3D scanning is used in a number of different industries. It is used for coordinating product design, prototyping, 3D modeling for movies and video games, cultural heritage preservation and a myriad of other uses. Unfortunately, traditional 3D scanners are expensive, because they require intricate hardware and complex software.
However, with the advent of and increased interest in consumer 3D printing, I’m not surprised that 3D scanner technology is evolving as well. In the last few years, there have been several different companies racing to create mobile 3D scanner technology that can be implemented using a smartphone or tablet. Simple, easily accessible 3D scanners would make 3D model creation much easier for hobbyists and do-it-yourself 3D printing enthusiasts who don’t necessarily have design or engineering degrees.
Most applications or “apps” that have been created for mobile device-based 3D scanning rely on cloud computing to create a 3D model. Replica Labs’ Rendor app and the TRNIO app are two examples of cloud-based 3D scanning. With each of these programs, the mobile device’s built-in camera is utilized to capture video that is uploaded to a remote server. A 3D model is remotely rendered from the captured footage and then returned to the user.
While cloud-based applications are the current standard, many groups are working to create applications that would not need to use remote servers to render 3D models. For example, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) has a Computer Vision and Geometry Group that has been working toward transforming a smartphone into a portable digital scanner. Their goal is to make 3D scanning as easy as taking pictures. The application they debuted at the 2014 IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Conference held in Sydney, Australia, performs all calculations directly on the phone. This would give users immediate feedback and allow them to select additional viewpoints that would cover missing parts of the 3D model.
While the apps I’ve mentioned so far use a mobile device’s built-in camera, more detailed 3D scanning can be accomplished with accessory sensors that plug into the mobile device. Examples include the Occipital Structure Sensor by Structure and the iSense scanner from 3D Systems. Each of these sensors is designed to mount on an iPad and costs about $500. They are designed to create better and more detailed models than would generally come from a mobile device’s built-in camera. The iSense is even designed to integrate with the Cube family of consumer and prosumer 3D printers.
Improved Built-In Sensors
Despite these accessory sensors, I believe that as the mobile 3D scanning industry matures, improved built-in sensors will become the standard. As an example of the industry moving in that direction, Intel has partnered with 3D Systems to expand and improve their RealSense technology for use in 3D scanning. Just last month they announced that 3D scanners using RealSense will be incorporated into their tablets next year and speculated about the technology being included in smartphones in the years following.
As these technologies continue to move forward, it will be interesting to see where it leads. The combined technologies of 3D scanning and 3D printing will have a huge impact on many facets of industry, but what impacts will we see? For example, what impact will 3D scanning and printing have on copyright law? Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing where this technology will lead us.