Adventures In Robotic Safe Cracking

A robotic machine turning the wheel of a safe

When [Zach Hipps] was faced with a locked safe and no combination, it seemed like calling a locksmith was the only non-destructive option. Well, that or doing something crazy like building a safe-opening robot. Since you’re reading this on Hackaday, we bet you can guess which path he took.

So far, [Zach] has managed to assemble the custom chuck and spindle for the safe cracker. This construction is then mated with an appropriately precise Trinamic controller for the motor, which is perfect for this heist project. After some early consternation around the motor’s stall detection capabilities, the project was able to move forward with extra microcontroller code to ensure that the motor disengages when sensing a ‘hard stop’ during cracking.

Precision is absolutely essential in a project like this. When dealing with a million potential combinations, any potential misconfiguration of the robot could cause it to lose its place and become out-of-sync with the software. This was encountered during testing — while the half-assembled robot was (spoilers) able to open a safe with a known combination, it was only able to do so at slow speed. For a safe with an unknown combination, this slow pace would be impractical.

While the robot isn’t quite ready yet, the Part 1 video below is a great introduction to this particular caper. While we wait for the final results, make sure to check out our previous coverage of another auto dialing robot cracking the code in less than a minute.

19 thoughts on “Adventures In Robotic Safe Cracking

  1. The weird thing is that James Bond had a number of robotic safe openers. In”On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” it’s a big thing that has to be hoisted up to the office.

    But in anotger, maybe You Only Live Twice,it’s a pocket gizmo, but requires he do more work. There may have been another one.

    So Q didn’t work on a standard machine to make it work smaller and better.

  2. Idk why he picked that pointlessly expensive motor if he’s just wanting to measure the point at which the motor begins to stall. Even a cheap TMC2209 stepper motor driver can detect that, or even just current monitoring the back EMF with any driver can spot the moment that greater resistance starts to occur, to the best of my current knowledge.

    1. Also, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a microphone connected to so it can detect the event of when a plate makes that ever so slight drop as it hits the gap, rather than trying to just brute force it, as a safecracker would do by ear?

  3. Not to denigrate the robot, but a standard 3-number safe dial isn’t that difficult to crack by hand. It takes some patience, but the technique is easy enough to learn from Youtube videos or the game Sophie’s Safecracking Sim (which is what finally got me into locksport)

  4. The maybe 100 numbers on the dial. But it should work even if it is off by 1. So the actual combination is like 34 x 34 x 34, or 39K. But after dialing 3 times, you need to check if lock is opened. And this is going to take more force and more machines. Let’s say it takes 10 seconds to test 1 combination. Working non-stop, it is going to take 4.5 months straight to reach 50% combination. That is assuming the setup works perfectly and no miscount, slip, etc. For something brand new and never been tried. I just don’t think this is practical.

      1. Or 2 to 4 people taking turns whacking at it with sledgehammers, as seen on What The Hale$ and various other YouTubers who buy abandoned storage units and bust open every locked safe, no matter how much the safe would be worth if left usable.

    1. Reliable, commercial versions of auto dialers exist. Also, not all of the combinations need to be dialed. Some are invalid or exceedingly unlikely. It’s also frequently possible to dial the first 2 numbers and then try possible third numbers one after another without redialing the first two in between.

  5. From my experience, if you haven’t changed the combination, you can contact the manufacturer with the serial number and proof of ownership, and they’ll tell you what it is. I have a built-in gun safe that came with the house I bought. The door was was open but locked. The previous owner’s husband had passed, and the safe had been cleaned out prior to his death, but she didn’t know the combination. I sent pictures and a copy of the bill sale to the company that makes the safe door and they provided the combination. The joke in mid-2021 was that we had a secure place to store toilet paper.

  6. Somewhat off the main topic, but I wonder how sensitive safes are to how fast you spin the dial. Could you spin the dial too fast and make the momentum of the system carry some component past the position you intended to leave it, or is that something that doesn’t really happen in practice?

    1. The X-09 series locks used by the government have got enough onboard brains that if you don’t dial like a human (too smooth and at a constant speed) they’ll reject your attempt to open them. Its designed to defeat brute force safe cracking robots like in the video. They also have a “punishment mode” that increases the time it takes to open the lock each time you enter the wrong combination.

      As far as electromechanical devices go they’re kind of meh. In the 13 years I’ve been dealing with them I can honestly say they are a reliable locking device in that they regularly fail, and keep the door they’re bolted to locked as often as they open on the first correct try. Very safe. The stepper motors they use tend to wear out quickly.

  7. I’ve heard about this 30 years ago. It totally freaked out the safe manufacturers. It worked like a charm. It could open just about any safe. These devices have thankfully been limited in numbers, but they have existsted for a long time now. The one I read about 30 years ago, was very good, and could crack a safe in only 30 seconds.

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