3D Printer Jam - When Tables Are Intellectual Property

© Philipp Dimitri (Coop)/Westend61/Corbis

How might we exchange 3D designs in the future? What happens when I try to copy a company's product using my 3D printer? Could we see some form of DRM attached to physical things? Join Joe, Jonathan and Lauren as they dive into the future of 3D printing.

Narrator: Brought to you by Toyota, let's go places.

Narrator: Welcome to Forward Thinking.

Jonathan: Hi, there everyone welcome to Forward Thinking. I am your host Jonathan Strickland and I am joined by two of my favorite people in the whole wide world and they are -

Lauren: Lauren Vogelbaum.

Joe: And Joe McCormick.

Jonathan: And, oh what is we are going to talk about today Lauren?

Lauren: 3-D printing.

Jonathan: What is that?

Lauren: 3-D printing AKA Additive Manufacturing, is a process by which, much the same way that you would print a 2-D document with ink, instead uses a plastic or glass or metals to layer by layer print out a 3-Dimensional object.

Jonathan: Pretty awesome, so really you're only limited by whatever 3-Dimentional model you have a digital model. So, you can take a digital model and send that information to the printer and the printer would replicate that.

Lauren: Correct.

Jonathan: So where would you get stuff that you can print? I mean where would the information come from.

Lauren: From anywhere, from in your brain or you could - I mean the real equal application of this hypothetically is that you can be designing your own stuff and sharing it with the rest of the universe.

Jonathan: Oh, cool, so like you could build what you think of as the perfect coffee table and then share that file someway and let other people download it and they can print.

Lauren: It can turn in to a creative commons of things. Creative commons of course, being the easy copy write licensing company that helps people share stuff safely and easily on the interwebs. And yeah, if we turned that into a, hey, I made this really cool chair, I want everyone to have my chair, or I want everyone to have my chair but not corporations to make money on it. Then you would hypothetically provide a really easy way to do that.

Jonathan: No, that's kind of cool. So, we could have this kind of exchange forum where not just things like stories or music or movies or whatever, we can actually share our physical objects. I could create maybe like a prop I would want for some sort of video that I'm shooting. Then people who thought the prop was cool could say, hey, you know are you making replicas of that? I might say, well, you know here's the digital file, you can make your own replica.

Joe: That's the best PVC pipe sword I've ever seen.

Jonathan: Hey, do not mock my PVC pipe sword or I shall smite you with it.

But, there's another side to this. I mean this is really exciting and it's a cool way for people who are creative and who can have this acumen to both build stuff in the physical realm and in the digital realm to share their work. But, it also gives rise to the opportunity for people to pirate designs, which is kind of amazing. Think about it, suddenly real physical objects that inhabit our world can become the stuff that gets exchanged over the internet illegally. So, a furniture store may have a very specific kind of piece of furniture that ends up being scanned in some way, and the next thing you know people at home are printing them up instead of going to the furniture store.

Joe: Right, you have the Napster of furniture.

Jonathan: That's kind of phenomenal. I mean think about that.

Lauren: Illegal but phenomenal. I mean it's exciting aside from the part where all of a sudden the artist is sitting there going, hey I am an artist and I spent my time and money because my time is my money creating this object and you just took a picture of it with your fancy 3-D camera and are printing it out at home. That's not cool.

Jonathan: Yeah especially if you are thinking about someone who is making stuff especially by hand, I mean people who are really crafting the stuff - Lauren: Artisans yeah.

Jonathan: Yeah, they're using subtractive manufacturing most likely, they are actually carving stuff away. But, they are creating these things that take a genuine level of effort and artistry to create and then someone ends up making a scan of it in some way and then distributes that freely across the internet. That person's work has been devalued. It's kind of an interesting problem. It's something that you never would have thought of before.

I mean there are certain things; certain industries have had problems with counterfeiting before. For example, like designer handbags, that's one I always - or shoes, that's another one. These are things that often, you know you might walk down a city street in a pretty popular city, and see someone with a blanket laid out on the sidewalk with a whole bunch of what looks like designer bags, but they're all knock-offs. And, the idea is that you can have the glamour of owning that particular object but for a fraction of what the real object would cost.

Joe: When we look close, we could usually tell what a knock-off is. It has a different brand name or something like that on it. But, here we are talking about the full creation of an object from nothing to exact specifications and that gets a little tricky. You kind of have to wonder if, in the future, there will be people whose job it is to be an authenticator of real handcrafted stuff, right. The same way that now-a-days, you can get a cubic zirconium that is indistinguishable from a diamond to the average person, and you have to take it to a jeweler or a geologist, someone with trained special expertise who can look at it with their tools and all that and he or she can tell, but you can't.

