DRM Chair Only Works 8 Times


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.

104 thoughts on “DRM Chair Only Works 8 Times

        1. iTunes account access is restricted to 5 computers. That is, you may only connect to the iTunes store with your store account on 5 computers. But the songs can be manually moved to any machine or device, so long as they are “plus” (or you have iTunes Match and re-downloaded all the content.) The restriction is to stop one account being used to buy a lot of music by a lot of different people and that music then being easily shared by re-downloading it. It was originally to do with DRM, but has morphed in to this use now we can download music at will with iTunes Match and any purchased music. It also exists to stop all content that still has DRM from being transferred to another unauthorised device.

  1. Using a large amount of ingenuity and resources to make something less useful… seems like an anti-hack to me…. though I concede they might have been attempting to make a point… but if it gives manufacturers “ideas”….

      1. That’s what I mean, they don’t need more ideas, that would be outside current consumer protection if they had a DRM component and a break the seal license. It’s getting bad though, “lifetime” warranty these days can mean “product life” meaning when it’s declared obsolete, or replaced, or declared “end of life” which could be next year.

        If you make things for fun, make useful, durable, repairable things and give them away!

      2. I hate when people refer to the lightbulb conspiracy.

        Because there’s two sides to the story. The other side is, that tungsten filament lightbulbs last longer at the expense of energy efficiency and brightness, so companies that boasted longer life bulbs did it by cheating elsewhere – and since it’s very difficult for the customers to measure light intensity by eyeballing, thanks to having an iris that adjusts to light and a color vision that auto-corrects white balance, it was a race to the bottom with dimmer less efficient bulbs.

        What they did by standardizing the operating hours of a bulb to 1000 hours was also standardizing their brightness and energy efficiency, and the lifetime of the tungsten filament at a known input power was actually the easiest most straightforward way of doing the quality control for thousands and thousands of lightbulbs without having expensive integrating spheres and measuring devices.

        It is not a good example of planned obsolence, and the documentary itself is just a series of half-truths put on film to sell you righteous anger against “the capitalist market system”.

          1. I call it “Mona Lisa With 250W Laser”.

            I’ll admit I’m having trouble with the “after so many times”, but I’ve got the “makes you go blind” bit working. Burnt hair skin and clothes is a bonus I suppose.

            Facial recognition? Detect your phone? Honour system? (I like option #3, that adds to the whole blah blah society deep & meaningful arty stuff.)

    1. Actually that’s not a bad idea. Make a “real” product out of this, sell it in the US, and then start heavy litigation against every hardware store in the country for selling DRM circumvention tools.

      Maybe that would get people to look twice at how ridiculous those particular laws are.

  2. I won’t be buying any of those chairs. And stand by for the law suits for injury when the chair collapses. Now normally, I wouldn’t applaud that sort of thing, but in this case, having your company bankrupted for producing something like this, would be well deserved.

    1. ??? I think it’s overwhelmingly and obviously obvious to anyone at all that this project is simply to make a point. It’s art, or possibly a protest.

      Why would you think someone would be so stupid as to design these chairs as a serious product? You really think anyone is?

      Congratulations on being intellectually superior to a joke. If not quite bright enough to see it is a joke. We’re gonna need a smiley for autism round here.

  3. guys oighten the fuck up…i think it was a light hearted joke more than anything. uni project perhaps ? apl, you seriously didnt think this was a commercial prototype did you ? get a grip people !

      1. and why would aspies look bad?

        i bet plenty of people in here are excactly that, for some it might even be why they are good at something(to an extent)

        now the onions autistic reporter certainly does look bad, but he is satire and a quite fun one to boot.

  4. you canot implement drm into a chair, as it holds no data, this is planned obsolescence, but very poorly executed. did you see everone of them was very careful not to crush the chair, ind if i wanted to build collapsing furniture id make it coin operated, so people insert coin, clap it back so they can sit on and then the chair flabs back into unusable mode when times over. with warning signals ofcourse

    1. One of our rainbow carwash’s has a foaming-brush that when the time runs out, the head becomes so floppy, you can’t push around the remaining bubbles you paid for on your vehicle. I thought of an idea to circumvent this but I did one better…
      They think they’re so smart !!!, I’ve permanently changed carwashes because any company who does this is some kind of asshle.
      You have to pay for the bubbles, and pay to push them around too.
      Actually, I know of a company that bought a door card access control system for their business, and the software subscription licence expired one year later and it stopped working. They removed the host software and replaced everything propietary with something that wasn’t invented by losers and deucebags.

