Are programmable RFID readers a faster path to smarter kiosks?

How do you teach an old kiosk new tricks? Many companies are investing in substantial development to create RFID kiosk applications that enable better security, user feedback, custom access levels or unique functionality. A programmable RFID reader could provide an alternate route for introducing new smart functions to kiosks without extensive reprogramming or redesign.

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Upgrade kiosk functionality

Radio frequency identification is already widely used throughout the kiosk market to enable fast, reliable user identification and access control. RFID cards are easy and cost-effective to issue and manage and are widely accepted by end-users.

Most RFID readers work very simply. The card sends a unique identification number to the reader via a radio signal (often in an unencrypted format).

The reader picks up and decodes the signal. Because each unique number is tied to a specific user identity, the reader allows the system to determine who the user is and whether they have the right credentials to unlock access to goods, services or information. Access control may be handled locally, within the kiosk itself, or through a network that connects to a software database.

Programmable readers allow for more functionality to be handled by the reader itself instead of by the kiosk or by networked software systems. This has benefits for many kiosk applications.

It enables the introduction of new functionality to older kiosk platforms without a complete redesign of the kiosk hardware and software. Leveraging the reader to add functionality is usually easier than upgrading software on older kiosks and eliminates the need to recode and retest older technologies.

It introduces new functional possibilities for kiosks that are not connected to a network. Kiosks may remain unconnected for security reasons or because their placement or design makes network connection impractical or cost-prohibitive for their application.

Potential applications for programmable readers

Elatec readers act as mini processors, with an open architecture that allows vendors to script their own applications in the familiar C programming language. These applications can range from the quirky (make your kiosk reader play Jingle Bells when users present their ID cards!) to the critical (introduce new layers of security to a controlled substance locker in a hospital).


Here are just a few potential applications that could be introduced through a programmable reader.

Provide user feedback: The reader can be programmed to control LED lights or generate sounds when the ID card is presented. These scenarios can be simple (e.g., every user gets the same response) or customized for different scenarios. For example, you may want the kiosk to display a green light and play a certain sound when access is successful and display a red light and play a different sound when access is denied. Or perhaps you want a countdown to display that indicates how long a user has to complete a transaction. You could even have the kiosk generate different tones depending on the user’s identity and level of access. These visual and auditory signals can provide valuable feedback for users as they navigate the kiosk interface.

Introduce new security features. A smart reader enables higher levels of security, even with inexpensive cards such as those used in mass transit and other consumer applications. Readers can be programmed to look for security key-protected or encrypted data in certain areas of the card, adding very effective security layers without adding cost.

Customize access levels. Readers can be programmed to customize access levels for different individual users or user types, even without a network connection. For example, a hospital may use RFID to enable single sign-on to workstations as well as medical devices and supply kiosks. Access can be customized so that doctors, nurses and aides have different levels of access to systems and supplies. In a less critical scenario, a company may want to provide temporary cards to guests that allow them to use a coffee machine or vending machine a limited number of times. The reader can track how many times a card has been used and cut off access when the countdown reaches zero. An industrial vending machine could use a similar protocol to limit the number of times an employee can vend certain items each week.

Collect, store or transfer data. Readers can be programmed to collect and store certain kinds of data, such as who has accessed the kiosk, how often, and at what times. A limited amount of data can be stored on the reader itself and then transferred through a network or to another device through USB or other connector. This can be useful to enable offline data collection for non-networked kiosks. Technicians can periodically collect critical data from the reader to enable manual data collection and tracking.

Customize communication protocols. Many industries use communication protocols that are very specific to their application and do not adhere to commonly used standards. Using the programmability features of smart readers, these protocols can be added to the reader to support a wide range of industry-specific applications.

Incorporate other access control technologies. “Smart” multi-technology readers (such as those from Elatec) allow OEMs or their customers to adapt to other technologies quickly. Perhaps you want to enable a kiosk to read a different RFID card technology or incorporate smartphone-based access control using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Near Field Communication (NFC) protocols. Instead of replacing the readers — an expensive and daunting proposition for a widely distributed set of kiosks — the existing readers can simply be reconfigured to adapt to the other technology.

How to get started?

These are just a few of the possibilities for custom programming of RFID readers. Programmable RFID readers can help kiosk OEMs and users introduce new, smart functionality into existing “dumb” machines — without the expense of redesigning or programming the actual kiosk.

Not all RFID readers are programmable. Elatec readers have a unique open API and powerful operating system that enables custom programming. Elatec has also a comprehensive tool for developers that makes it easy to create and manage customized configurations that can be uploaded to the reader.

If you’re already using RFID, BLE or NFC for access control for your kiosks — or are considering a new access control solution — it makes sense to look for a reader that can perform additional functions for you. When your RFID reader works harder, you can get more out of your existing kiosk hardware and software.


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