3D Scanning Technology

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3D Scanning Technology

by Michael Gariffo

Docid: 00021073

Publication Date: 2108

Report Type: TUTORIAL


With 3D printing technology becoming an ever-more important part of product
development, creation, and manufacturing, it is worth looking at its equally
important counterpart: 3D scanning. Where 3D printing allows users to turn
electronic bits into physical atoms, 3D scanning does the opposite by precisely
measuring and analyzing a three-dimensional object using a variety of techniques
and technologies to create a 3D digital model. This can then be
manipulated, modified, and reproduced in ways that would take a real-world-only
approach to the process of design and fabrication many, many times longer. This report examines
3D scanning technology at various levels, from
smartphone-based solutions to some of the most sophisticated systems on the
market today.

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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Faulkner Reports
3D Printing

3D scanners are designed to be the counterparts to 3D printers, allowing
users to take an existing physical object, scan its parameters using a variety
of technologies, and import those measurements into 3D design software. Like any
object created from the ground up in the digital world, the scanned item can
then be manipulated to the user’s desires. This includes changes to the size, shape,
density, and other physical characteristics, as well as
completely revamping its shape. Imagine a toy maker attempting to duplicate an
old, out-of-production action figure. He or she could scan that existing figure
using their 3D scanner, up-size it to the new 6-inch scale requested by the
manufacturer, and even change the design of the figure’s hair or the position of
its hands once it has been digitized. These tasks would require multiple rounds
of casting, sculpting, and molding if they were attempted on a purely physical
basis. However, thanks to 3D scanning, the same job can be knocked out in an
afternoon, with only a nearly-finished product ever needing to be produced

This does not mean, however, that 3D scanning is solely the domain of
commercial manufacturers. Indeed the technology is already at home in the
arena of archaeology and restoration. 3D scanners can be used to digitize a
valuable artifact to illuminate researchers on details of its makeup that might
require a destructive physical examination to discover otherwise. Going further,
those 3D scans could help restore damaged or broken artifacts to
their original form. Take, for example, an ancient sword found buried on some
dig site. Although the metal blade has withstood the test of time amazingly
well, the wood and leather making up the sword’s fittings have long since rotted
away. Curators could display the bare blade, but would like to present the
weapon in something approaching its original physical form. To do this,
they could scan the blade and use the digitized image to create a 3D model of
the appropriate shape and size of fittings such as a grip, cross guard, and
pommel. This data could then be used by craftsmen employing 3D printing, CNC
milling, and traditional methods to fabricate fittings that will restore
the blade to its original glory. This use of 3D scanning is no pipe dream,
either. It has already been employed in the restoration of statuary as
high-profile as works by Michelangelo.1

While all of these examples outline the possibilities a 3D scanner can
provide to advanced 3D modeling processes, the technology provides just as much
promise to the simplest of manufacturing tasks: duplication. A 3D scanner
combined with a 3D printer or CNC mill that is able to output models in the appropriate
materials could duplicate just about anything. An engineer needs five of a
particular nut but only has three on hand? No problem, just scan the nut and have a
robotic milling machine duplicate it. This type of rapid reproduction is a dream
of the manufacturing industry, obviating processes such as tooling, molding,
fabrication, and more. It is, in a very small, nascent way, the path towards
making Star Trek‘s replicators a reality.


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3D scanning technology is designed to allow digital clones to be made of
physical objects. This is an invaluable tool for many tasks and industries
due to the rapidity with which it can allow for the creation of
three-dimensional digital models. While a skilled artist might take hours or
even days to replicate a physical object in digital space, a 3D scanner can
accomplish the same task in a fraction of the time by using one of several
technologies to analyze the size, shape, and sometimes even color and texture of
an object, converting all of these factors into a 3D model.

From this point, the model can fulfill many tasks. The simplest of these is
replication. This refers to the process of simply creating an exact duplicate of
the scanned object via some form of 3D printing or fabrication. It can be
most prevalently to the manufacturing and tooling industries, where the ability
to mill or print a new or replacement part can save a business from days of
downtime due to broken equipment. Similarly, parts that are no longer
manufactured can once again be created by simply scanning an existing example and duplicating its size and shape.

