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Tech Tuesday: New Device Makes Life Easier For Some Locksmiths, Car Thieves

February 23, 2010
1989 Ford Mustang convertible

1989 Ford Mustang convertible

3-D printing is fairly new, but its popularity grows with every improvement to the technology. The process uses either a 3-D scanner to map an item's surface or 3-D imaging software to build something from scratch. Then a special printer recreates that surface in sandstone, plastic, ceramic, or metal.

The implications of 3-D printing are mind-blowing, especially for car collectors and enthusiasts, who often need to replace hard-to-find parts; now, instead of trolling eBay for gears and screws, they can just scan or model the broken part and print it themselves. Later this year, a variation of this same technology will come to your local locksmith via a device called the Electronic Key Impressioner.

In essence, the Electronic Key Impressioner (EKI) scans a car's lock and allows a locksmith to upload the scan to a computer, which then cuts a new key based on the scan's coordinates. This seems like a particularly good option for people restoring older cars that have come without a viable set of keys.

Unfortunately, the EKI also seems like a particularly good tool for car thieves, who want to make off with a sweet ride. Forseeing just such a problem, the device's inventors, Steve Randall and Ted Schwarzkopf, intend to sell the device only to licensed locksmiths. Furthermore, they've designed the EKI to interact with a regularly updated online database of key codes, which interpret the data contained in the EKI's scan and provide precise coordinates for cutting a new key. If an unlicensed EKI accesses that database, the database bricks the device, rendering it little more than a nifty looking paperweight. 

Apart from the potential for misuse, there are a couple of other downsides to the EKI. For starters, it currently only works on Fords, although Randall is working to expand its functionality to a broader range of vehicles and their respective key codes. Far worse -- especially for thieves -- is the fact that the EKI only works on "regular" keys, not the transponder keys common in vehicles from the mid/late 1990s onward. (The 1989 Ford Mustang above, however, would probably be fair game.)

The EKI should be available to licensed locksmiths later this year. As for devoted thieves, it sounds like they'd be better off just using a Slim Jim and some good old-fashioned hotwiring knowhow.

[PopularMechanics via Autoblog]

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