Disney mulls Mickey Mouse magic material to thwart pirates' 3D scans

Patent bid for special sauce in kids' tat that blinds rip-off equipment


Disney's Imagineers have dreamed up a scheme to fight counterfeiting with a form of stealth technology.

In a patent application disclosed earlier this month, Disney researchers describe a process for creating merchandise with a material that resists scanning through light distortion.

By mixing a light-scattering plastic into the extrusion process, the technique makes the exterior surfaces of 3D printed merch either absorb light or reflect it in unexpected ways, thereby introducing errors in 3D scans and ensuring that knockoffs come out looking deformed.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that value of global trade in counterfeit goods related to information and communication technology (ICT) was about $143bn in 2013.

While such losses may sustain intellectual property scofflaws, they make the happiest place on Earth a bit more glum, putting Disney's profits and brand at risk.

Disney's boffins rather ruefully note that commercially available 3D scanners have no trouble creating the digital files necessary to reproduce scanned objects.

"As a result, a person with a 3D printer may copy nearly any 3D object even without access to the digital file originally used by a manufacturer in creating the 'original' 3D object, and it can be difficult for a company distributing collectables and other 3D objects, such as plastic figurines of movie and animated film characters, to prevent unlicensed copying," the researchers explain in the patent application.

Such counterfeiting turns out to be particularly problematic if the goods in question were designed for fabrication via 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment.

InfraTrac, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, has taken a slightly different approach. It offers a chemical additive (a taggant) that can be added to plastic and metal parts created in this manner.

Unauthorized reproduction becomes more serious when the product is functional rather than merely collectible. Particularly for aerospace or medical device companies, CEO Sharon Frank explained in a phone interview with The Register, it's important that any anti-counterfeiting additive is safe and doesn't affect the quality of the product.

No one wants engine parts disintegrating in mid-air or an implantable hip replacement that cracks under stress due to copy protection additives.

Frank explained that while counterfeiting is not a new problem, recent developments in 3D printing technology have made the process much more appealing for all involved.

A few years ago, 3D printing wasn't cost effective at scale. But it now makes sense for merchandise runs of 50,000 to 100,000 units, she said.

In the past year or so, Frank said, many companies have adopted additive manufacturing for small- and medium-sized product orders because HP's Multi Jet Fusion technology has made it economical.

"For companies like Disney or shoe manufacturers, if you want to customize on a mass scale, that's the way to do it," she said.

Disney, she said, often makes limited-edition merchandise, and 3D printing threatens to make those editions unlimited. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Cerebras sets record for 'largest AI model' on a single chip
    Plus: Yandex releases 100-billion-parameter language model for free, and more

    In brief US hardware startup Cerebras claims to have trained the largest AI model on a single device powered by the world's largest Wafer Scale Engine 2 chip the size of a plate.

    "Using the Cerebras Software Platform (CSoft), our customers can easily train state-of-the-art GPT language models (such as GPT-3 and GPT-J) with up to 20 billion parameters on a single CS-2 system," the company claimed this week. "Running on a single CS-2, these models take minutes to set up and users can quickly move between models with just a few keystrokes."

    The CS-2 packs a whopping 850,000 cores, and has 40GB of on-chip memory capable of reaching 20 PB/sec memory bandwidth. The specs on other types of AI accelerators and GPUs pale in comparison, meaning machine learning engineers have to train huge AI models with billions of parameters across more servers.

    Continue reading
  • Zendesk sold to private investors two weeks after saying it would stay public
    Private offer 34 percent above share price is just the thing to change minds

    Customer service as-a-service vendor Zendesk has announced it will allow itself to be acquired for $10.2 billion by a group of investors led by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, investment company Permira, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.

    The decision is a little odd, in light of the company's recent strategic review, announced on June, which saw the board unanimously conclude "that continuing to execute on the Company's strategic plan as an independent, public company is in the best interest of the Company and its stockholders at this time."

    That process saw Zendesk chat to 16 potential strategic partners and ten financial sponsors, including a group of investors who had previously expressed conditional interest in acquiring the company. Zendesk even extended its discussions with some parties but eventually walked away after "no actionable proposals were submitted, with the final bidders citing adverse market conditions and financing difficulties at the end of the process."

    Continue reading
  • Singapore promises 'brutal and unrelentingly hard' action on dodgy crypto players
    But welcomes fast cross-border payments in central bank digital currencies

    In the same week that it welcomed the launch of a local center of excellence focused on crypto-inspired central bank digital currencies, Singapore's Monetary Authority (MAS) has warned crypto cowboys they face a rough ride in the island nation.

    The center of excellence (COE) was established by the Mojaloop Foundation – an open source effort to create payment platforms to make digital financial services accessible to those access to banks. The COE aims to "accelerate financial inclusion in emerging markets" through hackathons, workshops and pilot projects while examining expanded CBDCs payment capabilities."

    Singapore's sovereign wealth fund has invested in Mojaloop, and MAS chief fintech officer Sopnendu Mohanty serves as a board advisor and the authority provides representatives to the Foundation's working group, alongside folks from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, and more.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022