A more complex fate for the original 3D scanning data is to be manipulated
digitally. This means that some physical characteristic of the object is being
changed. It could be something as simple as increasing or decreasing the size
or as complex as completely changing the shape of the object. The
aforementioned example of altering the look of an action figure applies here. The
limitations to this type of manipulation are literally endless, as are the
applications for this type of process. This ability also makes it possible to
scan an object for use as a reference point. Take, for example, a vintage
automobile missing a particularly hard-to-find piece of panel trim. A 3D scanner
could be used to scan the gap left by the missing trim, producing a file from
which a digital artist can extrapolate the size and shape of the trim pieces.
This can then help the designer to recreate the object without ever even having
seen the original.

Helping to rebuild machines and artwork is all well and good, but 3D scanning
can even help humanity rebuild itself. The technology is already being put to
use in areas such as facial reconstruction surgery, joint replacement, and
areas of medicine where a custom-fitted prosthetic or implant is required.
Similar uses are already under way in the dental industry, allowing for the
creation of more precise caps, crowns, and other appliances without the need to
take a mold of the patient’s mouth.

Although the most common and perhaps most promising use of 3D scanning
technology is in the production – and reproduction – of physical objects, it also
has a bevy of applications that never see captured data leaving the physical
space. Among these are video games, special effects, and digital media
production. 3D scanners can be used to enter the size, shape, and appearance of
anything into a digital space, after all. This makes them ideal for scanning a
person slated for inclusion in a video game or for scanning an actor to
digitally place him or her in a scene that must be created digitally.
Technologies like this may some day put stunt professionals out of work thanks
to the ability for actors’ digitally scanned forms to be placed digitally into
scenes far too dangerous for any sane human to participate in.

Scanner Types

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This section will describe the types of 3D scanners currently in use, laying out
the pros and cons of each type, as well as their particular abilities and

Contact scanners – This is, in many ways, the most
straightforward type of scanning device. The process of capturing the size and
shape of an object is accomplished, as the name would suggest, by physically
touching all surface areas of the object. This is typically handled by a probe
mounted on some type of multi-axis carriage. This often mirrors the XYZ movement
of a 3D printer’s printer head but, rather than laying down material, the
probe is drawn across the surface of the object to scan its
parameters. When contact is made between the surface of the object and the
probe, it is registered by the machine’s systems creating a miniscule point of
reference in 3D space. These points are built up as the probe continues its path
over the surface, creating what is known as a “point cloud” – the nebulous appearance that can result from a multitude of 3D points
floating on a blank digital canvas. As the probe continues to collect contact
points, a clearer 3D image of the object
should begin to emerge, until a satisfactory digital representation of the item
has been created.

