As we have mentioned before on this site, the Holy Grail for every consumer 3D print company is the ‘killer app’ that makes the process accessible to a wide audience of casual users. While some firms look to do this by making additive manufacturing more affordable (see: the Filamaker, the Peachy Printer) others strive for greater simplicity.
One way to deliver a more simple 3D printing process is to cut out the design step entirely. Offering users the option to print an object based on a hand drawn sketch (see: Okuyuki), for example, means they do not need to master the trickiness of Computer Aided Design. Another way to sidestep learning all that fiddly design stuff is to just scan the object that you want to print and this week, during Innovation Day 2013 at Microsoft Research Asia, the software giant revealed a process that could offer the easiest 3D scanning method yet.
Using a tablet, smartphone or any other device with an RGB camera, the user simply takes a few pictures of the object of their interest from different angles. They then send it to a cloud server, where Microsoft converts it into a 3D printable file before sending it back to the user. The entire process clocks in at about 30 seconds in total and its creators’ next goal is to bring that time down to ten seconds.
Jiawei Gu, one of the lead research scientists on the project believes the increased accessibility will have both fun and practical uses for the casual consumer, explaining:
If you have scanned somebody’s face, you can print out a cup with the face, for yourself or as a gift for a friend. If you go to a furniture store and see something nice, you can use a mobile phone to scan the furniture and put it into your home environment to see if it would fit. This augmented reality existing in our system can make things seem real.
As the 3D printer market mushrooms, it is interesting to see how rapidly the market for 3D scanners grows alongside it. While more affordable, reliable and portable 3D printers could open the door for greater consumer interest in additive manufacturing, it may well be 3D scanning that truly popularises the process as it removes the necessity for artistic ability almost entirely from the design process.