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Key Cutting Vending Machine

Automatic key making machine
  (+7, -1)
(+7, -1)
  [vote for,

How it would work:

You drop your key into a chute in the machine, where it lands on a glass plate. Several cameras would take digital pictures of the key from several angles. A computer would convert these photos into a 3D model of the key.

The model would be adjusted into some standard orientation, then the computer would search it's database to detect what key blank to use to make your new key(s) from.

The computer would display the price to you, and wait for your money. Once you've put your money in, the machine would cut as many keys for you as you've specified, and return your original key.

For those customers who want dectorative keys, the machine would would *not* use pre-decorated enameled keys. Instead, it would have a roll of ShrinkyDink plastic, and a printer. It would print the user-selected picture onto the plastic, cut off the strip, and glue it into a loop. This loop would be slid over the key, and shrunk with a heat lamp. To avoid a distored picture, the computer would have a special "distortion map" for each brand of keyblank, and use that map to predistort the image before printing; When the plastic shrinks, the image distortions are canceled out.

goldbb, Apr 04 2009


       I think the "distortion-map" is a bit much why not just have foam fill the gaps to let the shrink-wrap sit comfortably. [+]
FlyingToaster, Apr 04 2009

       Distortion is going to be caused because you're shrinking a cylindrical piece of plastic around a vaguely circular (or rectangularish, or trapezoidal, or pentagon, or other shape) piece of metal.   

       The only way I can think of to use foam to "fill the gaps" that would prevent distortion would be to use foam to make all key heads rectangular.   

       Since the shape of the key's head is a significant part of how people identify one key from another, this would be a bad idea.   

       For example, I have a Baldwin brand front door lock (with an octaganal head key), and a Kwikset brand lock (with a pentagonal head key) on my apartment door. I tell them apart by the shape of the heads. I would want be able to to put the same decoration on both keys, and still tell the keys apart by the shape of the heads. If the decoration made them both into square head keys, I wouldn't be happy.
goldbb, Apr 04 2009

       Given the degree of sophistication your machine requires, what's the point of using key blanks? Wouldn't it be easier to just mill an exact replica? (Half serious. In reality, you don't actually need a 3-D model.)   

       I don't want to drop my keys into a machine (which may or may not work and give it back to me.) Just let me stick it into a slot (but hold on to it); you get the same information, plus a pretty good hint towards orientation.   

       The distortion map is the only part of this that I think would actually be easy...
jutta, Apr 04 2009

       You could have a machine with a vast number of keyholes. Simply insert your key into the correct one that fits, and a pre-cut duplicate key corresponding to that slot will be released instantly.
Ian Tindale, Apr 04 2009

       ah, I see... I thought you meant to cover for indentations in the metal... umm nevermind.
FlyingToaster, Apr 04 2009


       If you mill the keys from scratch, there'll be *much* more waste. Keys cut from regular key blanks only need their teeth to be cut, which means cutting along one or two edges. Keys cut from scratch need to have their outlines cut out, their lengthwise grooves on their front and back faces cut, and finally the teeth cut. Not only do you need to start with more metal (which costs more), and remove more metal (which requires lots of mechanical energy), and dispose of more metal, but it also takes more time.   

       If you just stick your key in a slot, the machine doesn't see the head of the key. Maybe it doesn't *need* to see the head, but when a human is making a copy of a key for someone, the key's head is a major clue as to which keyblank to use. Furthermore, some types of key blank are identical *except* for the head -- for example, Baldwin and Schlage keys are functionally interchangable, but the heads of Baldwin keys are much larger and shaped differently, and say Baldwin on them, and cost more. A customer might be a bit unhappy to recieve a smaller, cheaper looking, key copy.   

       Also, the chute could be designed so that the customer could see all the way down from the place where he drops his key in, to the place where the key falls out. In this design, the key would pass by a motion sensor, and activate several high speed cameras which would photograph the key, from several angles, while it's in flight, on its way down.   

       Ian Tindale, I've actually thought of doing it that way, except for one major problem -- the typical customer who would want a copy of his housekey doesn't have the patience to do that.   

       After all, a large part of the goal of the machine is not to merely have the process automated, but also to make it faster than handing your key to a human expert, and having him do it.   

       I work in a hardware store, and sometimes I make key copies. If someone hands me a common type of key, one I recognize, I can make a copy in less than a minute. If someone hands me a more obscure brand of key, one I don't recognize, it can take me several minutes of looking at the various key blanks we have, before I can identify it. Of course, once I have the blank, it takes less than a minute to make the copy.   

       If a customer were trying his key into each of a over hundred different slots (yes, there are that many different key blanks), it would take him a quarter hour or more to find the right slot to get a key made, no matter how common a key it was.
goldbb, Apr 05 2009

       [goldbb] calipers ?
FlyingToaster, Apr 05 2009

       goldbb, - it'd be more than 100 or so slots, it'd be one slot for each and every type of key, in each and every combination of teeth profiles (incidentally, how many different or unique keys are there in existence, would you say?). If you can insert your key and then turn it, then that's your key. Admittedly, that might present the secondary problem of finding your keyhole, but that might be a feature not a bug. As well as the tertiary problem of it being a pretty big machine.
Ian Tindale, Apr 05 2009

       PS: now I can't get a certain Weird Al Yankovic track from "Poodle Hat" out of my head.
Ian Tindale, Apr 05 2009


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