We've recently been seeing a torrent (no pun intended) of articles talking about the dangers of 3D print technology for rights owners. The premise is that at some point in the near future we'll see 3D pirates capturing digital 3D models of practically everything in sight, followed by rampant illegal redistribution to 3D freeloaders. Free everything!
Could this actually happen? Maybe, but not anytime soon.
Why? There are some really significant barriers to that oft-postulated scenario:
- Real objects are often very complicated. They may have multiple moving parts, some hidden from visual inspection and 3D capture.
- Real objects are often made of multiple materials, many of which are currently not capable of being 3D printed easily, or even being remotely detected. Each material has different mechanical, thermal and chemical properties presumably used to fulfill the object's function.
- Real objects have very precise surfaces and dimensions, not easily captured by 3D scanners. This is particularly true of multi-component objects, where lids, doors or switches must be absolutely precisely sized in order to function or fit together appropriately.
- Many real objects include embedded electronics, which obviously would be impossible to capture, let alone the associated software.
We like to think of the current state of 3D piracy as similar to those ancient days when music was poorly copied on crappy analog tapes. The copy was never equivalent to the original. The quality of the copies is simply so poor that there's really nothing to be concerned about.
This may change in the future, but we'd need a world with ultra-precise 3D scanners, capable of rapid object capture - perhaps even with material sensing ability. We'd also need much more capable 3D printers, with the ability to print with a variety of materials that match typical mechanical, thermal and chemical characteristics. Even then you'd still have problems capturing many kinds of objects.
We don't see rampant piracy happening anytime soon, except for the most simple objects. Sure, we might see very limited piracy of limited classes of items, but it won't be as comprehensive as people fear. It may even be true that some objects can never be copied. Therefore, we shouldn't have major concerns about 3D object theft for years.
Image Credit: MarkScottAustinTX