Danish software company Create It REAL has created an algorithm that prevents people from printing 3D firearms. Image from a company release
For those who have yearned to dabble in the hot new trend of 3D printing, but worried they might accidentally throw in a trigger and some bullets and wind up making a firearm can now rest easy. The Danish 3D-printing firm Create It REAL has got you covered.
The company, which sells 3D printer component parts and software, recently announced that it has come up with a firearm component detection algorithm that will give 3D printers the option to block any gun parts. The software compares each component a user is trying to print with a database of potential firearms parts, and shuts down the modeling software if it senses the user is trying to make a gun.
The technology is obviously directed at Defense Distributed, the Texas group that successfully made and demonstrated the first fully 3D-printed gun. Gay's efforts is an attempt to diffuse some of the hype—and fears—surrounding DefDist and the rest of the gun-toting 3D-printing fringe.
"It works a bit like an antivirus," said Create It REAL CEO Jeremie Pierre Gay, or "a firearm parental control feature" that would prevent users (and children) from accidentally using 3D weapons files or inadvertently printing out firearms.
For Gay, the concern is not so much about the weapons, but about the potential liability that 3D-printed firearms pose to 3D printing manufacturers, particularly as the technology becomes increasingly accessible in the consumer market.
"Even on the best 3D printers, tolerance [for] a part can be quite different and one firearm out of 10 could explode on use and hurt its user. Or it could work on certain 3D printers and not on others," Gay told Motherboard. "Then the users will feel like the manufacturer is the one accountable. [Our] feature removes this risk."
Cody Wilson, the head of Defense Distributed, isn't buying it.
For one, he says, it would be virtually impossible for someone to "accidentally" make a weapon on a 3D printer, at least at this point.
“Every gun piece is printed separately then assembled and often modified,” Wilson said. “Further, even single piece receiver prints take hours upon hours and need to be babysat. You can't 'oops' this.”
More significantly, the software's reliance on specific characteristics of firearms would likely make the program incredibly easy to circumvent.
"Such software must walk a very fine line, of which I've no doubt it is incapable," Wilson said. "The Liberator pistol, for example, is an assembly of over 17 parts, most of which individually would not set off a detection software unless the exact model was blacklisted. Think about it: springs, hammer, even the grip. These are not 'guns,' and the more general the shape, the less likely such software can detect — or the more annoying it becomes if everything starts looking like a gun."
Gay concedes that determined hackers will likely find a way to break the software, but he sees the protection as an extra feature 3D-printing consumers could opt into. Users who want to print 3D guns would still be free to do so.
"I am not even sure that there will be the motivation to break such protection if the firearm detection is sold as an extra feature on certain models and that other models are fully open to firearm 3D printing, people will just choose the model they feel the more comfortable having in their home," he said.
Still, the technology has raised some alarm bells among libertarians, raising the specter of a possible future in which 3D printers are DRMed, limiting consumers to a specific set of uses determined by the seller.
"The thing I'm looking for is when a major 3D-printing company starts shipping their retail printer with similar firmware," Wilson said. "Genie's well out of the bottle."
For now, however, Create It REAL's software seems mostly like a well-intentioned innovation aimed at boosting the image of the 3D-printing industry and making the technology more palatable to a wider consumer base. But it’s probably not a harbinger for the future of 3D printing.
“I would be surprised if something like this caught on, for several reasons,” said Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, a Washington-based digital advocacy group. “I don’t know of a lot of situations where someone would say, ‘I want to intentionally cripple my 3D printer.’”
“I would imagine that most 3D-printing manufacturers aren’t super interested in integrating it into their printers because it makes it less useful,” Weinberg added.
“No one is being mandated to put this on a printer anytime soon.”