Hidden codes in 3D prints coming soon

Remember when we discussed how 3D printers may follow the path of 2D printers and include security information that can barely be seen without a microscope in every print? Currently most paper printers include coded messages in the form of tiny yellow dots, listing the printer, date, and other information. The same can be done with 3D prints, and Microsoft calls it InfraStructs.

“InfraStructs are material-based tags that embed information inside physical objects for imaging in the Terahertz region.” Andrew Wilson of Microsoft Research and Karl Willis of Carnegie Mellon University wrote the paper on InfraStructs, and it’s an interesting concept. The Terahertz band of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum lies between microwaves and infrared (IR) light, and it passes through many materials, including plastics. This means a THz imager can see into printed objects, which is how information can be embedded into prints.


“InfraStructs are created by (a) encoding information into a digital model that is then (b) fabricated with material transitions inside a physical object. The object’s internal volume is (c) imaged in the THz region and (d) decoded into meaningful information.” “Material transitions” can be geometric shapes, voids, or even familiar imagery like animals. Because there are three dimensions to work in, codes can be fairly complex and hold a lot of information. They can even hold scripts that launch applications automatically. That enables a very broad range of application.

InfraStructs serve as a form of communication between interactive machines and static objects, making the experience with both more dynamic. Robots can be fit with THz imagers and be able to not only identify objects but also instantly retrieve valuable information about each object. For instance, a helper bot that cleans up at a daycare would know which kid’s bin each toy goes in because the owner’s name would be coded in each one. Or a drink making bot could know how to make your favorite drink just by swiping a keychain that has the directions encoded right in. It’s similar to printing with NFCs, but without the electronics. Of course, this information could be used for security purposes as well, making prints trackable without us having much say in the matter. We’ll just have to see.