Although 3D printing is only a blip on most intellectual property (IP) lawyers’ radars right now, I envision a time in the not too distant future where this all will change. It’s safe to guess that there are under one million 3D printers in homes and offices today. Considering the fact that we have a world population that’s north of 7 billion individuals, such a statistic barely moves the needle.
Fast forward a decade, and I am willing to bet that the number of 3D printers in existence is going to be an order of magnitude or more higher. With prices dropping, the number of applicable uses for both hobbyists and businesses expanding, and the technology progressing rapidly, the next decade will undoubtedly see this technology enter the mainstream. With the mainstream adoption of both 3D scanning and printing, we will see an array of issues emerge regarding IP security and protection, which will certainly need to be resolved.
A team of researchers at the Hasso Plattner Institute, in Brandenburg, Germany, including Stefanie Mueller, Martin Fritzsche, Jan Kossmann, Maximilian Schneider, Jonathan Striebel, and Patrick Baudisch, seem to have come up with a process of destructive scanning, encryption, and 3D printing that could perhaps solve some of these issues. The process, which is enabled by a machine called Scotty, could ensure that only one of a certain object exists when transferring it to another location.
Currently if I purchased an object and wanted to share it with a friend or colleague, I could scan that object’s surface, turn the scan into a 3D printable .stl file, and then email it across the world if I choose to. The person on the receiving end could then download the file, and if they have access to a 3D printer print it out within minutes or hours.
In the future, there will be laws enacted preventing patented designs from being shared; however, what if you simply wanted to transfer ownership of that design/object?
This is where Scotty comes into play. Not only is Scotty able to more thoroughly scan the interior of an object via a destructive scanning process, but at the same time that it’s destroying the original artifact a copy is being sent to another location and encrypted to ensure that this copy is only accessible at the receiving computer, where it can then be refabricated via a 3D printer.
How Scotty works is quite fascinating. The machine consists of an off-the-shelf 3D printer, like a MakerBot Replicator 2X, to which is added a 3-axis milling machine, camera, and microcontroller for encryption. A Raspberry Pi is used for the brains of the unit, while an Arduino controls the milling machine. When a user wishes to relocate an object, they first must dip it into a black dye. The dye is used so that the camera can easily contrast each layer as it is sliced. They then place the object within the sender unit, and hit the ‘Relocate’ button. The destruction and digitalization process now begins as the machine shaves off a single layer of the original object, scans it, encrypts it, and sends it to the receiving unit, where it can be printed out almost immediately. This process continues layer-by-layer until the original object is completely destroyed/scanned, and the new object is fabricated.
In essence, Scotty will accomplish two main tasks. First, it will keep personal objects unique. For instance if you were to hand-make a gift for a loved one and wish to send it to them via this system, Scotty will guarantee that it remains one-of-a-kind, keeping intact “an important aspect that emphasizes the intimate relationship between sender and receiver.”
Secondly, as 3D scanning and printing technology is bound to progress to a point where nearly any object can quickly be replicated using multiple materials, the sale of products online via third party website such as Ebay will change immensely. What if Ebay were to allow for digital delivery of physical goods, even if a particular product is protected by a patent or copyright? In order to legally take part in such a sale, the original object would need to be destroyed as the copied object is being built. Scotty would enable such a process, ensuring that intellectual property remains protected.
In today’s current environment, perhaps such a process is not yet needed, but if you look ahead a decade or two to a time when 3D printers are much more capable, as well as prevalent, Scotty could certainly be a system which plays an important role in the security and protection of IP.
Let’s hear your thoughts on this machine in the Scotty Forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below in addition to some further images: