Top Tech 2013 Day 6: Hobbyist 3d Scanning

3d scanning is another technology that doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as it deserves. Despite being a larger market with broader usage, it receives little attention compared to its sibling technology, 3d printing. 3d scanning is a 4 billion dollar + market with a reasonably fast growth rate, with applications in heavy industry (aeronautical, automotive, defense, etc.), 3d asset generation (cinema, videogames, toysWP Lynx), fashion, and healthcare.

While 3d scanning has been around for some time, it has primarily been an industrial technology. An entry level setup for industrial scanning is $18,000, and more expensive setups (such as isolated rooms for white light scanning of very large objects) can cost more than $100,000.

Distinct from photogrammetry (which creates 3d objects from a number of 2d images, such as in the Autodesk 123D Catch app), there are four primary 3d scanning technologies:

  • Laser triangulation – most common technology, projects a laser point or line for point cloud generation.
  • Structured light scanning – second most common technology, requires minimal movement of the object being scanned. Higher resolution, but much more expensive.
  • Conoscopic holography – Very expensive and very difficult to use technology, but only requires a single ray path.
  • Laser time of flight scanning – Similar to LIDAR. Uncommon in close range 3d scanning.

Early desktop setups began emerging in 2012, but it can be said that 2013 was the year of the desktop 3d scanner, with a number of companies entering the market directly or posting kickstarters. A short list of these new desktop 3d scanners, and the kickstarters or company page covering them:


Makerbot’s Digitizer, designed for usage with Makerbot’s 3d printer. Makerbot is owned by Stratasys, one of the largest 3d printer manufacturers.


3D Systems’ Sense, a handheld 3d laser scanner. Slightly cheaper than the Digitizer, it is designed for slightly larger objects that require movement of the scanning system itself to scan. Also has the ability to choose between scanning people and objects in the software. 3d Systems is famous for developing stereolithography and the STL file format.


Fuel3D was kickstarted in August/September, reaching its $75,000 goal, and breaking through to reach a stretch value of $325,000. The Fuel3d , designed by Oxford researchers, is meant to be a near-industrial level 3d scanner for less than $1,000.


Rubicon is another desktop style 3d scanner, meant for scanning objects up to 160mm in diameter and 200mm in height. The camera is movable, meaning that it is theoretically possible to scan in larger objects. Rubicon asked for ~$8000, and ~$50000 was pledged.