Ford develops voice-based, 3D-printed wheel nuts to combat wheel theft
Ford seems to believe theft of fancy alloy wheels is on the rise thanks to improved security systems that make it harder to steal whole cars. So it's working on creating anti-theft wheel nuts, each individually 3D printed for the car owner.
For a while there, you could protect things from theft by using Torx-style nuts, but they rapidly became widely available. The same might happen for any type of fastener. So Ford decided to tackle the problem using personalized locking wheel nuts. Just one per wheel is enough to prevent theft, and 3D printing makes it relatively easy to pump out custom, small, one-off parts like these quickly and efficiently in corrosion-resistant stainless steel.
Owners can use a logo or other design of their choosing, but as a nice personal twist on the process, Ford can also use a short voice recording of the owner to determine the unique shape of each driver's nut and companion key. Whatever is spoken into an audio recorder is transformed into an audio wave, and that audio wave is used to design the circular pattern on the nut and key. Presumably there's some smarts built into the system to make sure that pattern can take plenty of torque.
Adding unevenly spaced ribs inside the nut, as well as making indentations that become wider as they go deeper into the metal, makes it impossible for super-determined thieves to push wax into the nuts and attempt to recreate the unique key. The wax simply pulls apart as it comes out.
They look a bit weird, to be sure, which to some degree cancels out the coolness factor you might be expecting if you shell out for fancy wheels in the first place. What's more, things might get difficult for you if you lose your little key adapter – and there's no mention of when or where you'll be able to buy these things, either. So it's possibly just a little experiment in additive manufacturing. But it's a neat idea, and it'd certainly prevent unwanted visitors from playing with your nuts while you're not looking.
The personalized locking wheel nuts are detailed in the short video below.