Ford is developing an interesting new process that should reduce the chance of you finding your car perched on a set of bricks with all of its wheels missing.
The American automaker says that overall improvements in vehicle security have prompted thieves to target car parts instead. Including those valuable alloy wheels. It says that while locking wheel nuts can offer some protection, they’re not invulnerable. With that in mind, it’s created a unique, 3D-printed locking wheel nut that features contours based on the driver’s voice.
Ford says that just like an iris scan or a fingerprint, a person’s voice can be used as a unique biometric identification. To make the nut, engineers first record the driver’s voice for a minimum of one second, saying something like “Can I get sports stripes for my Ford Fiesta?” — well, you know, anything — after which its software converts the sound wave into a physical, printable pattern that’s turned into a circle and used as the design for the locking nut’s indentation and key.
“With the geometry in place, the nut and key are designed as one piece, then 3D-printed using acid and corrosion resistant stainless steel,” Ford explains on its website. “When finished, the nut and key are separated, with a small amount of grinding required to make them ready for use.”
And thieves needn’t bother trying to clone or copy the design. To prevent wax imprints, for example, the unevenly spaced ribs inside the nut and indentations become wider the deeper they go, causing the set wax to disintegrate when it’s extracted from the nut.
It may seem a bit gimmicky to use the car owner’s voice to create the design, but some drivers may rather like the personal touch that Ford’s system offers. And as the company points out, the process doesn’t have to be based on voice, as the nuts could a feature a design specific to a vehicle, or use the driver’s initials. “The design could also take inspiration from a driver’s interest, for example, by using the outline of a famous racetrack,” Ford says.
Ford research engineer Raphael Koch, for one, thinks it’s a great idea. “It’s one of the worst experiences for a driver, to find their car up on blocks with all four wheels gone,” Koch explains. “Some alloy wheels can cost thousands to replace, but these unique rim nuts will stop thieves in their tracks. Making wheels more secure and offering more product personalization are further proof that 3D printing is a game-changer for car production.”
Ford hasn’t revealed when it might launch the system, or how much it would cost. We’ve reached out for more information and will update when we hear back.
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