You hear myths of old-school locksmiths who are so in tune with their trade, they're able to copy a key just from looking at a photo of it. The old-school-looking guys I talked with at one local shop said they couldn't do that, but now there's an app that can. KeyMe, the company that brought robot locksmiths to New York, has launched an iPhone app that is able to generate coded instructions that any locksmith can read, and make a copy of your key anywhere in the world.
The coded instructions are short and sweet. There's one line that tells the smith which blank to start with. There's a second line that's a series of numbers--say "3,1,4,1,6"--that tells the smith at what depth to cut the key's teeth.
Now, if you're ever locked out of your house, "you can walk into a mom and pop locksmith and give them instructions to make your key," says KeyMe founder Greg Marsh.
Just as with the KeyMe robot kiosks, you must have the foresight to snap a picture of your key and store it in KeyMe's cloud database before you accidentally lock yourself out. Simply storing your key's instructions is free. KeyMe charges $9.99 to retrieve the instructions when needed, and then you'll pay whatever your local locksmith charges to cut the new key. (Those in New York City may also use their app-stored data to make a key at a KeyMe kiosk.) Overall, the total cost should be an order of magnitude less than the $100 that New York City area locksmiths usually charge to let people in after they've locked themselves out.
The app also lets you share your key's instructions with someone else—perhaps a new roommate.
The app is only available for Apple devices. "Android is on our radar, but it will not be super soon," Marsh says.
I tried the app yesterday with Marsh looking on. You must take a picture of your key with the app, following its exact instructions, for it to work. You can't use any old picture of your key. That ensures that any key copiers must sign up for the app with a verified email address and credit card and must have physical possession of the key.
The app's user instructions, which include putting the key on a white piece of paper and taking two pictures from a certain distance, help generate photos that the app's software is able to "see" and understand. After all, the app must measure the depths of all of the key's teeth in the photo and distinguish the teeth from shadows or the background. Crumbs on the paper can confuse the app, as can putting the key on a shiny surface, such as a tabletop, instead of a piece of paper.
I found the app easy to follow and soon had a digital copy of my front door key stored. I mail-ordered a physical copy, too, for $4.99. (Printing an instant copy direct from a KeyMe kiosk is $20.)
Benjamin Laxton, who worked on that software as a graduate student, tells Popular Science he's not surprised someone has thought of a commercial product using computer vision to copy keys. After publishing a paper on his work, he even got calls from people who wanted help turning his idea into a product. "It seemed like it was going to happen at some point," says Laxton, who now works on computer vision software for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Having an app like KeyMe in the world doesn't necessarily make your keys much less secure, Laxton says. "Before this app or before the paper we wrote, it was entirely possible for a skilled individual to make a copy of a key after only having it for a short period of time," he says. "This lowers the bar, I guess, a bit more."
People should be aware this technology exists and be careful of leaving keys lying around, he says.
After generating the instructions for making my front door key in the KeyMe app running on Marsh's iPhone, I wrote the code down in a notebook and took it to a locksmith close to the Popular Science office, Elite Locksmith on East 33rd Street. The instructions looked like a jumble of letters and numbers to me, but the two men working there said they would be able to cut a key from it. They would charge more for such a job—"probably like ten bucks," one locksmith says, rather than their usual $2.50. The extra charge is for the extra work it takes to look up the different teeth depths and cut the key by hand.
One of the smiths pointed to the code in my notebook and said, "You should keep that in case you ever lose your key."
i call this a thief's best friend ... hmm, take a photo of a key and duplicate it.
Some keys have "DO NOT DUPLICATE" stamped on them. usually for master keys or GM, or GGM Keys
How easy would it be to copy a key on the phone, and then to edit the photo to remove the "DO NOT DUPLICATE"
for your own safety, we should grin and bear it when we have to get out our spare, go to the smith and physically hand it to them.
I'm sure a locksmith will be able to tell if any notations have been filed off.
Do you trust this app, given what was revealed by Snowden?
You just gave the image of your house key and GPS location to NSA... just saying.
Yeah, and it's not like that's going to be abused ...
File under: Terrible Idea
So you're saying... If I have MY key in MY hand and I need to get a copy, that this app is somehow going to help me? What's wrong with handing it to the clerk, waiting 90 seconds, and leave with my new key? Your comments are all correct calling it like it is, a Crime App.
So now if we leave our keys anywhere for a few minutes to go to the bathroom, or valet our car, or have someone open a door for us, our entire ring can be copied immediately.
So a valet can now scan your key and your address from your registration card and send to a friend waiting outside a locksmith. They will have your house cleared out before dessert. And a call from the valet will even let them know you're on your way home.
Also now a perfect app for predators who can now get gullible kids to scan their house key by telling them that their key ridges can predict their future! (if they now can convince kids to send pictures of their front, I'm sure a picture of their front door will be no problem. sad
What I can't figure out is how naïve some college kids and even some adults are.
I ROUTINELY see college kids leaving their keys on a desk in the library while they go to look for a book or go to purchase a drink.
I have even seem some teachers throw their keys down on a desk and leave them there the entire day.
And when I try to warn them that this is not a good idea, I end up feeling like I am the person to be treated with suspicion or that I should be ashamed of myself for not having enough faith in other people.
I want to say to them: "You can have faith in other people all you want to, and I am fine with that but do you really want to have faith in all those sneaky people we call criminals."
Their belief seems to be that because a criminal is out of sight and out of mind they do NOT exist. This completely confounds me.
Sometimes I wonder if I really AM in a virtual reality of the Matrix's creation which is designed to do one thing and one thing only...drive me completely crazy.
"calling it like it is, a Crime App"
That's exactly what I think it is too. Besides how often do you have to get keys made? Personally I have never lost a key in my life and have never needed to use a locksmith.
But this new tech has got me pondering, perhaps I should go digital. That should solve the problem.
Who gives a valet their whole key ring? I don't even give them a key that can open the trunk.
@Kevin Elzinga 1
i do security - what we do to 'educate' the new guys. are to ... "misplace" their keys if they leave the SITE keys unattended. you'll be amazed how many newbie guards do this.
Anyways, after an hour or two of missing keys and them sweating profusly - we return them and say they were found in some other spot ;)
They say "Thanks, you saved my ass" lol. but none the wiser,as to who took them.
They never leave the keys behind again ,,, except for that one guy, he was on probation so we transfered him to a construction site. now he's guarding boxes of shingles somewhere.
but i'm just saying what we do; not telling you to per say. use your discretion. ;)
but then again - if they dont listen to your concern one day someone will probably REALLY steal them.
Unfortunately you always see clumps of keys hanging on valet key boards.
JRS ONE brings up a good point.
But i've never understood that. I have a 'valet' key. only access to unlock DOORs and start the car.
I know every car is different, but with MY car, once you get into the car with the 'Valet key' they can pop the trunk, with the trunk release button.
i've never understood that design flaw ... at least in my car.
You guys have to be kidding. Locks are for keeping honest people honest. There is already a plethora of ways to defeat a standard US lock. They can be picked, raked, bumped, shimmed, drilled and kicked in. If somebody wants to get into a lock bad enough, they can make it happen.
Everyone seems to think security is a huge issue with an app like this. I think you are putting way too much value on the security of the house keys themselves. Keys are completely useless unless you know which lock they open. Leaving your keys on the desk in the library won't help anyone who doesn't know where you live.
As someone who has been locked out before, this app will help me way more than it will lessen my security. If someone wants to break into my house, it is far easier to break a window than to find my keys, take them from me for 5 minutes to scan them (while removing them from my key chain and orienting them correctly), and follow me home. If someone has enough possession of my keys to scan them, what's to stop them from pocketing them or taking them to a locksmith themselves? At least this way there is a credit card and account linked to me making copies, as opposed to a locksmith who will ask no questions and give you some copies for under 5 bucks. As long as there is no address linked to the account, I think this is a great idea, and I will certainly be a customer.
From the looks of this, it will work with standard flat keys, but not with specialized keys like Medeco, which have an angled component to their cuts in addition to depth, or Mul-T-Lock, which have a completely different cut system.
3-D printer would handle keys such as Medeco.
A 3D printer cannot infer from a 2D photograph. Medeco has angles to the bumps, so unless a straight on pic is also taken and cross referenced to the location of each cut, the 3D printer will only print a flat key which will not work with a Medeco lock.
"So you're saying... If I have MY key in MY hand and I need to get a copy, that this app is somehow going to help me?"
No. You didn't understand the article, did you?
If you LOSE your key, or you lock it in your house, or any other reason for why you don't have your key but require it to get into your own place, THEN this app will help you. That's the whole point of the app. You're saving a backup schematic for when you don't have your key, not trying to replace it for locksmiths forever.
On mine there is a switch in the glove box that deactivates the internal trunk release. The valet key won't unlock the glove box either so lock it with the master and you're set.
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My valet key is in a drawer somewhere, I probably haven't seen it in a year.