Need a brush-up on 3D scanners? Quality asked Gleb Gusev, Chief Technology Officer at Artec Group, to share his thoughts on the evolving industry, and what trends are taking shape now and for the near future.

Could you tell us a bit about the history of 3D scanners? When was the technology first developed, and how has it changed over time?

The first 3D scanners appeared in the 1960s, and then have been developing through major trends.
The main trends that affect the 3D scanning technology are the following:

  • development of the technological base (appearing of new sensors: more sensitive, higher resolution, faster and cheaper)
  • computing power becoming more affordable: the development of processors and the cheaper memory in consumer devices allows manufacturers to create more models faster
  • popularity of open source databases has led to a large number of available mathematical libraries that can be used in projects. There are even open source 3d reconstruction libraries that are used by researchers starting to work on this issue
  • If earlier 3d scanning was reserved for professionals and its use was limited, today the popularity of crowd funding has allowed a large number of startups to appear. These startups are aimed to the mass market and try to produce cheap devices and interesting applications.

What are the current trends, innovations and advancements in the field?

3D scanning technology is already integrated and will be more integrated into consumer devices, so that in a short time, we can expect to see a large variety of devices with integrated 3D cameras. Today, on the development of 3D scanners and 3D sensors are working not only small startups on Kickstarter but also huge hi-tech giants.

For instance, during the last Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Intel announced its 3D sensors, and a few days ago, Dell introduced on the basis of this technology its first tablet. Sensors of this type (also known as RGBD) allow users to shoot not just a 2D image, but also depth map, and all this at the same time. Such data can be used in various fields: 3D scanning, innovative user interfaces (e.g. the Microsoft Kinect), identification of people etc.

Current trends include:

  • the rapid development of the scanners using the technology “time of flight”: big companies have today the opportunity to manufacture cheap sensors specifically for this
  • development of passive recovery methods (photogrammetry) - recent advances in the field indicate that the construction of 3D images can be done from of a variety of photos taken from different angles. This can be done completely automatically and reconstruct the model of quite good quality

How are 3D scanners transforming the industries they support?

It all depends on what kind of industry we are talking about. We can use the following example: Previously, orthopedic prosthetic used gypsum, which was worn on the patient, solidified, and then removed, transferred to production (which is often quite far away in another country, on another continent), and used for the manufacture of the prosthesis. Now doctors can scan the patient directly and then send the resulting 3D model to the factory, where a prosthesis will be produced based on this 3D model. Eventually, the prosthesis can even be printed right there in the clinic on a special 3D printer.

Where is the 3D scanning business headed? And what can customers and manufacturers expect to see in the not-so-distant future?

Basically it is headed to the consumer 3D sensors, as I mentioned above. I think we can expect a lot of TVs, phones and tablets with integrated 3D sensors and thus a large number of applications for them. The applications will go from very simple ones, which allow users to separate the object from the background on the photo and make a “smart blur,” to the very complex ones, such as scanning facilities, people, trying on clothes, fitness applications, and so on. Development of passive methods of 3D recovery will make possible in the future to significantly reduce the price of 3D scanners and to use only a 3D camera in the majority of cases.

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