Leopoly Blog

The 3D Ecosystem: Where Physical Meets Digital

Jul 31, 2017 4:32:00 AM / by Kevin Jackson

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What if there was an affordable magic wand that can waved over an object or person to instantly create a perfect 3D model? While this wand does not yet exist, 3D scanning technology has evolved significantly since its introduction back in the 1960s. Faster processors, cheaper data storage, more advanced hardware and software, and artificial intelligence are all combining to empower the seamless transition from physical to digital.

As we have discussed in our previous blog, “5 Great Ways to Design in Virtual Space,” there is a wide variety of software available that enables designers to create 3D models. These models are the representation of a physical body using a collection of points in 3D space. When these points are connected to each other using triangles, lines, curved surfaces, and other geometric tools, they form a 3D model. Learning the basics can be done in a few weeks, but mastering the fine art of texturing and sculpting can take years. If 3D scanning technology can allow designers to quickly scan objects and people into a virtual space, then this will unlock an enormous amount of creative potential and boost productivity in a significant way.


How Does 3D Scanning Work?

There are still contact 3D scanners floating around that delicately scan an object by physically touching it. These scanners are very slow, expensive, and difficult to use. Modern day 3D scanners project radiation or light in order to create a point cloud of an object or person. The image that is ultimately produced details the distance to a surface for each point. As one can imagine, the ability to make more advanced point clouds is a function of processing speed and data storage.

Most consumer based solutions available today utilize one of the following techniques:

  1. Photogrammetry: The science of making measurements from photographs
  2. Structured Light: Projecting a known pattern (often grids or horizontal bars) onto objects in a scene
  3. Laser Triangulation: Measuring distance using angle calculation
  4. RGB-D:  The RGB model is for the sensing and display of images in electronic systems.  A combination of a RGB image and it corresponding depth image.
  5. Time of Flight (ToF): The various, available methods for measuring the time an object takes to travel a distance through a given medium.

3D Scanning Solutions

The range of 3D scanning tools available today varies greatly. Leopoly’s industry partner, Pinshape, has done a nice job of creating a list of the top thirteen 3D scanners available for consumers and professionals in 2017. Similarly, the 3DSCANEXPERT website does a comprehensive job of reviewing a large selection of 3D scanners for users of all kinds.

While it is clear that the market has a lot of solutions to choose from, there are lingering shortfalls amongst all of them. For example, today’s 3D scanning tools still have a difficult time properly representing reflective, shiny, or translucent objects. Objects that have soft curves, varying colors, and are opaque tend to produce the best results. Using ambient lighting and avoiding harsh conditions is another key success factor since even the most capable 3D scanners offer relatively slow capture rates. This technology is evolving rapidly, however, and we could easily see a magic wand hit the market in the near future that overcomes these current obstacles.


Leading Use Cases

3D scanning technology has the potential to disrupt nearly every industry and the following areas are the ones currently with the most traction:


Healthcare

Perhaps there is no better example than the one found in Nepal where the recent earthquake disabled thousands of people. HRDC is a children’s hospital that reached out to New York based, Create Orthotics and Prosthetics, about how to devise a system to inexpensively model and 3D print artificial limbs.

The solution involves taking scans made by a clinician and uploading them to a smartphone. The phone is then inserted into a VR headset so a person can modifies the model by hand. The final step is to send the model to a 3D printer to have it produced in less than three hours. A fantastic example of value added technology.


Science and Education

Whether you are resurrecting an Egyptian mummies, creating online galleries, or supporting NASA research, 3D scanning is clearly becoming an increasingly more important part of the educational and scientific process.


Art and Design

Top movie studios are already using 3D scanning to complement their film productions. World War Z, Terminator Genisys, and Jurassic World have all used the technology to make objects and characters more lifelike.


Retail and Consumer Design

With the access to easy tools for digitization, 3D scanning and editing softwares have the potential to disrupt and redesign the way we shop.  Consumers customizing and personalizing everyday items from chairs to wine glasses will also change the way retailers and manufacturers think about their supply chain and production process.  Viewing and sharing your creations with friends and family will also inspire more widespread adoption and be commonly used within the next couple of years.


The 3D Scan, Shape, and Send Ecosystem

While the ability to 3D scan objects and people will continue to improve, its future will be built on the ability of the scanners to understand what they are scanning. In other words, artificial intelligence (AI) will be a major driver behind the evolution of 3D scanning. Apple has already developed an AI chip called the Apple Neural Engine capable of 3D face scanning technology. This means that it will be your face and not your fingerprints that will unlock your phone. This AI chip will also be able to improve battery life by automatically performing tasks like image recognition and typing suggesting. Apple is not alone as the Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home digital assistants are racing to deploy their own AI technologies.

Despite all of the advancements in 3D scanning technology, however, It is commonplace for initial scans to have loose objects, holes, and abnormalities that need to be addressed with 3D modeling software. The good news is that you no longer have to be an expert in CAD software to fix these problems. The access to easy-to-use tools for digitizing everyday objects are available and their evolution will potentially disrupt the entire design and production process.

The final piece of the “Scan, Shape, and Send” 3D ecosystem is the 3D printer. Like the 3D scanner, this technology has progressed rapidly in recent years and has moved beyond prototyping and into production. Industry leaders like HP and GE see 3D printing as a “must have” for the future of their respective businesses.

3D scanners, VR modeling, and 3D printing have formed an ecosystem where innovations in one area are driving innovations the others. In upcoming blogs, we will further discuss the evolution of this ecosystem and its impact on our lives.

 

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Topics: Augmented Reality, 3D Content Creation, Virtual reality, 3D Scanning

Kevin Jackson

Written by Kevin Jackson

Distinguished international business and marketing strategist with over 20 years of experience generating and sustaining global business partnerships. Entrepreneurial expert with outstanding record of developing new business concepts and strategies, creating global sales and marketing initiatives for virtual and augmented reality startups. Kevin is an accomplished writer who now leads the content team at Leopoly.