Although the authors seem to be a bit vague about the important detail how long did it take, the robot they built to autodial the combination lock is impressively well-made and fun to watch. [via Hack a Day]

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Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • rdarlington.myopenid.com

    High end locks prevent brute forcing. Take a look at any of the GSA approved combination (permutation?) locks that are used to protect confidential data up through secret and top secret. (X-09 for instance).

    I’m curious how they coupled the dial to their rotating shaft.

  • Rahere

    The connection’s quite simple, if you know how the thing works there’s only one possible way.
    Cracking it may be more interesting, as it probably isn’t slack-sensitive – feel may work, however, in the same domain.
    Most crackers of these work accoustically.

    • rdarlington.myopenid.com

      So, I’ve been doing safe and vault work for over 20 years now. I never heard of this type of thing being done acoustically. It’s not that I’m saying you’re wrong, it’s just that I don’t see the benefit. Locks have features to defeat these attacks (at least any decent lock does). When I built a machine like this the one (20 years ago using a PIC and a modem to page me with the combo), issue we always had was coupling the shaft to the lock dial. We ended up using a very large (and very massive) drill chuck. Because of the high moment of inertia we were limited in speed. We often considered using a rubber cone but were afraid of slippage. The article seems to indicate they had something machined to fit this lock dial which means it won’t work on anything but that one type of dial. Fine for a proof of concept device but not practical for a real locksmith.

  • Simon

    Regardless of the practicality that’s pretty neat. The article says it took 21000 cycles to find the combination and mentions ‘just a few hours’.

    I remember years ago at the science museum in London there was a safe that you could try to open. I believe it had a prize in it too? Might be misremembering, this was in 1984!

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