Lockpicking is more of an art than a science: it’s probably 10% knowledge and 90% feeling. Only practice will teach you how much torque to apply to the cylinder, how to sense when you’ve pushed a pin far enough, or what it feels like when a pin springs back. Surely a robot would never be able to replicate such a delicate process, wouldn’t it?
Well, not according to [Lance] over at [Sparks and Code], who thought that building a lock picking robot would be an interesting challenge. He started out with a frame to hold a padlock and a servo motor to apply torque. A load cell measures the amount of force applied. This helps to keep the lock under a constant amount of tension as each pin is picked in succession. Although slow, this method seemed to work when moving the pick manually.
The difficult part was automating the pick movement. [Lance] built a clever system driven by two motors that would keep the pick perfectly straight while moving it horizontally and vertically. This was hard enough to get working correctly, but after adding a few additional clamps to remove wobble in the leadscrew, the robot was able to start picking. A second load cell inside the pick arm would detect the amount of force on each pin and work its way across the lock, pin by pin.
At least, that was the idea: as it turned out, simply dragging the pick across all pins in one go was enough to open the lock. A much simpler design could have achieved that, but no matter: designing a robot for all these intricate motions was a great learning experience anyway. It also gave [Lance] a good platform to start working on a more advanced robot that can pick higher-quality locks in which the dragging technique doesn’t work.
We haven’t come across lockpicking robots before; perhaps the closest equivalent would be this 3D-printed Snap Gun. If you’re interested in all aspects of locks and how to apply them, check out our Physical Security Hack Chat with Deviant Ollam.