Place a key on the table and bring out the smartphone camera. It clicks and the screen shows a razor-sharp photo of the key. The photo is all you need to print a perfect copy of the key.
No, it's not a scene from some whodunit novel. With the help of two experts, who want to remain anonymous, PC för Alla did it. We took a picture of our own key, and from that picture alone we got a copy that could open our lock.
"Yes, it's possible to copy a key from a photo, in any case if it's a fairly simple key," says Håkan Hedlund, technology expert at SSF, the Swedish Theft Prevention Association.
The risks this carries are obvious. It will only take a couple of careless seconds for the thief, the curious neighbor, or the jealous former girl- or boyfriend to take a photo of your key and create a functional copy.
It's even possible to create keys from peoples' photos on Facebook.
"It is important to take good care of your keys," says Håkan Hedlund. "It may be risky to let them lay about -- and posting pictures of them on Facebook.
The reason it's possible to copy keys on your own is the breakthrough of 3D printers. They don't print texts or photos, but create three-dimensional figures in plastic.
The technology is similar to glue guns or pastry bags for cookies. The plastic is heated until it's liquidated and can be piped through a moving tip. A thin layer of plastic is piped out and dries immediately. When the first layer is done, the tip pipes out a new layer, and a figure is built.
"You can use a 3D printer to print everything from toys and ornaments to spare parts and architectural models," says Anton Månsson, hardware sales manager at Creative Tools.
Creative Tools sells 3D printers and tutors users. Anton Månsson says that interest in the technology is growing.
"It springs of course from the printers becoming cheaper and more flexible," he says.
You can get a good 3D printer under 10,000 kronor (US$1,200). Lots of models are so small that they can sit on an ordinary desk.
The material cost is really low. A figure that fits in your palm costs an only a couple of kronor and a small key is even cheaper. The exact cost depends on the object's size and the material used.
"You can use many different kinds of thermoplastic, nylon or wood-plastic composites, but none of the simpler 3D printers can use metal," says Anton Månsson.
In a key this affects the strength. The 3D printed plastic key cannot replace the usual one, but if you only need to open the door once, it works.
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