We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Knight Rider: Copying A Key From Really Far Away

Science Not Fiction
By Eric Wolff
Nov 13, 2008 3:52 AMNov 5, 2019 12:57 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 3-D printing in light of a Knight Rider episode in which KITT photographed a key and then used a handy laser cutter to produce the key. But in that post, I never considered the other component of that technology, namely, making a key based on a photograph. Fortunately, a couple of scientists at the University of California-San Diego got right on that problem and proved that you can, indeed, copy a key from a photograph. Dr. Stefan Savage, a UCSD computer scientist, and his student, Benajamin Laxton, demonstrated their software on two images of a key. The first was taken from close range with a cellphone camera. The second set of keys was shot using a telephoto lens form a rofotop to capture an image of keys on a cafe table 200 feet away. Then they wrote an algorithm in Matlab that could normalize the picture of the key depending on distance and the angle of the photo. Once the image has been normalized, it was a relatively simple matter to encode the ridges along the keylength into a numerical pattern, and then render that pattern into a real metal key. Of course, the unanswered question for this experiment has to be, Why? Here's what Savage said on the UCSD website: “If you go onto a photo-sharing site such as Flickr, you will find many photos of people’s keys that can be used to easily make duplicates. While people generally blur out the numbers on their credit cards and driver's licenses before putting those photos on-line, they don’t realize that they should take the same precautions with their keys.” Well, that's a good point, and it's something worth being careful about. But I still say he watched too many police shows.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.