  • Pros
    • Precision – 3D scanners of this type can be almost unbelievably
      precise. Unlike their counterparts below that rely on some form of
      optical interaction, these scanners are based entirely on physical
      interaction. This means that the same level of precision is available to
      them as what is currently available to machinists and other precision
      fabricators. Today’s technology places these tolerances at something as
      small as 1/100th of a millimeter or less.
    • Consistency – In a similar vein as the above point, optical scanning
      technologies rely on light or radiation of some form to replicate an
      existing object. This is generally not problematic in tightly controlled
      conditions such as those found in a laboratory or digital capture
      studio. However, out in most of the world, lighting conditions can vary,
      throwing off many of the optically-based technologies listed below.
      Similarly, surface reflectivity or transparency of the object itself can
      also have a detrimental impact on the scanning accuracy of optical units.
      Contact scanners do not have this weakness thanks to their reliance on
      physical touch.
  • Cons
    • Color – Contact scanners do not capture any form of imaging files on
      their own. This means that all scanned objects will be introduced as
      essentially colorless 3D models. Although this may not pose issues
      for many applications such as creating machine parts or
      a prosthesis, it is problematic for creators looking to replicate the
      color and appearance of an object. It should be noted that there are
      ways to introduce color and texture to objects with 3D
      editing software, but that requires additional steps and post-scanning
    • Stillness – Contact scanners require the object they are scanning to
      be completely still during the process. Again, this is not an issue in
      all cases as most physical objects can be held stationary for the
      duration of their scan. However, in applications such as scanning humans
      or other living creatures, contact scanners are essentially
      useless as even the smallest, most unavoidable movements of a living
      being would throw off the accuracy of its point cloud, ruining the scan.
    • Inside Corners – This is an issue for essentially all types of
      scanners but is especially problematic for the contact scanner. It
      refers to a section of the object that is hidden from external view and
      may even be inaccessible from outside of the object. Imagine, for
      example, the inside of a vase with a narrow neck. The bulky machinery on
      which a contact scanner’s probe is mounted cannot fit within the vase
      without destroying it, making it impossible to obtain any internal data.
      Although optical scanners can be used to capture some inside surfaces,
      assuming light can penetrate the area, they too also struggle with
      scanning tasks like this.
  • Applications
    • Industrial fabrication – The fabrication of machinery and machine
      parts via 3D printing and CNC milling is the area that can most readily
      benefit from the application of contact scanners. The hard, rigid
      surfaces used in this type of production and reproduction are ideal for
      contact scanning, as is the lack of concern over physical
      characteristics such as color or shine.
    • Restoration – A contact scanner could be ideal for a restorer
      working to replace the missing part of an artifact or to repair a fractured surface. The probe could be used to determine the
      exact parameters of the flaw, with a 3D printer later being used to
      produce a replacement part or patch.
    • Others – Although the above scenarios are the most ideal,
      essentially any object that can be held motionless and is not overly
      fragile can be scanned by a contact scanner, making it among the most
      versatile on this list.

Non-Contact Active Scanners – This is a subset of scanners
that use some form of moving radiation (light, soundwaves, x-rays, etc.) that is
bounced off an object and timed or analyzed for how long it takes to return to
the scanner, as well as the angle of travel it took during its journey. The best
way to think of this type of technology is as a very, very accurate equivalent
of a radar signal. Instead of microwaves bouncing off something as large as an
airplane, some form of radiation is instead being bounced off of the minute
characteristics of something as small as a human skeletal joint. Similar technologies can be found in something as inexpensive