Jonathan: Right, yes, the same thing except now instead of it just being cubic zirconium, it can be the super fancy designer chair that would normally cost a significant chunk of my salary to purchase and yet I ended up printing it at home.

Lauren: And this is kind of far off. I mean we can't currently print with biological objects like wood or leather or something like that.

Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, it's all plastic or metal. So, if it's that super modern style that you would see in a documentary, like American Psycho, yeah something like that, where it's that corporate look where everything is made out of glass and metal, that's it.

Lauren: You're clear.

Jonathan: Yeah, then you can do that but if it was something like a leather chair, you would be a little - it would be a little harder to do. I mean not to say that we won't have the ability to print either in those materials or synthetic versions of them in the future.

Joe: Right, I mean if we're printing organs like we talked about in another episode, it's very possible that we can have the ability to print in leather or print in wood.

Jonathan: Sure, I'm sure the cows would thank us, if we could print in leather. I mean if the cows were capable of thanking us. I'm not sure what that would sound like. Probably moo.

Lauren: I imagine that's their primary vocabulary.

Jonathan: That's their fallback. But yeah -

Lauren: [Laughs]

Joe: Actually, it's more of a low shriek.

Jonathan: That's true we love our cow listeners

So, anyway, yeah this is something where we don't have to immediately worry about it obviously. We are not at a point where the average consumer can go out and buy a printer large enough to even do this. A lot of the consumer level printers are printing parts that are around the size of like a softball or smaller. You can get larger ones, especially in industrial settings that are able to print bigger materials, but most of the stuff you would be printing at home, would be replacement parts, which could be really useful. I mean imagine that.

Imagine you go and you buy furniture at some store where you assemble the furniture at home. I'm thinking of a store in particular where you buy things, you go home and then you have lots of parts to deal with.

Lauren: While you're there, you could buy Swedish Meatballs at the same time perhaps.

Jonathan: That might be something that is also available at this store.

Joe: There are so many fun discussions with your spouse about how exactly to put that together.

Jonathan: Yeah, I have bought a desk and installed the drawer backwards before - which is fine if you are sitting at the other side of the desk, but there was a wall there so that made it somewhat problematic. We actually had to take the whole thing apart again.

Joe: Of course, with the 3D printer, maybe you could just, what clear the cache and restart the print?

Jonathan: Well really, you would end up assembling stuff anyway. You would print out the actual individual parts and assemble it.

Joe: Right, right.

Jonathan: But that's my point, is that what happens if you get home and one of those brackets or whatever is broken. It might mean that you have to take a trip all the way back to the store to exchange one out. But, if you have a 3D printer and you have the information you need, you can print out the replacement part. In fact, we might see furniture stores include this information in future purchases, where when you buy something, they go ahead and hand you the digital file for the replacement parts. Not necessarily for the whole piece of furniture, but for things like, well if there is a bracket that's missing, or if there's a screw that is not quite right. Here is what you need to print out a new one.

Joe: Here's this code to redeem your bolt.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly and that's the kind of thing where I can see that being a lot easier for companies, where they are saying, all right we are not giving away the whole design. It's not as if you can print it from bottom to the top completely, but you could print the individual pieces that hold everything together. That I think would be less problematic.

Lauren: And even the same way that you have software upgrades on your OS, that you can just download from the internet these days, rather than having to go out and buy an entirely new version quite so often. Yeah if someone decides that - hmm this part was a little bit faultier, this corner could be done a little bit better then you can just have an upgrade and you'll go download and printing.

Jonathan: That's true. You can have a firmware upgrade to your furniture. Joe: So many people have fallen down in this chair; it's really time we issue a patch.

Jonathan: Or this table always ends up being wobbly so here's the patch to repair it.

Yeah, this also brings to mind other solutions that we might see in the future, which are variations on digital rights management, DRM. This is the protection that companies use to put on digital files so that they can't be freely distributed. Essentially, they cannot be stolen and then distributed across networks. Not that it stops people from trying. But, we've seen it on music. We've seen it in movies. We've seen it in video games. We've seen it in all sorts of digital files. I expect we will see something similar to that to 3D printing files. Especially, for those that belong to specific companies.

I don't know that they will ever be able to get around the problem of someone getting a hold of an object and then scanning it. That might be another issue, although they could get around that depending upon what sort of materials they use. Maybe that becomes a way of specializing. To use materials that is harder to replicate on a 3D printing scale.

Joe: Unfortunately, they have some time to think about this. Because while 3D printing is a really exciting path to the future, it's a long ways off for us to have the ability to really have a machine in your garage that does all this stuff.

