It’s 11 pm on a Saturday and you’ve locked yourself out of your house. You’ll have to call a locksmith. Then you’ll wait for him or her to come to your place… and, if you’re a New Yorker, you’ll end up paying about $100 to get back into your house.
But what if you could go a 7-Eleven and get a whole new copy of your key for about $20, instead? A homegrown startup called KeyMe has just installed two kiosks in New York City 7-Elevens to do just that. Three more are coming this week, says the startup’s founder, Greg Marsh. But don’t first go to a kiosk when you’re in trouble. You’ll need to have the foresight to have had a copy of your key scanned digitally beforehand.
Here’s how it works. When you first go to a kiosk, you scan the key you want copied. If you like, you are able to make a copy right then and there for $3.49, for a basic key, or $5.99, for a novelty one.
You may also choose to make an account with KeyMe and save a digital file of the key in KeyMe’s online database. Simply storing the digital file is free. Then, if you lock yourself out in the future, you can go to a KeyMe kiosk, log into your account and get a new key cut from the file for $19.99. Logging into your account requires your email and a single fingerprint scan.
I don’t know why making a key from the account is so much more expensive than making a copy from the original key. It seems to me that the key-making process should be identical–and therefore the price should be the same–but I’m not sure. I’m waiting for a comment on this from KeyMe.When I asked about the price difference between getting a copy of a key you have with you and making a new key from your account, Marsh explained the process for making both keys is the same. “However, we think of on-the-spot key duplication as our basic service, and the digital duplication option as a premium service,” he says. The premium price helps cover the cost of storing people’s accounts for free and is still much cheaper than getting a locksmith, he adds.
I tried one of these kiosks yesterday with Marsh at hand to chat. I went to the 7-Eleven at 224 5th Avenue. Everything worked well, except that KeyMe isn’t able to make several types of keys. It cannot take a mailbox key. It also couldn’t copy my gate key nor my deadbolt key because it didn’t have the blank keys of those types. In fact, of all the keys on my keychain, the kiosk could only scan and save my front door key. KeyMe plans to add more types of blanks, such as mailbox blanks, to the machines soon, Marsh says.
I made an account and a $5.99 copy printed with a bit of the New York subway system map.
All of the technology inside a KeyMe kiosk took a year and a half to develop, Marsh says. One of the main innovations is the key scanner, which uses a secret method combining visual and mechanical techniques. Another important feature is the robotics inside the machine, which grab inserted keys and cut blanks. In fact, one of the most surprising things about the kiosk is all the noise it makes. In spite of all of its high-tech bells and whistles, it still needs to cut keys from metal blanks, just like your local human locksmith does.
Later, with my subway-map key in my purse, I asked a couple of computer scientists who research security how safe it was to save a digital copy of my house key in the cloud.
“It’s safe up to a point,” says Ed Schlesinger, the head of the electrical and computer engineering department at Carnegie Mellon University. “Are your bank records secure? Yeah. Have people broken into banks? Yeah.”
The fingerprint access makes KeyMe much safer than a password or PIN would, Schlesinger says. Researchers have demonstrated before that they are able to spoof fingerprint scanners. A safer login could use scans from two fingers or an iris scan, says Kevin Bowyer, chair of the computer science department at the University of Notre Dame.
KeyMe says it doesn’t store users’ home addresses with their digital key accounts. “That makes sense and I can believe it,” Bowyer says. However, the KeyMe system would need a way to keep digital accounts separate from the credit card information people use to purchase keys, he says.
Ultimately, Schlesinger says he would use something like KeyMe—because it would probably be too much trouble for thieves to put together the information they want from KeyMe. “You can always put a brick through my window,” he says.
The other New York City kiosk lives at 1594 York Avenue. Additional kiosks are going up this week in 7-Elevens at 368 8th Avenue, 676 Amsterdam Avenue and 351 Bowery Street.