and mundane as the laser range finders that have been used by golfers for many
years. However, instead of taking the distance of one point of reference as a
range finder would, these scanners capture thousands upon thousands of
points in order to create a point cloud that will be resolved into the final

  • Pros
    • Penetration – As stated above, this type of scanner includes
      ultrasounds and x-rays as two of the scanning mediums that can been
      used in the category. A user can scan not only the
      inside of something like a delicate vase, to extend the above example,
      but also the inside of a living creature. This makes this type of
      scanning the most effective for much of the restoration industry and for essentially all of the medical industry. Sufficiently accurate
      3D scanners of this type can be used to create a model of someone’s
      joints without the need to cut the patient. This data can then be
      used to manufacture a perfectly fitted replacement joint or implant that
      can be put in place via a single surgery. Similar technology has already
      been use in replacing knee joints and even replacing “most of a human’s
    • Scan Times – Because of the incomprehensible speed at which light
      and many other forms of radiation travel, this type of scanning has the
      potential to produce full 3D scans of an object in a tiny fraction of
      the time it would take something like a contact scanner to create even a
      rough point cloud. This makes the technology much more ideal for
      scanning living creatures – including the digitization of humans and
      animals for use in digital media and special effects.
    • Range – The strength of the laser light used in some active scanners
      means that objects can be scanned from literally miles away. Although
      this type of scanning does not produce the same level of resolution as a
      close-up scan would, it can be used for situation such as scanning
      terrain from a passing aircraft, scanning the seabed from a submarine,
      or collecting other topographical data.
  • Cons
    • Distortion – Due to the nature of this type of scanner, it is much
      more prone to distortion than contact scanners. This is due to both
      microscopic movements within the object being scanned as well as within
      the scanner itself. Many active scanners employ motors and other moving
      parts to manipulate their lasers or radiation emitters toward different
      sections of the targeted object. This motion can introduce
      vibrations and distortion that some models may be unable to adequately
      compensate for. However, it should be noted that techniques are already
      being developed that eliminate such inaccuracies in this type of
    • Problematic Surfaces – Since this type of scanner largely relies on
      light or radiation, many types of surfaces can interfere with the
      capture of the light or radiation by reflecting or absorbing it. In
      the former case, light from the scanner can be reflected away from the
      scanner itself, meaning many of the points of reference that the
      scanner is attempting to capture can be lost, wiping out a whole section
      of the object’s point cloud. Similarly, a highly unreflective object
      may absorb too much of the light or radiation being used, meaning not enough
      of it is returned to the scanner for capture. Equally problematic are
      transparent surfaces. Scanning a drinking glass is nearly
      impossible for a laser scanner as its transmission medium, light, would
      pass right through the object.
  • Applications
    • Topographical Analysis – As mentioned above, this type of scanner
      can actually be installed on aircraft, submarines, or other vehicles to
      collect topographical data. This can then be used in civil engineering
      projects, urban planning, and other major physical tasks that would be
      able to make good use of an accurate map of the surrounding land or
    • Room-Scale Scanning – Scanners of this type can be used to scan the
      entirety of a room’s interior for digital reproduction. This has
      applications in everything from creating explorable VR versions of
      famous landmarks to helping archive and preserve fragile historical
      sites for later study. A prime example of this usage occurred when a
      tomb known as Muzibu Azaala Mpanga burned down at the Kasubi Tombs
      UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. Thankfully, this tragedy can be
      somewhat reversed thanks to a 3D scan of the site having been taken
      prior to the fire.5

