Turning physical models into CAD models is becoming easier and more affordable than before. Cheaper lasers, higher quality cameras and faster computers mean calculating and handling point clouds isn't a headache or an expense as it was before. Already a few scans have been showing up on GrabCAD. Instead of meticulously measuring every corner and divot with a trusty calliper, scanning is a real option. But what are those options?
Originally created by Microsoft to connect limb and body movement to your Xbox, the Kinect was rapidly taken up by hackers and 3D CAD users as a tool to scan objects. A number of software products have appeared in the past year alone. From Bangalore, India, Chekuri Srikanth Varma and Chaitanya Nittala of Matherix Labs have developed 3Dfy. Along the same vein, Matterport out of Mountain View, California has been exploring similar techniques. And then there's ReconstructMe, an Austrian based company that has been pushing the envelope with what is possible. But at this point, it's a matter of leveraging the most out of each Kinect and creating a friendly UI - never an easy task.
Armed with a laser ($5-$20), a camera, a specially patterned background and a copy of DAVID or Makerscanner software, it's fairly simple to scan an object and create a usable 3D model. If you can't get your hands on a Kinect, there are other options. There is Makerscanner, which consists of an open source program and set of STL files for anyone to 3D print the parts for tripod that fits a webcamera (preferably something like the PS Eye) Both operate on the same principal - triangulation of points based on either the design of the tripod (Makerscanner) or the background pattern (DAVID).
Photograph to 3D Model
Capturing an object from multiple perspectives and stitching them together with a camera is getting easier and easier. AutoCAD 123D and My3DScanner are a few of the many free programs create fairly decent meshes. Take a look at this scan of a relief found at the entrance of the Grand Palais in Paris, which was attached to a vase by pav180 using My3DScanner.
What would you be Scanning and Sharing?
Obviously the quality of finished designs aren't perfect. And for uniform surfaces, nothing beats a Parasolid. But for such a low price, we could be seeing more and more scanned objects on GrabCAD. Remember that GrabCAD is possible because of improvements in computers, software and the Internet - the worldwide drop in costs meant anyone could design and share with each other. The same double movement is occurring with scanning - so what could happen next?
If you had a hand-held, quality scanner - what would you be scanning and what would you be doing with it? Would you be scanning the parts of an old, discontinued Honda Motor and sharing it online. No doubt. Would you be scanning household items, redesigning them and showing off how much better the world would be if they made it your way? You bet. Would you be scanning your own homebuilt motorcycle frame so anyone could take the files and make their own? Hell yes. But that's a long way off. Point clouds are notoriously huge and cumbersome. 3D Scanning itself is an art, and what you can't see, you can't scan. But the technology is getting better and there's a whole world to be CADified.
And when you scan it, you bet you can upload it to GrabCAD!