3D scanning used to be the province of special effects houses and product development studios. But, as 3D printing spreads and desktop manufacturing becomes a more realistic prospect, 3D scanners are becoming more and more commonplace. And Hammacher Schlemmer, of all companies, actually has one you might use, created by Sense. Here’s what you need to know.
1. It’s Not Industrial Quality, But It’s Pretty Good.
This isn’t quite up to the specifications of, say, MakerBot’s Digitizer, or some other 3D scanners you may have seen while wandering around the Internet. But this is still fairly solid, using a Class 1 (i.e. absolutely harmless) laser to scan and sending 240 x 320 color images to your computer. You won’t be creating Avatar anytime soon with this, but it has enough scanning ability to digitize a human.
2. It’s Handheld.
One big, big benefit in terms of scanning objects is that this scanner is handheld. Almost every other consumer-grade scanner available is actually a desktop model, for reasons we’ll get into. So, just the fact that you can toss this into a backpack and bring it with you is pretty good news; if you want to scan the things you see, you can just whip out the 3D scanner. There’s even a hole on the underside threaded for tripods.
3. Scanning Is Admittedly A Bit Awkward.
This product has actually been on the market for about a year; never let it be said Hammacher Schlemmer doesn’t go slowly and steadily. As a result, we know a few things about using it that indicate that it’s not the most user-friendly device. First of all, it’s got a USB cord you’ll need to have plugged in. Secondly, there are no controls on the scanner itself; you’ll have to control it entirely through the software. Thirdly, the software is Windows-only, for now, so bring a laptop.
4. The Actual Scanning Process, However, Is Speedy.
Essentially, scanning is like taking a panoramic photo. You’ll want to be able to keep at least one eye on the application, as it’ll be the one warning you when something isn’t quite working out. It’s actually easier with larger objects than with smaller ones, but the interface does have a useful tool in that it shows you with white space where the scanner has missed out on information it needs. It also does lose tracking fairly easily, so anybody scanning something will need to be a steady hand to get it right.
5. The Software Can Fill In The Blanks.
It’s not exactly Maya, but the included software does include plenty of tools for cleaning up, filling in, and otherwise touching up your 3D models. It’s also surprisingly robust in a few respects: It’ll export to STL models for you CAD fans, and PLY for those looking for something a bit more detailed. Both will do for a 3D printer and other 3D manipulation jobs.
In short, while this 3D scanner may not be a professional tool, it’s decidedly a useful one. And yeah, it really does only cost $400. Quite a deal, for what you get.
Dan Seitz is an obsessive nerd living in New England. He lives in the Boston area with a fiancee, a dog, a cat, and far too many objects with processors.