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Contactless lockers prove smart idea for college campuses

Gantner pairs existing campus cards with modern lockers to deliver convenience & security

For some, the image of a student locker still evokes thoughts of cutout celebrity photos taped inside rusty metal boxes. But on modern college campuses, lockers are being re-envisioned to serve a real need for busy students. Today’s lockers often feature sleek designs to integrate into high-end buildings, while new technology is replacing metal keys and combination locks with contactless smart cards and mobile phones.

Though often not as visible as their high school counterpart, most college and university campuses have lockers in at least a few niche locations. Rec centers, labs, athletic facilities and libraries are common locales where students need to secure valuables – equipment, laptops, clothing and books  –  as they transition between activities. Some institutions are finding that as student culture evolves there is a growing need for more widely available lockers.

If you consider the cost of a smart phone, a laptop and some high-priced course materials, the average student could be lugging around several thousands of dollars worth of belongings in their backpack. Without convenient locker options, the reality is that students must return to a residence hall, apartment or car if they’re going to participate in another campus activity before, after or between classes.

This storage challenge can keep a student from taking advantage of some institution-offered activities. And researchers now believe these extracurricular activities are key to engagement, retention and matriculation.

Traditionally, campuses have offered a limited number of lockers to be checked out, with or without a fee, for a semester or an academic year. But this is changing as more flexible models emerge.

As the need for student lockers rises, the available real estate to install them on campus grows harder to come by. Convenient locations are at a premium and deploying lockers for dedicated student use requires a significant footprint. This has given rise to shared locker systems, where a student checks out a locker for a short time, say an hour or a day.

Rather than tying up a dedicated locker for a semester or a year, this shared model allows a smaller quantity of lockers to serve a large population, as most students only need the locker for a few hours each week.

Enter “smart,” contactless lockers.

The state of locker systems on the contemporary college campus has effectively set the stage for a newer, smarter solution.

“Smart lockers use the latest contactless technologies to deliver both improved operations and user experience,” says Gerhard Pichler, business development manager at Gantner Technologies.

Gantner has been empowering lockers with contactless technology for decades, delivering improved locker management solutions to water parks, spas, hospitals, corporate campuses and universities.

The key – both figuratively and literally – to these shared locker systems is the campus card. Smart lockers, or contactless lockers as they are often called, use card readers and common ID technologies – cards, fobs or phones – as the credential rather than a key or combination.

Using an existing card with Mifare, DesFire, iClass, Felica, etc. opens up a new world of possibilities. “Using a student ID card as a locker key, smart electronic locking systems eliminate many challenges associated with traditional locker management – lost keys, blocked lockers, and resetting combinations” says Pichler.

With modern smart locker systems and management software, institutions can effectively take control of their locker resources and achieve greater insight into their actual use. A smart system can also automate the assignment of lockers so no staff interaction is required.

There are various smart locker architectures with different levels of control, but all deliver advanced capabilities such as:

  • Streamlined locker assignment
  • Reduced time required for locker administration and maintenance
  • Compatibility with international standards based technologies
  • Increased security, transparency and control

Batteries, wires and architectural choices

At this point, you may be wondering about implementation logistics. Maybe you already have banks of lockers that you simply don’t care to overhaul. Key to contactless lockers is that they can be retrofitted into existing locker units or integrated as entirely new deployments.

If lockers are to be retrofitted, a wireless, battery-operated system is the right solution. Since battery locks aren’t hard wired they can be easily built into existing lockers. These systems are an easy solution for universities looking to upgrade to smart lockers. “Advantages of a battery-locking system include the ability to limit students to one locker, easy key replacement, and a clear status display showing locker availability. Battery-locking systems, however, can’t provide the same level of management as a networked system,” says Pichler.

A networked, or connected, locking system includes wired locks and controllers that can be managed remotely via locker management software. When a networked locker system is installed, Pichler explains that the locks will be sent to the locker manufacturer for inclusion and the controller infrastructure will be commissioned on site during the locker installation.

Controllers are typically connected via low-voltage power supplies to the main network, states Pichler. If there is a power failure, lockers stay as they are  –  open or closed  –  but connection to an Uninterrupted Power Supply alleviates the issue.

Networked locking systems provide greater capabilities than battery locks, including detailed locker usage statistics, real-time monitoring, as well as scheduled synchronization and notification tasks.

Gantner’s locker management software enables configuration and management of their networked locker system. Features include a networked alarm, occupancy monitoring, and remote locker control. The software offers detailed usage statistics and the ability to integrate with third-party management software, such as campus card or security systems.

“With a fully integrated smart locker system, universities can easily rent lockers via an online student portal and increase security with a networked alarm, connected to the campus security system,” Pichler adds.

An array of features and controls

To learn more about the wide range of features available with contactless locker systems, CR80News asked Gantner’s Pichler a series of “what if” questions.

CR80News: What if some one tries to break into a contactless locker? Are there any safety mechanisms in place to deter vandalism and/or theft?

Pichler: All smart locking systems store a time-stamped history of openings and closings, meaning operators can easily view who opened which locker and when. For additional security and protection again vandalism, the networked locking system is alarmed and installed completely within the locker corpus, leaving no locking components on the door, and no possibility for vandalism.

CR80News: What happens if a user forgets which locker they used?

Pichler: If a user forgets which locker they used, system administrators can easily check either via the locker management software, or via a connected info terminal, which locker was used. Via kiosks or conveniently located checkpoint readers, students can tap their ID card to the reader to verify the locker currently in use by that card. This data is held in the software for networked systems and can be written to the card itself for standalone systems.

CR80News: What if someone checks out a locker but keeps it indefinitely? Can you limit the time to avoid someone tying it up for extended periods?

Pichler: After an allotted time or following an overstay, the system could be set to either block access to the locker or open it automatically at a defined time. If the locker is blocked, the student would need to contact the admin office to get it released and might incur a fee. Alternatively if the policy says no overnight locking, for example, the system could automatically open all the locked lockers at a defined time (e.g. midnight) and staff would remove any remaining items.

CR80News: What if someone checked out every locker as a prank? Can you prevent one user from checking out multiple lockers at the same time?

Pichler: Yes, the system could be configured to set the number of lockers that can be used with a single student card to a maximum of one locker per student. In a networked system, this can be controlled at the software level, and in a standalone system the status can be written to the card itself.

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