3-D scanning is a technology with all the right pieces floating around, yet to be assembled into the final piece that’s easy for everyone to use. The idea: using a small gadget, you can scan in a 3-D object, then reproduce it with an increasingly affordable 3-D printer. It’s like a photocopier for objects. Cool! But pretty wonky to do, at the moment. That wonkiness is what Volumental is trying to solve.
Volumental is a simple web app that aims to handle all of that previously manual stuff automatically. The process goes like this: you take a depth scanner, like a Microsoft Kinect, plugged into your laptop. Pointing the depth sensor at the object to be scanned, you walk all around it, shooting it from all angles. That data is turned into a .obj file. So far, Volumental has already created and released all of these tools; you can use them here, right now.
But the next step is pretty tricky. Depth sensors don’t create perfect scans of objects; the data they create isn’t printable immediately. They have to be cleaned up, their structure mapped as a mesh, their edges “watertight.” Watertight means no gaps in the design: there can’t be any holes anywhere, any gaps in the data, or else your object won’t be printed properly. You can do that kind of thing with free software like MeshLab, but it’s pretty complex and difficult to use. Imagine if you had to adjust a hundred settings every time you made a photocopy. You’d never use it!
Volumental, which just achieved its funding goal on Kickstarter, aims to use the funding to create a one-click, automatic clean-up service. “We won’t be providing a full manual toolbox like Meshlab,” says Volumental team member Ernest Ang. “Instead, the funding will help develop automatic mesh clean-ups during the reconstruction phase of the 3-D scans.” And anything that makes 3-D scanning as easy as pressing the big green button on a photocopy machine sounds good to us.
There are still ten days left on the Kickstarter; if the project keeps earning, Volumental will be able to add bonus features, like Instagram-like filters (sepia, black-and-white) and pre-made templates (like keychains and phone cases).