Hacking McDonalds' ice cream machines to figure out why they're always broken

The ice cream machines at McDonald's restaurants are famously frustrating. At any given time, about 10% of them are broken. The damn things almost never work, for reasons that should be within the company's control.

Now, the right-to-repair activists at iFixIt have gotten their hands on one of the Taylor-manufactured machines and figured out precisely how it works—and why it keeps causing problems. Spoiler: it's the damn Digital Millennium Copyright Act that's keeping you from enjoying your delicious McFlurry.

Did you know that when an ice cream machine is "broken," it's often just software getting in the way? Locked behind passwords and cryptic error messages, even a simple fix can become an expensive technician call-out.

Taylor, the manufacturer of these machines, keeps a tight lock on error codes and manuals. This leads to frequent, pricey service calls, making up a significant chunk of their profits

This isn't just a fun hacking experiment in the name of ice cream deliciousness — as 404media explains, it's actually a thoughtful and deliberate legal step towards freeing the Taylor ice cream machines for the general public:

Every three years, interested parties have to file requests with the Librarian of Congress that seek "exemptions" to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the overarching federal copyright law. Through a process called Section 1201 rulemaking, repair professionals and consumer rights groups seek permission from the government to break arbitrary software locks and passwords that keep consumers and repair professionals from diagnosing and repairing equipment they own or are authorized by the owner to work on.

Currently, Taylor has service contracts with McDonald's franchises that allow them to exclusively service the ice cream machines. A DMCA exemption would allow McDonald's franchises to legally do repair work on their own machines.

Let's free those god damn ice cream machines.

What's Inside That McDonald's Ice Cream Machine? Broken Copyright Law [Elizabeth Chamberlain / iFixIt]

iFixit Tears Down McDonald's McFlurry Machine, Petitions Government for Right to Hack Them [Jason Koebler / 404media]