Last year Golan Levin’s son decided to build a car. Aside from the minor inconvenience of being 4 years old, the younger Levin faced an engineering challenge. His Tinkertoys, which he wanted to use for the vehicle’s frame, wouldn’t attach to his K’Nex, the pieces he wanted to use for the wheels.
It took his father, an artist, hacker and professor at Carnegie Mellon, a year to solve that problem. In the process he cracked open a much larger one: In an age when anyone can share, download and create not just digital files but also physical things, thanks to the proliferation of cheap 3-D printers, are companies at risk of losing control of the objects they sell?