Figure 1. A 3D Passive Scanning Device

Figure 1. An 3D Printable 3D Passive 3D Scanning Device

Source: Thingiverse

Non-Contact Passive Scanners – This is arguably the simplest
type of scanner on the list as it can actually be made using nothing but a
digital camera and the appropriate processing software. Unlike active
non-contact scanners, passive scanners do not rely on any type of light or
radiation they produced themselves. Generally, visible light is enough for
scanners of this type to analyze the surface of an object. Various techniques
are applied to these two-dimensional images in order to extrapolate the third
dimension. These techniques range from something as simple as using a stereoscopic
camera – such as those used in producing 3D movies – to create an image with
depth, to taking photometric images, which consists of a series of photos that include varied
lighting conditions and positioning to capture all angles and characteristics of
an object for reproduction within digital space. Finally, objects can also be
silhouetted against a contrasting background and rotated within this technique,
creating a 3D map of their outer rim.

  • Pros
    • Inexpensive – Unlike professionally produced 3D scanners, which can
      run anywhere from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of dollars,
      this type of scanner is generally very inexpensive as it only requires a
      digital camera or similarly simplistic image capture device. The picture
      seen above is one of the best examples of this. It represents a render
      of a 3D printable device that uses a docked smartphone to capture images
      of an object placed on a turntable and rotated while multiple angles are
      captured by the smartphone’s camera.6 This device is known as
      “the $30 3D scanner” due to the very low cost of parts used in its
      construction and the employment of a smartphone, which most people
      already have, as the capture device. Corresponding apps available for
      both iOS and Android are currently able to produce 3D models using
      devices such as this. Similar functionality is also built right into
      other mobile devices released in recent years, thanks in large part to
      similar components being required for augmented reality functions.
      Devices of this type include Apple’s latest iPad Pro and iPhone models, as well as
      smartphones from several major manufacturers. In Particular, Apple's
      iPhone 12 Pro lineup includes the company's first LiDAR-based scanning
      equipment. This elevates the capabilities of the model to something
      closer to the professional 3D scanners seen below, while also allowing
      for a bevy of AR (Augmented Reality) functionality.
    • Simplicity – The low cost also brings with it a lack of
      complication. A single-camera setup can be used in almost any scanning
      situation, making it much easier to transport and manipulate than the
      bulky, multi-part setups that are required by the more sophisticated
      devices on this list.
    • Flexibility – This type of scanning, which generally relies on
      rotation to capture all parts of an object, can be managed by rotating
      either the object itself (as is the case with the above device) or the
      camera. This means that large, stationary objects such statues and
      buildings can also be scanned by simply moving the camera in a circular
      path around the subject of the scan.
  • Cons
    • Low resolution – Although cameras can produce very, very high
      resolution images, their accuracy is still
      somewhat lacking in this particular venue. That is due to the fact that
      the ambient visible light being used to capture these images is often
      insufficient to reveal surface details, minor flaws, and other almost
      microscopic differences that a more sophisticated scanner might be able
      to detect. This is not to say that excellent results are not possible.
      However, users of this this type of 3D scanner must realize that the
      technology being employed is simply not able to produce the same results
      as setups costing many, many times more.
    • Problematic Surfaces – As with active scanners, reflective and clear
      surface can cause a problem for scanners of this type. This is due to
      their reliance on visible light to capture their images.
    • Lighting Variance – While variations in lighting conditions can be a
      useful tool in capturing all aspects of an object. Unintentional
      variations can also result in unwanted errors in a final scan. For
      example, attempting to scan a statue in a public park would take some
      considerable time. During that time, the sun, which is the likeliest
      light source to be in use, will have moved. This will cause the shadows
      in some of the images captured later in the process to be different from
      those seen in the images captured earlier. The result could be flaws in
      the final result due to unexpected artifacts introduced by those
      lighting changes.
  • Applications
    • Hobby scanning – The low cost of entry for this type of scanning
      makes it ideal for 3D printing hobbyists interested solely in producing
      scans for their own use or for simplistic modeling. These types of
      individuals are unlikely to be overly concerned by the flaws this
      of scanner suffers from, whereas a professional 3D modeler or industrial
      production company would be unable to sanction the inadequacies introduced by scanners of this type.
    • Room-Scale Scanning – Like active scanners, passive units can be used to scan the interior space of a room, often with nearly equal
      accuracy due the controllability of indoor lighting conditions.
    • Structural Scanning – Scanners of this type are particularly good at
      scanning edifices and structures due to their easy portability. Although
      this type of job can suffer from the same obstacles mentioned above
      (shifting lighting conditions), it is nonetheless a much more widely
      available method for scanning massive objects than the

    Figure 2. Projection Mapping Using Sydney’s
    Opera House During the Vivid Sydney Festival

    Figure 2. Projection Mapping Using Sydney's Opera House During the Vivid Sydney Festival

Source: Robyn Jay

Structured Light Scanners – Like active scanners, structure
light units use projected light to analyze the shape of the object being
scanned. However, unlike active scanners, that light is projected in a
stationary pattern. Rather than creating a moving pattern which detects the
contours of the object as it traverses them, structured light scanners use their
stationary projection, typically a multitude of points of light or a striped
pattern, to create a surface map of the object in front of them. They accomplish
this by using an accompanying camera to analyze any distortions or deformations
of the projected light that are produced by the object itself. For instance, a
point appearing smaller to the scanner’s camera would be hitting a surface that
is further away than a point appearing larger. This difference can be used to
detect depth as well as to determine the edge of the object by examining where
the projected light ceases to reflect at all. Essentially, the object is
digitally captured by measuring the differences between how the projected light
would bounce off a perfectly flat surface and how it is actually bouncing off of
the object. This type of technology has already seen wide use in devices as
ubiquitous as Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensing accessory for the Xbox line of

