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So-called ‘public-key’ cryptography involves passing ‘digital keys’ in plain site and creating codes that can move as bits (rather than atoms), securing communication between two parties separated in time and/or space. But what if you could do something similar with a physical house, garage or car key – ship a non-physical version to yourself or someone else that they can then print out into a real metal object on their end?

The catch, of course, is that balance between public and private – it becomes tricky once you let the cold, hard reality of your private key get close to the public realm.?Before we get to the security risks and other complications of this design by Oscar Diaz, however, it is worth looking at what this idea would enable: super-fast key replication, perfect digital copies that do not degrade from one generation to the next (losing ‘data’ with each copy of a copy) and universal accessibility without that associated risk of always having to carry keys on your person.

Different heads can be used to differentiate each key in a set from the next, and a central hole-and-lock system lets you conveniently carry a set in flat-pack form and fold out the keys in a clever and easy way … while also using standard metal rings with your existing key sets. In fact, this physical innovation would be useful even for keys that not made to work with this new 3D-printed, digitally-stored keys concept.

However, all of this means easy-to-make copies for would-be thieves – they can swipe and scan your keys, bringing them back (as they do sometimes in films) only to strike later with their perfect copy of your home key. And then there is the data transmission process: you have to make sure your ‘private’ key does not become a ‘public’ one as it moves through the internet. However, on the plus side, at least if someone finds your dropped keys in the parking lot there will not be anything identifiable on them that, for example, identifies your brand of vehicle and lets them more quickly find and steal your car!