I recently came across an app that literally “opens doors” for people who have disabilities that make it difficult or impossible to initiate an automatic door by pushing an actuator.  The app is being developed by Portal Entryways (there’s more info here, and you can email the company here).

Check out how it works (and note the excitement of the people testing the app):

The app would be installed in the phones of people who are unable to use the wall-mounted actuator, and as long as the person has the app running in the background on their phone, the doors equipped with special receivers will open automatically when the phone is within about 10 feet of the door.  The door will stay open until the user has moved out of proximity of the door.

The question here is whether an app on a user’s phone qualifies as a “knowing act” (more background on that here).  The standard for low-energy operators – BHMA A156.19 – currently defines a knowing act as:  “Consciously initiating the powered opening of a low-energy door using acceptable methods including: wall or jamb-mounted contact switches such as push plates; fixed non-contact switches; the action of manual opening (pushing or pulling) a door; and controlled access devices such as keypads, card readers, and keyswitches.”

Could an app with limited distribution be considered a controlled access device?  BHMA is planning to address this in the next edition of the standard, so for now there is no definitive answer to that question.  It would be up to the code official whether the app can be used, and whether any safety sensors are needed.  I spoke to the US Access Board and the International Code Council, and they referred me back to BHMA, since the requirement for a knowing act is only included in the BHMA standard.  I didn’t get the impression that any of the people I spoke with were overly concerned about the effect of the app on safety, but that is my unofficial opinion.

This app is an important tool for people who are not able to use a wall-mounted actuator, so I would really like to find a way to allow this type of automatic operation while still maintaining the necessary level of safety.  What do you think?

  • Is the app acceptable because of the limited number of users who could be trained not to continue to approach the door if they see a person in the path of the door swing?
  • Should a safety sensor be added that alerts the user to someone standing in the path of the door so they can wait to approach until the person moves out of the way?
  • Is it necessary to have safety sensors interface with the receiver to prevent the door from opening until the area is clear?
  • Guide rails are required when an automatic door is opened by a sensor that detects each approaching occupant, but the rails can be difficult or impossible to retrofit on existing openings.  Is an acceptable level of safety achievable without the rails considering that the app will only be used by specific people?




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