Locking Mechanisms 
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An overhead picture of a micro-locking mechanism
Security systems are becoming increasingly complex and effective. Padlocks and combinations have been replaced by computer software; the next step is combining the realm of physical locking mechanisms with the world of computers. This process has already begun through the development of micro-locks. Elaborate security devices involving micro-locking mechanisms are being developed to protect sensitive areas of government and business such as federal and private banks, scientific labs, and nuclear arms facilities.
Micro-locks are very simple mechanisms in design; it is their small size that makes them so special, often the entire lock is no larger than the width of a human hair. As shown on the left in Figure 1 there is a small track in which a pin is moving horizontally. The track is a maze with choices (either up or down), one choice continues along the track, while the other is a dead end. The track is moved along horizontally by the gears shown in Figure 2. As the pin comes to each choice a user places input into a computer which moves the pin accordingly (either up or down). If the user makes an incorrect choice the pin comes to a dead end and the lock no longer moves, if the choices are made correctly the mechanism is unlocked and another action may be initiated (i.e. unlocking a door, or switch).

Currently Sandia National Labs in the United States are developing micro-locks in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Defense. Safeguarding the US's nuclear arsenal is the main application being considered for these locking mechanisms.
Figure 1
Figure 2
All Pictures: Sandia National Labs - http://www.sandia.gov

  2001 SMA/MEMS Research Group 
 Last modified: Aug 17, 2001