrome, Firefox or Safari, before continuing. Internet Explorer will not support the best shopping experience on the ADI Digital Branch site after March 12. close button

    Commercial buildings are undergoing transformations to reduce touchpoints in high-traffic areas while improving safety. With the spread of COVID-19, many institutions and businesses have prioritized no-touch physical security with biometric and thermal products.

    Biometric and thermal products add a layer of protection to access control by measuring physical attributes of a person such as their face. There are now over 170 companies manufacturing body temperature scanning and biometric facial recognition technologies, a sharp increase from 30 companies in 2019, according to digital tech publication OneZero.

    And as biometric and thermal screening products gain popularity and become a standard access control solution, it's more important than ever as a dealer or installer to understand the key differences between the two technologies, the range of devices available and when they should be used.

    What's the difference between biometric and thermal?

    While both biometric and thermal devices can be used for access control, their purpose is quite different.

    Biometric technology recognizes a person's unique physical features including their face, fingerprint or iris pattern for a secure and convenient method of authentication. Devices using biometric technology provide stronger authentication methods than a PIN, access cards or physical keys for access control.

    Like fingerprints, iris patterns are unique to each person and can be used to accurately recognize an individual. Iris recognition products are designed to correctly confirm a person's identity even when wearing eyeglasses, sunglasses, contact lenses or face masks.

    On the other hand, thermal imaging or detection technology can measure a person's temperature. This technology has become more common and integrated in access control systems for health and safety, as they can detect and send alerts when they detect elevated temperatures.

    Although no thermal solution can detect a virus or diagnose an illness, it can serve as a risk management tool when used properly to enhance safety.

    Types of biometric devices

    Fingerprint readers
    These are a cost-efficient and effective solution for biometric identification. With fingerprint identity technology, fingerprint characteristics are measured using optical, capacitive or ultrasound sensor technology and verify an individual's identity by matching it to one in the system's database.

    These devices are used to restrict or grant access to classified information and physical locations within any organization. Fingerprint systems are a good option for facilities to install for security measures because they're difficult to hack with no password or data entry requirement. However, these are not touchless systems since a person must place their fingerprint on a device.

    Face-scanning biometric readers
    Face scanning technology is versatile and can be found in different applications and devices like readers or terminals. Biometric readers use physical attributes to verify a person’s unique identifying features like a face and eyes to positively identify them and allow access.

    These are completely touchless, so they can provide a no-contact option for access control; they are usually placed at entrances and checkpoints. Most readers can often work with existing building systems and infrastructure.

    Types of thermal devices

    Thermal cameras
    IP thermal cameras are a video surveillance solution capable of quickly identifying elevated body temperatures to detect potential health and safety risks. But organizations can incorporate thermal cameras into their access control systems to enforce temperature checks at the door. This screening is a safety measure to prevent users from entering an enclosed facility if their body temperature is elevated.

    With combined visual and networking technologies, thermal cameras have the power to detect a high body temperature through a contact-free method.

    People-counting systems
    People-counting systems automatically and effectively count, monitor and control people traffic. These systems sometimes use thermal imaging to detect body heat and track and record the number of people present in a location and can be used to control building entry.

    In high-traffic establishments where counting and controlling the number of people allowed is essential, these systems can be integrated and set up to alert management of important events and give an instant view of crowded areas. In the last year, they’ve been used to enforce social distancing guidelines.

    Body temperature detection systems
    Body temperature detection systems use non-invasive and contactless thermal cameras placed in main entryways, along with an NVR and temperature calibrating device to measure and record body temperature.

    Together, this system can accurately and quickly monitor people's body temperatures at once from a distance to deliver precise, effective and fast results to maintain safety. These systems can also be set up to send alerts when an elevated body temperature is detected.

    With additional software, these systems are also capable of detecting face mask usage to comply with local guidelines. If an individual is not wearing a mask, an alarm is triggered to notify the proper authorities that can restrict entry or alert the individual to put their mask on.

    Devices that use both biometric and thermal technology

    Stations, kiosks or terminals with combined features
    Some products on the market combine both biometric and thermal technologies to serve as a standalone access control solution. When a person steps in front of a kiosk, station or terminal, these devices successfully identify and check a person's temperature while detecting the person’s identity through face scanning or iris detection.

    This reduces contact points and eliminates the need for additional devices. These terminals can include customizable tablets or digital screens that are easy to configure and use.

    Applications and benefits

    One of the biggest benefits of biometric and thermal technologies is that they offer a no-contact solution to access control.

    In particular, healthcare facilities, airports, financial institutions, and schools and universities are incorporating these technologies in their access control systems for greater health and safety as these are essential services and critical facilities that have remained open during COVID-19.

    At some airports, for example, passengers can move from terminal to cabin without having to show travel documents; biometric readers are able to detect and match facial characteristics to a passenger's passport. Meanwhile, healthcare facilities and colleges and universities are relying more on automated temperature screening technology that leverages facial recognition biometrics to allow access only when people pass a daily temperature check.

    As organizations consider reopening and returning to the workplace while abiding by government guidelines to keep team members and customers safe, commercial buildings, offices and other facilities are also turning to these devices.

    Does your install need both?

    Consider what kind of client it is, their biggest security concerns and whether they are looking for more features than what traditional access control can offer when installing or upgrading a system. These technologies are not ideal or necessary for every customer.

    If your client is simply looking for improved security, biometric devices might be a better option. For healthcare, education or transportation facilities, a device that includes thermal detection would not only improve security but also health and safety to enable the organization to operate more effectively.

    Whether installing biometric devices, thermal technology or any other security products, you should follow all the proper guidelines around set-up and operation to ensure the appropriate use. Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration highlights some limitations of thermal technology when used to take the temperature of multiple people at the same time, and this should be taken into consideration for all installations.

    Full range of biometric, thermal and other no-touch solutions

    ADI offers a wide selection of biometric and thermal solutions from leading suppliers to integrate into a variety of commercial access control systems. Learn about our full offering of touchless access control solutions for your next project.