  • Pros
    • Inexpensive – Although not quite as inexpensive as passive scanners
      can be, structured light scanners can be had for relatively low prices,
      as the $150 price point for Microsoft’s last Kinect illustrates. This is thanks to their reliance on relatively
      off-the-shelf components, such as a rudimentary LED light projector and
      imaging camera for their projection and capture duties, respectively.
    • Speed – Once again using Microsoft’s Kinect as an example, it
      becomes clear that this type of scanner is actually capable of
      determining the position of an object so quickly that it can be tracked
      while in motion. This makes this type of scanner ideal for use on living
      creatures, as well as in situations where the object being scanned
      cannot be rendered stationary.
    • Adaptability – This type of scanning has already been shrunk down to
      the point where it can fit into a slim smartphone. Apple and other
      devices makers use a very similar technology to the aforementioned
      Kinect in order to power their facial recognition hardware. As mentioned
      above, a small LED emitter creates a point map using invisible light
      protected onto the device owner’s face. This is then captured by a
      front-facing camera and processed to determine if it belongs to the
      legitimate owner.
  • Cons
    • Low resolution – Due to the reliance on visible light from a
      relatively mundane source, these types of scanners are generally unable
      to produce anything like the resolution available to contact or active
      laser scanners. However, larger objects with fewer minute details are
      still an ideal candidate for this type of scanner due to its capture
    • Interference – Since this type of scanner users light to lay out the
      surface of the scanned object, its can interfere with other imaging
      equipments abilities to capture that same object. This may seem like a
      strange idea as many scanner of this type use invisible (to the human
      eye) infrared light. However, digital cameras and other imaging sensors
      can detect infrared light. To demonstrate this, one need only point
      their TV remote at a smartphone while its camera is active to see that
      the invisible, to them, light is indeed very visible to other cameras.
      This could be a problematic issue in cases where the color and texture
      of the object must also be captured, as it would be overlaid by a bright
      light during any attempts to image it.
  • Applications
    • Projection Mapping – This relatively new technology allows anything
      from a small room to the surface of an entire, massive building to serve
      as a projection screen for a digital movie or image. However, in order
      for this to work, the surface must first be scanned by a 3D scanner to
      analyze any contours and gaps that will need to be taken into account
      while projecting the image. The image is then warped, distorted, and
      otherwise tailored to the surface in order to create the desired effect.
      The result can be extremely dramatic, making the building itself seem to
      change shape, disappear, or grow beyond its real dimensions.
    • Interactive Control – As stated above, this technology is quick
      enough to allow users to interact with digital content in real time, as
      seen in Microsoft’s Kinect. Although it does not provide the same level
      of precision as a physical controller of some type, it has been employed
      to impressive effect in a variety of games and art installations.

Figure 3. A Handheld 3D Scanner from Creaform

Figure 3. A Handheld 3D Scanner from Creaform

Source: Creaform3D

Handheld 3D Scanners – This refers to a class of devices that use light,
typically focused laser technology, to triangulate on object’s parameters via
optical scanning. They obvious advantage of these units is their hand-held
nature, allowing objects of any size or shape to be scanned. While this class is
growing in popularity, it still faces the difficult task of keeping track of its
own positioning in three-dimensional space during the scanning process in order
to produce accurate results. Technologies being employed to this end include
independent positional awareness, which allows a unit to track its own
orientation in space using technology similar to a smartphone’s motion tracking;
highlighted reference points, which come in the form of adhesive tabs or dots
that allow the scanner to keep a stable, visual reference of the object’s
position relative to itself; and laser tracking, a form of tracking used in
things like virtual reality motion controllers that allows a separate,
stationary unit to track the scanner while it is moved around the room. Although
the features of the scanned object itself can be used by some units to keep
track of the scanner’s position, this has not proven as reliable as the
aforementioned methods.

