The Electronic Key Impressioner (Adam Morath, AOL Autos... The Electronic Key Impressioner (Adam Morath, AOL Autos, angelandspot and pareeerica, Flickr).

If you’ve ever lost your car keys you know just how big of a nightmare it can be to procure a replacement set. There are two good routes to getting a new key: you can tow your vehicle to the local car dealership or you can call a locksmith. Both routes will take time, and either avenue will be very costly.

How much cash are we talking here? Locksmith Jim Mowry at Aaron’s Lock & Key in Madison Heights, Michigan says the typical house call can cost $150 on average, and if your vehicle is far enough way or you’re calling in the middle of the night the bill quickly heads north. Beyond the money, Mowry says timing to get a new key in your hands can be up to an hour.

But keys are more modern now and a thoroughly modern way to duplicate keys is in the works. Alternative Product Solutions (API) is working on a new product called the Electronic Key Impressioner (EKI). The tool that could make the job of making keys faster and easier for locksmiths, which could eventually bring down the cost for customers who need a new key.

API president Ted Schwarzkopf says the device, which is still under development, could cut down the time it takes to receive your new key from up to an hour to less than 10 minutes.

"The process locksmiths go through of manually impressioning to find the bitting needed to make a new key is time consuming and quite primitive," said Schwarzkoph. "The EKI system will certainly cut some costs, so hopefully prices will be adjusted accordingly."

How It Works

The EKI electronically maps the inside of a lock using a scanning tool, a full set of the most common vehicle lock keyway inserts, custom key mapping software and a computer, providing a key code within a matter of seconds. A second advantage for the EKI comes at night, when low light conditions can make manual key impressioning more difficult. API ’s device doesn’t need any light to get the job done.

Early prototypes of the device only worked on Ford vehicles because one of Schwarzkoph’s business partners owned a Ford and it was on-hand for testing. The device will go through testing to be used on most major brands that use wafer-tumbler locks.

But while the EKI could potentially make the job of a locksmith more efficient, some worry that a fast acting electronic scan tool could make the job of stealing a car easier for thieves as well. And while vehicle thefts have been on the decline over the past six years, the Insurance Information Institute says 956,846 cars were stolen in 2008 alone. That’s a car or truck stolen every 33 seconds, and the police only catch the car thieves 12 percent of the time on average.

With those sobering theft statistics in mind, it’s easy to see why some would worry about a tool like API ’s Electronic Key Impressioner getting into the wrong hands. Schwarzkoph says the best way to prevent the EKI from getting into the wrong hands is to restrict sales of the device to registered locksmiths.

The company is making efforts to be able to “brick,” or disable an impressioning tool when the device is hooked up to a computer if the EKI is reported stolen or the owner is suspected of foul play. API is also looking into doing background checks for perspective buyers, a move that will surely get the thumbs-up from law enforcement.

Schwarzkoph is also quick to point out that there are already plenty of locksmith tools out on the market today that could cause considerable damage in the wrong hands, adding “I hope this device will not be received as any more menacing to society than any other locksmith tool."

Still, what makes some nervous about the EKI is just how fast it can process a new key, but Mowry insists that even five minutes isn’t enough time for a thief to steal a car. Mowry tells us that, like the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds,” thieves want to steal a vehicle in under a minute to minimize the chances of getting caught.

While the EKI will reportedly make the job of impressioning keys much faster for locksmiths, the device is far from the last tool a professional will ever need. API's scan tool only works with traditional keys, and many newer vehicles utilize "smart keys" that communicate with the vehicle's systems via a transponder built within the key.

Schwarzkoph and his team are still perfecting the lock scanning tool and the company is on track to have the EKI ready for sale to registered locksmiths and authorized security personnel by late 2010 and pricing will be announced closer to the product’s introduction.

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