Last week, Pirate Bay, the site famous for, well, stolen content (in the form of copyrighted content) added a new category of media, that of 3D data files. Anyone (such as me) can download one of these scans and output it to a 3D printer. This effectively allows the ‘pirating’ of physical objects.
True, unless they are reasonably small white hard plastic items, my 3D print is going to be a long way from a perfect copy, but you might be surprised by just how effective the sub-£2000 printers are now. The UP! I run has a resolution of 0.2mm, which is accurate enough for a lot of plastic things around the house. With a 3D scanner, it would effectively be a physical object photocopier. And ten years ago, a machine equivalent to this would have set you back £50,000+! (20 years ago, they simply didn’t exist in a usable form)
One thing the New Scientist article gets badly wrong, though, is the idea that the scanner could be made to recognise a tag and prevent scanning. That will only work on professionally bought scanners! And since nearly all the 3D scanners that are affordable are home-brewed designs, or home-brews that are being commercialised, it is a non-starter.
David scanner uses a detuned webcam and a cheap laser line to scan. I’m pretty sure it couldn’t even detect a tag if one was added! Other scanners use things like the Kinect or complex image processing (which the average desktop PC can now handle in seconds) to generate 3D data from a series of images. Any tag cunningly built in could be photoshopped out before the pictures ever reached the 3D part.
Unless someone made a tag that stopped basic photos, it’s not going to work there, either.
Anyway, the point itself is moot: no-one actually wants a perfect copy of the thing they are scanning. What they want is a better copy!
When I reverse engineer a part with callipers and build a model, I make sure the fixings are ok, and then I improve the design!
Most commonly it is a part that has failed, so I work out why it failed, reinforce it there, then make a new one. If I was printing a copy of (say) a trainer, I’d make it so both shoes fit my foot perfectly, rather than the ‘close enough’ of mass market manufacturing.
And that, my friends, is why big business needs to be worried – we can make it better ourselves. And faster, for cheaper.