A Smartphone Can Copy a 3D Model By Just Recording the Sounds of a 3D Printer

Illustration for article titled A Smartphone Can Copy a 3D Model By Just Recording the Sounds of a 3D Printer

With an experiment that’s not going to help alleviate any concerns over 3D printing and piracy, researchers at the University of California Irvine have proven that they can copy a 3D model, with surprising accuracy, by simply recording the sounds that another 3D printer makes while it’s making it.


The servos, pumps, and extruders that power a 3D printer produce a symphony of mechanical sounds as it’s printing away. And all those sounds tell a story of how the machine’s printing head is moving around as well as how much plastic filament is being extruded from the nozzle on every pass.

3D models can be encrypted and electronically protected so that they can’t be downloaded, opened, or sent to a 3D printer which helps protect intellectual property. But with everyone carrying smartphones these days, there’s little that can be done to prevent someone from covertly recording the sounds of a 3D printer at work. Although, they’d need to make sure they recorded the entire printing process, which can sometimes take days.

The team of researchers at UCI’s Advanced Integrated Cyber-Physical Systems Lab, led by Mohammad Al Faruque, were able to recreate a 3D-printed key-shaped object with 90 percent accuracy using the sound copying and processing technique they developed. And if you want to dive into the nitty-gritty about how the process works, check out this video that lays it all out. It’s a little heavy for a Friday morning but still completely fascinating.

[University of California Irvine via Gizmag]

Contact the author at andrewL@gizmodo.com.


This would only be practical if the layer shape was the same throughout the print. Then you could just record the audio of one layer and reproduce from that. Otherwise you’ll be setting up shop for a while to get the full recording. That audio file would be pretty large too.

It’s still an interesting discovery. I was mesmerized by the sounds of my printer on its first print. I never listened to videos of other printers before buying my kit. After I started my print, I began looking on YouTube to see if the sounds the printer was making were normal. Some layer shapes can sound quite dark and eerie.