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The 3D Printer Virus, Really?

Detectives at 3D print service Shapeways have uncovered a first: an actual 3D "virus"! 
 
The so-called virus turned out to be insertion of alien 3D model information in front of the desired model code within the .STL file, such that when sent to a 3D printer, the alien object (in this case a very crude credit card) was printed unexpectedly! Please read the fascinating story of their investigation at the link below for all the details. The nature of the virus, including the affected software, has not been disclosed for obvious reasons, and we applaud Shapeways for revealing this startling development. 
 
But it's not real. Check the date on their post: April 1st. Gotcha!
 
Nevertheless, this got us thinking. Could a 3D virus be possible? A virus is a rapidly spreading unwanted item, typically software traveling over networks. How could this work, theoretically, in a 3D environment? We see some fundamental challenges to the 3D virus concept:
 
  • Objects can't travel over networks, only models can 
  • The virus "ends" once it's printed, as it can then be passed from person to person only and no further replication can occur
  • Software viruses carry a payload that inevitably executes some nefarious purpose. But objects generally don't have the capability to do much, other than prick your finger, perhaps
 
Where does this leave the concept of a 3D virus? Not any time soon, we predict. Perhaps they'll truly emerge when electronics are easily printed, because that would enable objects to actually do something unintended.
 

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