PennCards to have 'contactless' access to campus buildings

Researchers and faculty will begin testing access cards with microchips in the fall of 2013

· February 25, 2013, 8:13 pm

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Students will eventually be able to tap their way into college houses, dining halls and academic buildings.

The Division of Public Safety, Information Systems & Computing and Business Services are collaborating on a venture to gradually replace magnetic strip PennCards with PennCards equipped with contactless microchips for the whole Penn community. Staff, faculty and students will be able to access controlled areas, such as college houses and academic buildings, through tapping their cards on a reader from up to a few inches away.

The contactless technology is much more secure than the current technology, according to Director of PennCard Chris Sapp.

There is currently no set timeline for launching the technology to the general Penn community, but the estimate is that it will take up to five years.

“There are thousands of card readers on campus that need to be transitioned … so it’s a really big footprint, and that’s going to take some time,” Susan Kennedy, senior IT director of Business Services, said.

As a pilot test for the new technology, which will begin in fall 2013, the contactless cards will only be used by researchers, faculty and students working in the new Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology that is slated to open in November.

The project started around one and a half years ago when members from the School of Engineering and Applied Science approached DPS, hoping to find a more convenient way to access controlled areas. As there will be several layers of security in the Singh Center, where users will have to pass through up to three doors to access certain delicate instruments, “a tap to enter a doorway will become more efficient,” said Associate Director of Technology Services David Kern.

“We felt that it would be much smoother if we went with contactless entry to simplify the process for our users,” Ira Winston, chief infrastructure officer for the Engineering School and chief information officer for the School of Arts and Sciences, said.

There will be increased costs in providing this new card technology and equipping the campus with the supporting infrastructure. However, the group plans to gradually phase out the old card readers as components in buildings are replaced to cut down on costs.

“Maybe there will be some savings since there will be less wear and tear on the card and the readers,” Barbara Lea-Kruger, director of communications at the Business Services Division, said.

“Even from when we started this venture … the cost of all the contactless cards have been dropping,” she added.

During the launching period, a module will be attached to existing card readers so both magnetic stripe and contactless microchip cards could be read. This is to facilitate a smoother transition process as the old PennCards are phased out, as well as to accommodate for the fact that the PennCards linked to ATM machines are not yet contactless.

The contactless card is an emerging technology in the market, with an increasing number of credit and debit cards offering the option, as well as SEPTA’s new automated electronic fare payment system, New Payment Technologies. One of the major concerns of those working for Penn’s contactless card system is to select the right kind of contactless card technology that can be partnered with these external uses in the future.

“We’re trying to get ahead of things, rather than at some point wind up where magnetic stripe cards are being phased out, and we’re forced to do a project to replace that,” Sapp said.

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