  • Pros
    • Mobility – This is an obvious one. The nature of a hand-held unit
      makes its among the most versatile on this list. While it can be pointed
      at a tiny object placed on a flat surface, it is best suited to larger,
      multi-sided objects that would be difficult for impossible for a
      stationary unit to scan. This even makes it possible to scan only the
      portion of the object needed. For instance, if an architect wanted
      only one doorway or corner of a building, he or she could use a handheld
      scanner to essentially “paint” that physical object into digital space
      by running the scanner only over the portion needed.
    • Balance of Cost and Professionalism – Although not as inexpensive as
      the passive scanners mentioned above, many models in this category can
      be had for less than $1,000 making them well within the reach of serious
      3D printing and digital modeling hobbyists. That said, the results of
      higher-end units can compete with the resolution and accuracy provided
      by many custom-made active scanning models.
  • Cons
    • Range – Although the lasers used by units of this type can be quite
      powerful and still provide a decent range of use, they are not able to
      scan something as far away as the top of a building or a very tall
      statue. This is due to both limitations in the scanning technology, and
      with the users themselves. Simply put, it is impractical to be able to
      scan anything that much larger than a human without an absurd amount of
      effort being put into assuring that the person holding the scanner would
      be able to work on or around the structure being scanned. Essentially a
      full 360-degree scaffolding would need to be set up for such a job,
      making it highly impractical.
    • Size – While the relatively diminutive size of most handheld 3D
      scanners makes them highly portable, the relatively large size, when
      compared to some contact scanner probes, also makes them quite
      impractical for scanning object interiors on any smaller subjects. The
      inside of the object must also be physically visible to the person using
      the scanner as well, making it even more difficult.
  • Applications
    • 3D Photography – This usage refers to the ability for a handheld
      scanner to capture a whole room’s three dimensional characteristics in the
      moment. This means that an entire room can be scanned, processed, and
      reproduced in 3D digital space. The result could be a virtual reality
      experience for the user of everything from a far-off historical site for
      a virtual tourist to a crime scene for a forensic investigator. Unlike
      the design of structured light scanners, handheld models can be moved
      around the room to give essentially a full 360-degree view of all
      objects within it.
    • 3D Design – The quick and portable nature of using handheld scanners
      make them ideal for rapid scanning and prototyping of commercial
      products. This could include everything from automobiles to housewares
      and even medical devices. Similarly, these units can be used by factor
      workers as part of the quality assurance process, assuring that the
      final product matches its intended design parameters.8


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As 3D printing and accompanying technologies like 3D CNC and milling becomes
more and more integral in the process of creating physical products, and as more
and more digital media begins to require photo-realistic portions, 3D scanning
is only poised to grow. Sure, it can be argued that, right now, it is a very niche
technology that is really only required by those at the cutting edge of
fabrication or digital design. However, that is how all new and untested
technology starts, as a tool for the elite. Thankfully, in the case of 3D
scanning, it has already trickled down to those with even the most meager
technological means. Certainly, smartphone-based scanners cannot currently
compete with their six-figure counterparts, but their mere existence goes to
show how far the technology has come with tools as seemingly simple as a smartphone’s built-in camera.

If these facts, and the examples of 3D scanning in real-world use listed here
were not enough to convince someone of the technology’s importance, then just a
touch of imagination would have to fill in the gaps. Imagine the ways in which
3D scanners able to see any and all of a human body could revolutionize surgery,
allowing doctors to plan their operations before ever picking up a scalpel.
Similarly, creators of prosthetics and implants, which are already being
revolutionized by 3D printing, can make custom-designed units for every single
individual, guaranteeing a perfect fit with the minimum of chafing, discomfort,
or rejection.

Even applications that have no intention of interacting with the real world
in a physical sense have become using the technology behind 3D scanning to their
advantage. Hot areas of technology like augmented reality and mixed reality have
companies as powerful as Microsoft, Apple, and Google competing in their spaces,
with all of them using many of the same protocols and techniques which power
lower-end 3D scanners to create virtual worlds that appear to overlay our own.

Plainly stated, 3D scanning and 3D printing combine to create a workflow that
makes it possible to make reality into fantasy and fantasy into reality. That
type of almost magical freedom can only improve the lives of the humans living
today, while also providing them with new possibilities in manufacturing, medicine,
entertainment, art, preservation, and too many more areas to be counted here.
Those looking for a list of industries and businesses that will eventually be
impacted by 3D scanning may want to save themselves some time and instead look
for a list of those that won’t be affected by it, it will be a much shorter,
practically non-existent group.

How quickly this revolution occurs depends largely on how mainstream the
technology becomes. The inclusion of LiDAR technology in Apple's latest iPhone
release shows the company's priorities are already moving in that direction,
even if it may only be a side effect of its desire to support AR and VR content.
In fact, the collision of 3D scanning technologies with those used in AR and VR
applications may prove to be a huge boon for the advancement of 3D scanning
tech, as it will be available in devices that were not necessarily designed
exclusively for the much more niche purpose.


About the Author

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Michael Gariffo is an editor for Faulkner Information Services. He tracks and writes about
enterprise software and the IT services sector, as well as telecommunications
and data networking.

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