Download a song from iTunes, and you can only add that song to the music library of five other computers. Grab a copy of the latest Microsoft Office, and you’d better hope you won’t be upgrading your computer any time soon. Obviously DRM is a great tool for companies to make sure we only use software and data as intended, but outside planned obsolescence, there isn’t much in the way of DRM for physical objects.
This is where a team from the University of Art and Design in Lausanne, Switzerland comes in. They designed a chair that can only be sat upon eight times. After that, the chair falls apart necessitating the purchase of a new chair. Somewhere in the flat-pack furniture industry, someone is kicking themselves for not thinking of this sooner while another is wondering how they made a chair last so long.
The design of the chair is fairly simple; all the joints of the chair are cast in wax with a piece of nichrome wire embedded in the wax. An Arduino with a small switch keeps track of how many times the chair has been used, while a solenoid taps out how many uses are left in the chair every time the user gets up. When the internal counter reaches zero, a relay sends power through the nichrome wire, melting the wax, and returning the chair to its native dowel rod and wooden board form.
Melting wax wasn’t the team’s first choice to rapidly disassemble a chair; their first experiments used gunpowder. This idea nearly worked, but it was soon realized no one on the team wanted to sit on a primed and loaded chair. You can see the videos of the wax model failing after the break.