Structure Sensor is set to make 3D modeling generally available, opening up prospects for fun or highly practical uses of augmented reality.

3D modeling soon available to all on iPad

US startup Occipital recently launched a Kickstarter campaign(reaching the $100,000 target in less than three hours) in order to finance the production of a portable 3D sensor for iPads that will be able to scan physical objects with a view to replicating them. In June the computer vision specialist acquired French startup ManCTL, which specialized in making 3D-scanning technology to capture images from a Microsoft Kinect camera and turn them into full-color 3D models. The first fruit of this fusion is the new Structure Sensor which, when clamped on to a iPad, enables 3D modeling without the need for computer assisted design expertise or engineering skills and could well open the door to many applications in the field of augmented reality (AR).

3D modeling soon within reach of all

The majority of 3D scanners so far available on the market are clunky, costly and very often tricky to use. Occipital has now developed a lightweight sensor which customers can learn to use very quickly. Made of aluminum, it clips on to an iPad, capturing all necessary 3D data in record time. Having recorded the features of the scanned product, the user can then transfer the data to a 3D printer and so reproduce the object. Inspired by the AR sensor of Microsoft’s Kinect camera, this scanner looks set to bring down the entry barriers to 3D printing for the general public. A crucial step in 3D production has always been the creation of a 3Dfile detailing the dimensions and key features of an object. To do so, most people would need to call on a professional or make use of specialist services such as Sculpteo. A recent report, on which l’Atelier commented in a recent article, pointed to the considerable savings that a US household could make by turning to 3D printing. This new invention could help to speed up widespread availability of this home copying technique.

Numerous applications in the pipeline

The Structure Sensor development team envisages a whole range of offshoot applications, from the fun of digitizing your environment in order to improve the overall experience while playing a video game to the highly practical idea of projecting furniture on to a room in order to visualize the best layout. The scanner is able to capture images from a distance of 40 centimeters up to 3.5 meters with panoramic vision. This means that you could scan an entire room and then simulate various different layouts. The company has already offered a number of apps in exchange for donations on Kickstarter, among them software to create a virtual pet that can be projected into the physical environment. Moreover, the company has left open the option of developing apps on other platforms by publishing open source manuals for Windows, Android, OS X and Linux. However the enormous potential for modeling objects and then making identical replicas might also raise a raft of questions over copyright – author’s rights and/or imag3e rights etc.  It would for instance be quite possible to produce a bust of a person from a photo taken surreptitiously on an iPad. Some companies are already talking about the potential for reproducing sculptures or other works of art in 3D using this type of sensor. Fujifilm, in partnership with a Dutch museum, has already started making very convincing replicas of major works by the artist Van Gogh with a scanning and printing process it has dubbed Reliefography.



By Thomas Meyer
Journalist, Business Analyst