3D Systems abandons its Cube printers, but DRM means you can't buy filament from anyone else

3D printing giant 3D Systems has experienced a terrible year and a change in leadership, and seems to be backing away from consumer products, meaning that it's orphaned its Cube home 3D printers.

But the Cube was born dead, because it was born with DRM. It only accepts filament -- its 3D equivalent to inkjet ink -- that comes in a package that's been cryptographically signed by the manufacturer. Thanks to laws like the US DMCA, the European Union Copyright Directive and Canada's Bill C-11, it's a crime to defeat this measure and load third-party filament into your printer. That means that once the existing stock of Cube filament is gone, there will be no legal way to keep using your Cube printer.

The US Copyright Office did grant a three-year, expiring exception allowing 3D printer owners to jailbreak their devices, but it has so many conditions as to be unusable, and it also doesn't grant an exception for the tools necessary to jailbreak your printer. So even if you satisfy the criteria, you still have to make your own jailbreaking tool from scratch.

Michael Weinberg points out that 3DS can do two things to make up for their stupid DRM strategy:

Since the Cube is designed to only accept printing filament made by 3D Systems, as part of winding down the Cube - and as an act of good faith to Cube owners - 3D Systems should explicitly open the doors to third party filament. This can take the form of two simple public commitments. First, 3D Systems can promise not to sue any Cube users who use non-3D Systems filament for the Cube. Second, 3D Systems can promise not to sue anyone who wants to make and sell filament that will work with the Cube. Doing both requires circumventing the verification chip that 3D Systems includes in its filament today.

Free the Cube [Michael Weinberg]

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  1. A whole bunch of First Robotics teams were awarded free Cube printers last year. Our team the Bit Buckets got one, but it's so slow and cumbersome to use that we just go with my old Ultimaker when things need printing.

    At least we aren't motivated to break Federal law.

  2. That is shortsighted and IMO wrong, but perfectly understandable. What boggles me is why so many people let themselves be conned into buying the stuff when there are open/interoperable alternatives.

  3. There are workarounds. You actually CAN buy a bulk filament and using it in the Cube, it seems.
    http://cube3d.createaforum.com/general-discussion/crap-hack-bulk-filament/
    All that it requires is a bit of willingness to do an undetectable violation of an effectively unenforceable law.

    Virtually certainly yes.

    The stress-strain curve of this kind of systems leads to the users yielding to hacks.

    If it is a standard NFC, you can dump the content of the chip on the cartridge, and compare chips from several cartridges. Then try a replay attack, and/or generate your own chip IDs. There are quite some NFC-hacking frameworks out there, and e.g. Kali Linux with a suitable hardware dongle with the right NFC read/write chip can emulate the cards with apparent ease.

  4. Good plan. Look for a checksum, though, to channel Captain Obvious. Likely they will use some common algorithm, programmers are lazy and either homebrew it simple or use libraries.

    I did some minor poking around the Dublin bus cards, the disposable paper ones. Got a stock of them, to be used as generic NFC tags; just associate a serial number to action. Anything that can be read will do the job in this way.

    Or make the "cartridge" read-only so it won't decrement the remaining filament value.

    But if you can generate the cartridge ID randomly, you won. Just feed the emulator from the printer and make a new value at each power-on. We did something similar with an emulator of phone calling cards, the EPROM-based ones.

    Try this for the card emulation:
    http://open-nfc.org/wp/home/features/
    I think some Android phones can emulate the NFC cards too.

    And if it is a 125 kHz RFID, there should be some Microchip PIC assembler code for read-only tags. (Or maybe ATtiny or so?)

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