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Automatic Doors Have Graduated Beyond Entryways

A brief history of how we got here, including a controversial Greek from 10 A.D.

Blog 4, July 2021

Since the introduction of the first automatic doors in the 1950s and 1960s, the industry has evolved quite a bit, and so have the bevy of benefits the technology affords users. The original paybacks on the technology, depending on various history, include sliding doors to make entering buildings in inclement weather more manageable or making it easier for those carrying heavy loads to pass through an entranceway.

(We should pause here to acknowledge the small but passionate number of folks who credit the first automatic door to a Greek mathematician and engineer, Heron of Alexandria, way back in 10 A.D. But it’s important to note that Heron’s designs were powered by heat from a fire that caused pressure to build up in a brass vessel. Not very practical and definitely frowned upon by your local fire marshal.)

Innovations have followed in steady succession: motion detectors in the 1970s, infrared sensors in the 1980s, and automatic folding doors in the 1990s. Taken in full, the modern automatic door industry as we know it has only been around for about three decades.

Of course, 2020 was memorable for all the wrong reasons, when a global pandemic radically altered the lives of every man, woman, and child on earth. It also was the year that automatic doors grew up; when their public safety aspects eclipsed their already well-known convenience as the No. 1 benefit. In 2020, automatic doors moved beyond entryways and into the realm of safe passage.

This is because the COVID era has likely forever changed the way we think about touching surfaces in public places. As recently as April 2021, the CDC reported that coronavirus can remain viable on non- porous surfaces for days or weeks (while also pointing out that the majority of COVID cases are spread through droplets in the air). Because of this, and the public’s strong desire to avoid getting any virus, people are expected to continue minimizing their contact with surfaces, especially in public spaces.

Many businesses have responded to COVID by having all employees wear masks, limiting store occupancy, and by offering carryout or contactless pickup/delivery. But what is probably the most- touched surface in any business? The door handle.

Next consider how the public viewed automatic doors even before COVID. A comprehensive survey conducted by the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) revealed that respondents viewed the presence of automatic doors as a gauge of how much building owners and businesses cared about them. Plus, a staggering 98.9% of consumers who expressed a preference between automatic and manual doors prefer automatic doors.

Taken together, it becomes clear that automatic doors are an effective way to not only address concerns about surface germs, but to clearly signal that an establishment is taking health and safety concerns seriously.

Automatic doors create clear, no-touch pathways to businesses and other public buildings. In addition to their obvious germ-free characteristics, they bring a host of other benefits for people carrying packages, luggage, or children, and provide equal access to individuals with mobility challenges or other physical differences. They are durable, reliable, easily installed, and more affordable than many owners and specifiers realize. Plus, with public opinion galvanizing, the true question becomes whether a building can afford to be without them.

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