I’ve been skeptical that anything life-changing will come to the average consumer via 3-D printing, one of the buzziest technologies of 2013. The manufacturing method has the potential to revolutionize how everything from airplanes to furniture get made, and it could even improve our health, as it’s used to print organs or bespoke artificial limbs.
But for the average person in his or her everyday life, I just don’t think there are many direct and large-scale use cases at this point (see "Print These 20 Things You Don’t Really Need And Your 3-D Printer Pays For Itself").
So I felt compelled to note one of the first uses I’ve seen for 3-D printing that I personally would want to use. It’s for someone who loses their keys a lot. Like me.
The startup KeyMe, which says it’s trying to bring "innovation" to the locksmith industry, has launched a partnership with the 3-D printing marketplace Shapeways to let people print copies of their own keys on demand. They have an emergency lockout service that is available at 7-11s and Bed, Bath, and Beyond store locations in the New York, and they plan to expand to other cities soon. You could store a digital set of keys, and get them cut at these locations in an emergency. Through Shapeways, a customer could use an app to order key copies in plastic or brass and get them delivered to their door.
Sure, you could just leave your keys with a neighbor. And upon further reading of their website, it seems like the 3-D printing technique isn’t used at the emergency lockout locations—that’s just a physical key cutter.
But still, 3-D printing. Keys. Even in gold. Okay, maybe I jumped the gun. KeyMe may be on to a useful idea for forgetful people like me, but 3-D printing isn’t really going to make or break the concept either.