There’s a lot of buzz surrounding 3D printing, which is seen as the next big thing. Why? One reason is because the tools that allow people to create their own 3D objects are coming down to the consumer level. That means devices and software that are not only easy to use, but also affordable. (We recently saw a small 3D printer that the manufacturer plans to sell for around $200!)
One example is the Occipital Structure Sensor, a Kickstarter success story that raised nearly $1.3 million and received the backing of more than 3,500 people. On sale now for $499, the device is the first 3D sensor that works with the iPad. Using any iPad fourth-generation of higher, you can scan objects and people and turn them into a 3D figure (click here to read more about the device). But to use the sensor requires software, and one of the first is the free Itseez3D app from Itseez, a company that specializes in computer vision technology and one of the early supporters of the Structure Sensor.
“We are creating the first 3D scanner for consumers.”
“We are creating the first 3D scanner for consumers,” says Victor Erukhimov, CEO and cofounder of Itseez.
Here’s how it works. The Itseez3D uses both the Structure Sensor and iPad’s camera to capture the mesh structure of an object or subject with high-resolution RGB color, using augmented reality technology. Because the SDK is open to all developers, Itseez3D won’t be the only app to utilize the Structure Sensor, but what makes Itseez3D unique is the coloring. You see, using the Structure Sensor alone isn’t enough to create printable product. The same goes for taking high-resolution RGB images. But it is possible to create a product when you combine the data from both sources.
“Our secret sauce is how we create very high quality color models,” says Erukhimov. “The SDK provides you with the possibility to get a pretty good shape of an object without color, but what we do is merge that with data from the iPad camera – the images from the camera – and we synthesize that…it’s a really hard job to make this all work together so that your resulting models are realistic.”
Besides cost and accessibility, Erukhimov says another one of its app’s strengths is the ability accurately render human faces.
The Structure Sensor is different “because it’s intended to be used by consumers,” Erukhimov says. “Other scanners are created for specific industrial applications, and they cost more because their industry can afford to buy them. Other scanners have their own restrictions: For example, Makerbot has a laser scanner that can scan objects of a certain size, but it’s extremely difficult to scan a face with a Makerbot scanner.”
Besides actually printing out an object, objects could be scanned and placed inside a virtual environment.
As you probably figured out, the app requires the Structure Sensor in order to perform the 3D scanning, but anyone can download it to view sample 3D objects. (Itseez3D says they plan to add support for other new iPad-based sensors down the road). Yes, unless you have the Structure Sensor, the app is kind of useless for the general consumer, but it does give you a good idea of how well the sensor and Itseez’s color technology works.
We tried out the app (without a sensor, so we weren’t creating any 3D objects), and what you’ll see is that it is a fairly barebones app that’s easy to use. What we noticed right away is how smooth and fast the app is, and the sample 3D objects themselves have an amazing level of detail, which you can spin and rotate 360 degrees, or pinch and zoom to view all the scanned areas; on objects like a stuffed animal and sneaker or subjects like people, you can see detailed things like hair, beard stubble, fabric, or artificial fur. You can even make out the patterns and prints in the clothing subjects are wearing. Erukhimov told us that the app will add native support for 3D printers and 3D printing services in future updates (the app can now export the information, but it’s a longer process to get it printed) but the early results are pretty impressive.
As for the future of 3D printing, Erukhimov calls the Structure Sensor a game changer. Erukhimov would know: As one of the developers of the OpenCV open source computer vision language, Erukhimov has been working in the industry for more than 15 years – seven of them with company, Itseez. He says that, for the first time, we are able to create realistic 3D products by using both 3D data and computer vision technologies, and the fact that it’s being created with a consumer mobile device is incredible. And, because you need a lot of pixels to create gorgeous 3D models, Erukhimov says 3D scanning will only improve, as the high-resolution cameras in mobile devices get better.
“This is the thing that we liked about the Structure Sensor, because suddenly mobile devices with 3D sensing capabilities are able to do much more,” Erukhimov says. “The industry is growing pretty fast. I think [more] hardware vendors will eventually create mobile 3D devices with 3D sensors, like [Google’s] Project Tango, so a lot of consumers will be scanning things.”