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Gregory College House pilots new keyless SALTO locks on the doors of dorm rooms.

Credit: Amanda Suarez

Before long, students might forget what it’s like to swipe into a Penn building.

Penn is piloting a new project in Gregory College House to improve dorm security. Each dorm room in Gregory is now equipped with a keyless SALTO lock. Residents now have to enter a four-digit pin and tap their new key cards on the keypad. The room then opens without a swipe or turn of a key.

Starting in January, all newly issued PennCards will contain both a magnetic stripe and a microchip, with the goal of transitioning all Penn buildings toward a contactless locking system. The magnetic stripe allows access into the older buildings, and the microchips will let students open the growing number of SALTO locks on campus. The Division of Public Safety, Information Systems & Computing and Business Services have long been collaborating on the project.

The new security setup in Gregory Class of 1925 — which has a slightly more elaborate setup than its counterpart, Gregory Van Pelt — includes APU boxes on the ceiling outside of each dorm room. These wireless boxes record information whenever the door is opened, including the exact time the door is unlocked.

“Imagine if someone was to leave their keys in a lounge and somebody else sees them and takes them. Then they have access to that student’s room,” said Director of Residential Services John Eckmen. “Now, you need to have their card key and know their four-digit code. There’s a second layer of security that helps make the room secure for the resident.”

Related: PennCards to have ‘contactless’ access to campus buildings

There are still kinks to be worked out with the new system, however. Gregory residents are currently using temporary keycards to unlock their doors because the PennCards are not ready yet. Every 15 days, they have to tap their cards on a “hotspot” at the front desk so that information about card usage can be uploaded.

“I’m always trying to look for both cards — one to give security at the front desk and one to get into my room,” Gregory resident and College freshman Michaela Ervin said. “It will be more convenient when it’s just one card.”

Eckmen said he was uncertain how much the new SALTO locks cost, as the total cost will depend on the money needed to maintain the new system.

“This is one of the reasons we’re doing the pilot, we just don’t know,” he said. “When you lose your key, we have to bring in a locksmith and get the whole lock remade … If you lose your keycard, we can just deactivate it.”

Related: Operation Building Safe draws mixed reactions from students

The transition began in Gregory because the college house was due for renovation over the summer. The Singh Nanotechnology Building, also under renovation this summer, is the only other campus installed with SALTO locks. “This is giving us a chance to do a pilot project to see if this would be a technology to install in all the college dorms,” Eckmen said. “We have to put it in our community and see from a customer service perspective if it works.”

Barbara Lea-Kruger, Director of Communications at the Business Services Division, said that the transition might continue in a similar manner — as buildings are renovated, they could be updated with the new security system.

The contactless card is becoming continually popular. Many debit and credit cards are transitioning away from the magnetic stripe. There are over 80 countries with SALTO locks installed, securing both single homes and large establishments like Princeton University and Heathrow Airport.

“We’re moving to that technology because that’s the way technology is going,” Lea-Kruger said. “This is just our starting point.”

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