Lauren: Right.

Jonathan: Right, but once we get there it will be really exciting because if we get to a point where we can print an electric circuit, that means that we can actually print a 3D printer, with a 3D printer.

Joe: Floodgates open.

Jonathan: Exactly, so you get together with your buddies and like, okay this 3D printer is ten grand, but if we all throw in money, then what we can do is, with the first one we will print out enough for everybody. So, for a small investment, we all get a 3D printer because all we had to do is print out another one and then put it together. All we have to do is a little - that's kind of glossing over it, but assuming you feel comfortable assembling a 3D printer, that's a possibility. You know, the thing I'm really excited about is, this will allow us to really customize our environments. Either we will be able to purchase a plan from a company, or if someone has uploaded something from Creative Commons that we can use, or we've designed something ourselves, and we can put stuff in our homes that really kind of fits our personality. So, I have a question for both of you. Yes, Joe are you -

Joe: Well, I was just going to say, fits your personality or just fits your home. I mean, I don't know if you've ever had the trouble that somebody in your house sees, oh I really, really want this couch but you go and you measure the wall and there's not just room for it. The couch is six inches too long it can't go there. Well, what if you could download a modified, you know, put shorter couch.

Lauren: In fact to realign, yeah.

Jonathan: Yeah, I just assume that other people won't ever visit me so I just get the job fits sized everything.

Joe: You have one single dirty mattress on the floor.

Jonathan: It's actually two.

Lauren: Awe that's nice, that's sweet.

Jonathan: They are cleanish. But yes, if you had the ability to print any one object whether it's furniture or something else, what would it be, Joe give me your answer.

Joe: Well, I was just thinking about this and I don't know if you've ever seen one of these, but try to picture it. It's from some time in the ancient world, at least pre-medieval. There are these Thracian Battle Helmets, that they find I guess somewhere in Europe. Again, I don't know exactly, but Ancient Thracian Battle Helmets, I guess from the time of the Roman Empire. They look like insects. It is so crazy to imagine that a couple thousand years ago, you could be standing in a field and you would see somebody running at you with one of these on. I want to be that guy. I want to put that helmet on and look like a crazy insect.

Jonathan: Okay, you answered my question. I wanted to know if you want to be the guy wearing the helmet or the guy seeing the guy running at them wearing the helmet.

Joe: No, I mean I wouldn't be carrying some spear or anything. Just like - the helmet alone -

Lauren: We may not necessarily believe you Joe.

Joe: It's a great - it would be a great Halloween costume.

Jonathan: It would be a great initial thing to see in one of those Harlem Shake videos that are making the rounds right now on YouTube.

Joe: Here's the thing though. Again, without these authenticators, I mean would it be that much easier to fabricate archaeological artifacts.

Jonathan: Hmm yeah interesting, Lauren, same question.

Lauren: Waterslides.

Jonathan: Waterslides?

Lauren: Giant fancy waterslides.

Jonathan: So -

Joe: Oh, you could design your own.

Lauren: You can design your own, yeah.

Joe: With loops and yeah

Jonathan: Wow, now you thought big. I was thinking of an object that I saw in a documentary once. From a casual glance it looks like a little silver ball, but actually this kind of drill thing comes out of it and then it flies around.

Lauren: I think I've seen that documentary.

Jonathan: Yeah, Phantasm, that's the one I'm thinking of.

Joe: Oh no! Yeah, okay

Jonathan: I want one of those because you know occasionally there's a knock at the door, right when Supernatural is on and I don't want to have to chase them off myself. So, granted making it fly and stuff that would obviously be another problem so, just printing it would just be the first step. But, that's okay, that's okay, I just need to make progress on this. That's what I'm looking for.

Joe: Are we doing an episode on that ball?

Jonathan: You know we've talked about it. I don't know if that's ever going to happen.

But hey, in the future specifically, the future of this show, we are hoping to have the audience start the conversation with us. To really talk with us about the future, and what they are excited about and the sort of stuff they want to hear about in the future episodes.

So, guys, here's what I'd suggest. Go to our website. It's fwthinking.com and that's fwthinking.com, and there you're going to see the video series. You're going to have an audio podcast there. There are blog posts that are there. We are really trying to engage you in this conversation about the future. Find out what is it that you think is really exciting. What's the stuff that is right around the corner that has you just waiting for the future to get here. That's the kind of stuff we want to talk about. We really are excited about it. We hope you are too. So, let us know, get in touch with us and we will talk to you again really soon. Narrator: For more on this topic and the future of technology visit fwthinking.com

Narrator: Brought to you by Toyota, let's go places.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 17 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: 3D printing, Intellectual Property