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Optical lock foils thieves

26 Feb 2004

Thieves may soon have their work cut out for them as a UK inventor designs a failsafe optical lock.

A UK inventor has come up with a way to make what is thought to be an unpickable lock. Based on a clever mixture of optics and electronics, Jeremy Rice has just won a £50 000 grant from the Scottish Executive to put his “Optilock” idea into practice.

“The idea has been 10 years in the making and this money has been the biggest break for me yet,” Rice told Optics.org. “At the moment, the lock is a computer model. This money will allow us to see how these ideas will work and what the devices will actually look like.”

Most locks are picked by tweaking a series of levers in the lock or bypassing some sort of electronic control system. Rice’s idea removes these vulnerable components.

Instead his Optilock contains a bundle of up to six input optical fibers on one side of the lock barrel and a corresponding number of fibers on the other side. When a special key is inserted into the lock, it connects the fibers in a unique routing pattern opening the lock in a fraction of a second. Light then flows around the circuit until the key is removed and the circuit is broken.

Rice says that the only way someone could pick the lock is to duplicate the key. “You could potentially have as many different points as you want on the lock barrel as inputs and outputs,” he explained. “Because it is a 3D pathway you are dealing with, you have potentially billions or trillions of combinations depending on how the lock is made. The probability of duplicating the path is very small.”

The first Optilocks have been designed for the automotive industry. According to Rice, there is no reason why the lock cannot be scaled up and adapted for buildings and other larger-scale uses.

Rice plans to use his award to develop his idea into a product and is currently looking for industrial partners to team up with. Jeremy Rice can be contacted at: jcj007@yahoo.com

Jacqueline Hewett is news reporter on Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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