Just how has the lock and key evolved? Here is a brief history of how we secure our houses, businesses, and other buildings.
Like many things we take for granted in the modern age, the lock and key have ancient roots. The ancient Egyptians were great innovators in security technology. They began developing basic tumbler locks all the way back in 1000 BCE. These were essentially pinned tumbler locks made of wood. Similar locks from around the same time have been found in Iraq and Greece – two areas where people frequently traded with the Egyptians.
The use of metal in doorway security locks was pioneered by the Romans.
Wealthy Romans would often wear their keys on their fingers to display to the public that they were rich enough to have a property that needed to be locked away. Security in many ways remains an indicator of social status, although perhaps not in such an obvious way.
The Lever Tumbler Lock
The next great game-changing innovation in lock technology was not to come for thousands of years. The invention of the lever tumbler lock by Robert Barron in 1778 was extremely significant. These locks used delicate levers that would only rise up simultaneously if the correct key was used. Lever tumbler locks are still used today. Garden locks often employ this system, largely unchanged from 18th-century designs.
The Pin Tumbler Lock
In 1848, the American inventor Linus Yale Sr invented the modern pin tumbler lock. This was essentially a much more advanced reinvention of the ancient Egyptian lock and is the most common kind of door security in many countries up to the present day. Pins inside the mechanism of the lock can only be lifted if the correct key is used. Because a designer can incorporate any number of pins (or at least as many as will fit into the mechanism), the key/lock combination can be made to be relatively unique – increasing security.
Enter any office building today and it is highly likely that you will have to scan a card or enter a pin in order to get through the door. This is known as credential access and allows building owners to know exactly who is entering or exiting premises. This allows for tighter security and safer fire protocols amongst other things. Credential access systems rely on electronic communication between a card or pin reader, an access control box, and doors.
Facial recognition is a huge (and controversial) development of indoor security technology. Using facial mapping and algorithmic matching, a facial recognition system can ensure that a person is who they say they are before unlocking a door. This technology is in widespread use in airports in the UK.
It is, however, controversial. Facial recognition technology has been criticized for allowing biometric data to be stored and utilized by the government (and, theoretically, anybody else). In China, Muslims targeted for mass arrests are being identified with biometric scanners. The potential for misuse of security technology is certainly always present. It remains to be seen whether the technology or the user is the catalyst for misuse, however. An old question we may never really solve.