MakerBot announced, but did not release, a personal 3D scanner at SXSW yesterday that could dramatically change how personal 3D printers are used and accepted by the general public.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing home 3D printer owners today is finding the right 3D models to print. Unless one is a designer equipped with potentially expensive 3D modeling software, you're left with picking models from seemingly endless online repositories.
But those repositories generally don't have the model you're looking for. You want a model of your jewelry, or of that clip that keeps breaking, or a second copy of that unusual bookend in your living room. None of these can be found online, nor are you capable of reproducing them with even free 3D modeling tools.
MakerBot's newly announced 3D scanner, the "MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner", directly addresses these scenarios. With the device you'll be able to capture reasonably accurate 3D scans of any small item you can fit into the scanner. Once scanned, you can produce as many copies as possible on your 3D printer. No more endless searching for models!
How good is this scanner? We just don't know yet. At the SXSW unveiling, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis showed a prototype of the device and did not reveal numerical specifications or costs. We speculate that it might have a resolution of around 1mm and should cost less than a MakerBot Replicator.
The MakerBot Digitizer uses twin lasers to triangulate the 3D shape of the scanned object, which sits upon a slowly spinning plate. Scans will be quick - taking "as little as 3 minutes" to complete. And the associated software will automatically fill holes in the scan to produce ready-to-print 3D models.
The device has a webcam to interpret the lasers shining off the object, but it's unclear whether any color information is captured, which means you're likely capturing only the shape, not the textures. Could a "color digitizing" feature be a future upgrade in the Digitizer 2?
The MakerBot Digitizer shown at SXSW was a wooden prototype. We expect that the released version will be transformed into an attractive industrial design, likely similar in style to the current crop of MakerBot Replicators - sleek black plastic.
While you can already easily start 3D scanning with a Microsoft Kinect and software (like Skanect or ReconstructMe) at a price probably far below the MakerBot Digitizer, these solutions are limited by the Kinect's rather poor resolution and are not suitable for scanning details of small items. That's where the MakerBot Digitizer comes in. It's scan volume appears to be able to scan small objects of perhaps 8 inches in size to an accuracy that should come close to the resolution of MakerBot's Replicator 2 3D printer.
Reverse engineering of a scanned part into a manipulatable 3D CAD model is quite another issue. This can be done, but it requires some pretty expensive software and associated expertise. That will come later, but for now, enjoy scanning with your MakerBot Digitizer - when it's released this fall.
Image Credit: Engadget