The idea that you might surreptitiously snap a photo of someone’s house key and build a duplicate from it to break into their home sounds like a James Bond plot twist. So too does a 3D-printed titanium solution, which hides its security features inside — thereby rendering it unscannable.
In fact, the so-called Stealth Key is the creation of Swiss company UrbanAlps, which figured out a way to use additive manufacturing to make keys that keep their teeth concealed from view. The result is an alternative to regular, run-of-the-mill keys that can be easily scanned and copied.
“It is made using 3D-metal printing, or more precisely selective laser melting,” company co-founder Alejandro Ojeda told Digital Trends. “Thanks to this approach, we can make complex internal structures that are hidden, to block 3D-scanning of the mechanical code. It is a very simple approach, but one of the most effective ones. If such keys were to be produced using traditional manufacturing it would be impossible or at least very expensive. However, thanks to 3D-metal printing it’s cost effective. Each single key printed is different, even in batches of 850 at the same time.”
“It represents a disruption, both product-wise and manufacturing-wise,” he said.
Ojeda said he started working on the Stealth Key following work in the research and development department of a gas turbine company, where he used 3D-metal printing to invent new turbine parts with increased internal complexity. He then left the company to do a Ph.D. in lasers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology before turning his attention to the idea of developing an unbreakable key.
“The first proof-of-concept was rather bulky, but it worked and we have made amazing progress since then,” he continued. “The real challenge is not so much designing the key, but the cylinder to read the key internals. Reliability is one of the main reasons why mechanical cylinders are still dominant — with 90 percent of market share — despite the existence of electronic locks. People take mechanical cylinders for granted, but these genius mechanisms work for 20 to 30 years without a single fault — something electronic systems cannot provide. And there is no battery to change, either.”
Costing around $200, a pair of Stealth Keys and a cylinder lock mechanism is not the cheapest option out there, although it is not dissimilar in price to other high-security systems boasting high-grade cylinders. But if there is one thing it is worth splurging on, it is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your home is safe.
After all, you never know when a Swiss mastermind with a Ph.D. in lasers and a portable 3D scanner will want to try and break in!