back to article Culture jammers connect Lego clones with 3D printer files

Sy-Lab and The Free Art and Technology (F.A.T.) Lab, a self-described “organization dedicated to enriching the public domain through the research and development of creative technologies and media”, have released a set of 3D printer files that will “enable complete interoperability between ten popular children’s construction …


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  1. Wombling_Free
    Thumb Up

    Impressive, if...

    they can manage the dimensional tolerance and strength of Lego.

    Somehow I doubt they are there yet.

    Anyway, no true Lego fan lets UNCLEAN parts touch their Lego.

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Impressive, if...

      Heh, brings back my very first lesson in interoperability problems, back when I was 6 years or so. I had some genuine Legos, but someone gave me a packet of near-clones as a Christmas present. These parts worked well enough on their own, but their dimensions differed by a fraction of a millimeter from real Legos. There were also some other small differences. I could almost but not quite combine them.

      I still have some of the clones and the contemporary real Legos left in a box my son sometimes get to play with. Both having got worn down over the years, the different kinds of parts now fit together better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        IT'S LEGO FFS

        Not "Legos".

        Got that?

        1. Ru

          Re: IT'S LEGO FFS

          Not on the internets it isn't.

    2. Bill Neal

      Re: Impressive, if...

      unclean? that makes you sound like a fanboi. But seriously, is it even legal to "jailbreak" your Lego? This must violate several patents somewhere.

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge

        Re: Impressive, if...

        > This must violate several patents somewhere.

        Lego is old enough to have its patents expired, at least for the classic system of bricks. I don't know if they are covered by copyright but I doubt it, except for the bricks with some kind of distinct design (like the faces of the Lego men). in any case an adaptor brick would be quite different from any bricks produced by Lego themselves.

  2. Charles Manning


    How does handing the kid everything on a plate enhance their creativity? No wonder the tykes are frustrated - they have never learned to do anything for themselves.

    I never had Lego, but my kids did. They made many of their own parts by modifying standard Lego bricks with drills, heatguns, hot glue, bolts, pop-riveters etc.

    Sure they occasionally got cut, burned and bruised but that is all part of education.

  3. frank ly Silver badge

    I was shocked

    "... but we’re not going to do the acronym because it is NSFW " - if you think that's bad, you should read their website:

    ".. the Kit encourages totally new forms of intercourse between otherwise closed systems"

  4. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Better download *now*

    The reason those systems/toys are closed universes is the same that makes Microsoft choose undocumented file formats: the suppliers like you to stay with them instead of going elsewhere (however better that would be for flexibility, and, in this case, mental flexibility).

    I fear they may attempt to quell this idea before it gets too popular..

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Better download *now*

      Relax- the STL files are tiny and easy to distribute. And in any case would be fairly easy to reverse engineer.

      To these guys: Good point, well made.

    2. Ru

      Re: Better download *now*

      A good point well made. After all, every time anyone has tried to put information on the internet that the copyright or patent holder has objected to, it has vanished *forever*. IP enforcement is a done deal these days, right?

      I'll observe that there are commercially available lego-compatible building blocks out there already. Presumably any key patents they had regarding such things have already expired, and the basic shapes are not protectable by other means.

      1. The Boojum

        Re: Better download *now*

        I seem to recall reading not long ago that Lego lost a court case to patent / copyright / whatever the standard dimensions of its bricks.

  5. Jim Lewis
    Thumb Up

    If they have any sense at all, (and I won't be surprised to learn they don't), the manufacturers would realise that this in fact will lead to wider uptake of their products by people otherwise locked into a particular 'system'. IE those previously constrained to Lego will look at other options and those in other systems like Fischer Technic might look at Lego.

    If anything this should boost sales.

    (the argument that in fact this will just cannibalise sales is unsound as people at a limit within one system are not likely to spend more on it, but having the opportunity to branch into other, (now compatible), systems will encourage ADDITIONAL spend).

  6. Herby Silver badge

    What they need now is...

    PlayMobil figures for complete interoperability.

  7. jrd


    I think I like every single thing about this story. Well done, all concerned!

  8. hplasm Silver badge

    No Meccano?


    1. Mephistro Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: No Meccano?

      When I was fifteen y modded several Lego pieces in order use them in a mixed Lego - Meccano crane model. Everything I needed was an electric drill and a steady hand. It took me a while to find the right bit's size and type, though. Kudos to these guys!

    2. Petrea Mitchell

      Re: No Meccano?

      My childhood memories are a bit disappointed to see Ramagon and Construx left out...

  9. Ryleh

    OpenCB is the answer

    No no no - this is all wrong.

    What we should do is design an open standard - OpenCB (construction blocks) safe guarded by a consortium of stake holders and have a bi yearly steering comeete get together and discuss the direction in which the blocks should go.

    In the meantime all of the vendors would be able to develop their own extensions to the standard that are not compatible with anyone's else!

  10. The BigYin

    I hope they have good lawyers

    All the affected companies would have every right in the world to take them to the cleaners. And that includes suing for loss of earnings.

