University of California at San Diego computer scientists have designed a software program that can perform key duplication without having the key, instead relying on a photograph of the key.

The keys used in the most common residential locks in the United States have aseries of 5 or 6 cuts, spaced out at regular intervals. The computer scientists created a program in MatLab that can process photos of keys from nearly any angle and measure the depth of each cut. To adjust for different angles and distances between the camera and the key being captured, the researchers relied on a classic computer vision technique to normalize an object's orientation and size in three dimensions, by matching control points from a reference image to equivalent points in the target image.

"We built our key duplication software system to show people that their keys are not inherently secret," said Stefan Savage, computer science professor from UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering. "Perhaps this was once a reasonable assumption, but advances in digital imaging and optics have made it easy to duplicate someone's keys from a distance, without them even noticing."

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