Ford says it has developed a 3D-printed locking wheel nut made using a unique biometric signature based on the driver’s recorded voice in a bid to prevent wheel and tire thefts.
Ford worked with industrial 3D printing supplier EOS to create the locking nuts, which feature unique contours based on the driver’s voice, similar to how some systems use biometric identification based on an iris scan or a fingerprint. Here, engineers record the driver’s voice for at least one second, then use software to convert the resulting soundwave into a physical pattern that can be 3D printed. They then convert the pattern into a circle and use the design for the indentation and key on the locking nut. The nut and key are designed as a single piece, then 3D printed using acid and corrosion-resistant stainless steel.
What’s more, inside the nut are unevenly spaced ribs and indentations to prevent a thief from making a wax imprint of the pattern, since the wax breaks when it’s pulled from the nut. Ford says drivers could also use something like the car’s logo or their initials to create the pattern if they don’t want to record their voice.
For now, the locking nuts are just a concept. But the technology could presumably prevent the kind of theft of wheels from, say, a brand-new Chevrolet Corvette C8, that we saw last week in Detroit. Of course, Ford presumably had these 3D-printed wheel nuts in development long before the C8, which was likely on loan to a journalist or GM employee, ended up on cinderblocks.
Thefts of motor vehicle accessories, which includes wheels and tires, fell 4.1% in 2018 to 272,124 incidents, according to the most recently available FBI statistics. Tire and wheel theft has become a particular problem in Detroit, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Ford says 3D printing holds enormous promise for automakers by dramatically speeding up tooling and parts production, lowering weight and creating parts that wouldn’t be possible via conventional production techniques. The company says it has used 3D printing for more than 30 years to make prototype parts and shorten development times for new vehicles. Vehicles like the Ford GT, Focus and Mustang GT500 all feature 3D-printed parts.