      1. Look at this brilliant invention: http://wearcam.org/dusting/seatsale/seatsale_wideshot_widecrop.jpg
        “Here is the Internet Chair with magnetic stripe card reader and spikes that retract when a seating license is downloaded from a license server in response to input from the card reader incoroprated into the chair. The license server is in the 19 inch relay rack behind the Internet Chair.”
        That thing looks like something from the movie Saw.

  5. I really hope all the people calling this _art_project_ useless are joking. The reason it exists is to function as a commentary on DRM. The reason it is on hackaday is because it is a novel use of electronics.

        1. notice that the chair keeps you from sharing the chair too many times with others. A more effective DRM would allow only a few users use it as many times they wanted on a monthly subscription.

        2. More like an autistic statement :V

          I realize it’s hard to convey tone via text, but a lot of people here seem almost pathologically unable to infer when the creation presented in a post is a joke, an art piece, or otherwise not intended to solve a practical problem.

  6. a few ways around this.

    1. dunk the chair in water (if you have a swimming pool in your back yard) you can dunk the chair in the water )electronics and water dont mix and the electronics would be ruined)

    2. if you have access to a small nuclear device you could cause an emp that would fry the electronics (though a road patriot would probably work better)

    3. anyone who has seen ghosthunters on syfy or any paranormal investigation documentary for that matter should know high emf can drain batteries or corrupt the bms if it is a lithium battery (without a working battery it cant work)

    4. put screws or nails in the chair to hold the joints together.

    1. Much like the DRM’s we’re used to, so easily defeated that it truly only annoys the paying customers that expect it to work right. I’m sure a pair of wire cutters would prove an even easier solution than yours. ;)

  7. This is cool! An excellent commentary on DRM and the messed up rights management and copyright laws we currently have. Apparently (judging by the comments), even the parts of their audience who already understand these concepts mostly don’t really get it, so I hope the general public does. But, regardless, IMO it’s a very cool way to demonstrate it.

  8. There is already DRM is products bought from China. It is called built in obsolescence; sort of when you buy a phone with a touch screen from Verizon. It was working when you got it but using it made the screen crack from the pressure of your finger.

  9. I love it!!! now go make some cars and planes with the same DRM, although i like to see the gunpowder idea instead of the wax, then give em out for free to all the execs at Sony, RIAA etc… :D

  10. Very funny!

    Even neater would be if it weighed the first person who sat in it, then collapsed immediately when a different person tried to sit down.

    Would probably have to be a stool in that case, a stool too high for someone`s feet to touch the ground, then use a piezo or qtc element under each leg. Would take some clever programming to get that working properly though!

  11. Perhaps instead of “autistic” people could say “ridiculous” or something similar. Using “autistic” in a denigratory way can be seen as insulting to people with autism, and it can reflect poorly upon the class of the speaker.

  12. My favorite will always be the single-play VHS tapes. A system of gears inside keeps track of playtime. After the allowed amount is exceeded (about 1.5X the movie length, allowing for some limited rewind/replay), a magnet pops into place, erasing the tape as it’s played. I still have one that I removed the magnet from before playing.

  13. This is just so stupid and a near perfect analog to DRM. Win! Now, if you could make it break if a different person sits down and you must call the manufacturer if you wish to move the chair into another room, that would really be CRM (Chair Rights Management). Oh yeah, moving to a different house? Forget it. Once a chair is activated in a particular house, it cannot be moved.

  14. Interesting project, I suppose you could have a speech with these chairs, and set them to destruct after the speech for easy clean up. Clean up would consist of a Skid Steer or similar methods to retrieve all the wood. But the wax will be tricky..

  15. So we start making these and selling them… Stupid Walmart puts one on display, and you can see where this is going lol…

    Anyways, I feel that it is of value; maybe not for the purpose as presented but as to thought provoking conversations and discussions.

    And then there is the practical joke value… a friend of mine is notorious for breaking lawn chairs… now I can build one that collapses via remote control

  16. This isn’t exactly analogous to the examples provided :/

    If you want a DRM chair, it should be set-up to electrocute anyone other than the purchaser of the chair, of which the purchaser is identified by an RFID that the purchaser MUST embed into his or her skin via surgical implant.

    Get it right, guys! =P

  17. So many comments, and no one volunteers to sit on the gunpowder chair? I’d do it, for science. If they didn’t use an arduino where a binary counter (plus a 555 for debouncing) would have been sufficient. I mean, 8 is a clean power of 2…

    The smaller circuit would be more discreet and discrete.

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