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lock and key

Electric and Magnetic Locks

Recent lock developments include the magnetic-key lock, in which the pins are actuated by small magnets on the key, which has no serrations. When the key is inserted into the lock, these magnets repel magnetized spring-loaded pins, raising them in the same way that the serrations on a tumbler-type key would. The card-key lock is actuated by a series of magnetic charges; the card-key is popular where security is vital, because a new series may be electronically defined for each new user, without having to change the lock itself. Similarly, electronic card access systems are used in many hotels and office buildings. A special "key" system uses a paperboard or plastic card, on which a code is recorded as a series of holes or bumps, or a microchip or a magnetic strip on which a code is stored. A card reader at the lock location reads the code and sends the information to a computer, which sends a signal to release the bolt if the code is correct. Electronic combination locks similarly use a computer to compare a combination stored in memory with one entered on a keypad; access is permitted if the combinations match. In a biometric entry system the numeric keypad is replaced by a scanner, which captures an individual's fingerprint, palmprint, signature, or other personal characteristic and compares it with that in the computer's memory. Biometric entry systems are most often used in high-security areas, such as nuclear power plants.

In an electromagnetic lock a metal plate is attached to the door and an electromagnet is attached to the doorframe opposite the plate. When the current flows, the electromagnet attracts the plate, holding the door closed, When the flow of current is stopped, the door unlocks. A variation places the plate and electromagnet so that the door is held open when current flows, enabling the door to be closed automatically when the current stops.

Keyless entry systems, which are common in motor vehicles, rely on a keychain fob that contains a remote-control unit consisting of an integrated circuit and a radio transmitter. The fob sends a low-powered radio signal to a receiver in the motor vehicle, and, if the received code is the correct one, the receiver in the vehicle relays the signal to a microprocessor, which opens the lock. The acceptance of such entry systems has led to devices that allow additional functions within the vehicle to be activated remotely.

In other keyless entry systems, radio-frequency identification (RFID) is used. An RFID tag, card, or fob is brought within range of radio waves produced by an RFID reader or interrogator, allowing data to be exchanged; when the microprocessor controlling the lock confirms that the received data is associated with someone allowed entry, the door is unlocked. RFID systems are more commonly used to control entry into buildings or rooms, and the use of a computer to control locks that use RFID allows access to specific areas to be restricted to specific people or at specific times.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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