iFixit wants Congress to let it hack McDonald’s ice cream machines

McDonald’s ice cream machines are so notorious for breaking that it’s become a meme. But now we may have some glimmer of Shamrock Shake-flavored hope: not only has iFixit performed a teardown of McDonald’s machines, but it’s also petitioning the government to let it create the parts required for people to fix them.

As shown in a video posted to YouTube, iFixit purchased the same ice cream machine model used by McDonald’s and spent hours trying to get it up and running. The machine spit out numerous error codes that iFixit says “are nonsensical, counterintuitive, and seemingly random, even if you spent hours reading the manual.”

Despite consisting of “easily replaceable parts,” such as three printed circuit boards, a motor and belt, and a heat exchanger, the ice cream machine can only be fixed by its manufacturer — Taylor — due to an agreement it has with McDonald’s. While a company called Kytch attempted to remedy this by creating a product to read ice cream machine error codes, iFixit says McDonald’s “sent a letter to all of the franchise owners” instructing them not to use the device.

Here’s what’s on the inside of a McDonald’s ice cream machine.
Image: iFixit

That’s why the iFixit team is taking things into their own hands. “We’d love to be able to make a device like Kytch that can read error codes on the ice cream machine we have, but we can’t because of copyright law,” Elizabeth Chamberlain, iFixit’s director of sustainability, says in the video. The copyright law Chamberlain is referring to is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prevents people from circumventing controls or digital locks to access a copyrighted work.

To get around this, iFixit filed an exemption to the law for ice cream machines, something it already has done (and won) for Xboxes, tractors, and smartphones. But iFixit notes that even if it does receive the exemption, it still won’t be able to distribute a tool designed to fix ice cream machines. Due to that, it’s also asking Congress to reintroduce the Freedom to Repair Act, a law that would make it legal to bypass software locks and other measures to repair a product.

If Congress does end up going through with these changes, we may finally have a future where we don’t have to use a broken ice cream machine tracker before we set out for a McFlurry.

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