    Where the MAFIAA showed the way, the toy-makers will follow. It hurts industry, their shareholders and thus you, if there is a free alternative to their products (or in this case, free interoperability).

    And that's the levy? US$5,000 per infringement or something? Just how many lost sales can Lego calculate because kids can now use their K'nex with it? Make that good lawyers and deep pockets.

    Really. I find this outbreak of socialist multi-toyism repugnant and disgusting. Teaching children that things from different vendors should work together is disingenuous to modern business. I really don't understand why a pro-MS site like El Reg has mentioned such a cancerous little project. I bet these sandal-wearing beardies even used a copyleft license.

    Get Andrew O. on the case - he'll soon tell them why their attempt to express a free culture for the benefit of mankind rather than the bottom line is an affront to all that is wholesome and worthy.

    This project is a prime example of why all the plans to have standards that are not protected and validated by patents are fundamentally wrong.

    Think of the children! Do you want them to grow up penniless? You can't eat toys!

    1. Ru

      "You can't eat toys!"

      Doesn't the Candy Fab take STL files? You could make edible lego clones with that. Hah!

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: I hope they have good lawyers

      "All the affected companies would have every right in the world to take them to the cleaners. And that includes suing for loss of earnings."

      First they have to demonstrate loss of earnings. As someone already mentioned, lego may "lose" some sale to Lego users but may gain sale to other toy user. Odds are it will a) balance out, b) be barely noticeable since this is a tiny niche market (how many people do you know with 3D printers at home?

      "Think of the children! Do you want them to grow up penniless? You can't eat toys!"

      Use a chocolate 3D printer to make the parts!

      1. The BigYin

        Re: I hope they have good lawyers

        Err...I would have thought my prose would have been been vitriolic enough.

        Seems not.


        1. frank ly Silver badge

          Re: I hope they have good lawyers

          In theory, you can get to sarcastic/ironic by running full tilt at screaming batshit vitriolic and passing through it. In practice, few people manage to achieve this.

      2. The BigYin

        Re: I hope they have good lawyers

        To respond to @John in seriousness

        "First they have to demonstrate loss of earnings. As someone already mentioned, lego may "lose" some sale to Lego users but may gain sale to other toy user."

        You simply apply MPAA/RIAA maths. You only count the losses, assume that you are only counting a fraction of the losses and that all drops in sales are caused by copyright infringement. You are claiming that (say) sharing season 1 of a series is a promotion for season 2 and that the increase in sales of 2 make up for the loses in 1. The MPAA/RIAA does not see it that way (despite, time and again, reports showing that sharing has no impact on sales).

        I actually think this project is a great idea and show what we in IT face day-in day-out. I was trying to apply the logic in reverse; what if we applied IT practices in reverse with the draconian copyright/patent laws? Hopefully to highlight just how stupid most of the stuff in copyright/patent law is (when applied to IT at any rate).

        If the companies have any sense (which the probably don't) they should run a competition; who can make the maddest thing by combining specific sets/features?

        Maybe I am wrong, but I would expect the companies to lawyer-up and "protect their IP for the good of the stakeholders".

        1. Keep Refrigerated

          Re: I hope they have good lawyers

          I'd like to see MAFIAA piracy losses represented in some kind of mathematical formula. Unfortunately I've forgotten a lot of formulas, here's some code instead:

          for (pirate=1;pirate<swarm;pirate++) {

          pirates = pirate + swarm;

          lost_sales = 1000 * (lost_sales + pirates);

          swarm = pirate * swarm;


    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I hope they have good lawyers

      Judging from the downvote you should have used the joke alert icon.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Lego shall only connect to Lego!!!

    A curse on the Innovators!

    1. Mephistro Silver badge

      Re: THIS IS HERESY!!!

      For thousands of years some people have been trying to tell the rest which parts they could or could not plug into other parts. As a result, these building blocks are probably illegal in Texas right now.

  12. unicomp21

    3D printing CAD

    Currently it's only a 2D napkin sketch tool. I understand it will soon support 3D isosurfaces, with an export file for priting. Works with ipads as well.

    Kids love it as an etcha sketch.

  13. Gus

    Poor quality stl files

    I have looked at the stl files provided using NetFabb and most of them have issues (non-manifold solids, orphan line segments, zero thickness surfaces etc.) which would mean they would probably not be 3D printable without some work to tidy them up. This is rather disappointing.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Krinkles (Bristle Blocks)"

    Stickle Bricks.

    1. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Optional

      I apologise Lurch, for I only have one upvote to give.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lego and Duplo

    I thought Duplo and Lego were already compatible?

    Surely a 2x2 Duplo brick can be the base for 2 4x2 lego bricks?

    All of these toys are surely for different types of play?

    For example, a Stickle Brick vehicle is likely to be a chassis with 4 circles, but no real features or moving parts.

  16. web_bod


    Build it an they will cum

    yeah, that's mine, the mac with the tissues in the top pocket - cheers!

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