It seems that 3D is the way of the future and not just for movie-goers. A hand-held 3D scanner developed by IRL scientists is set to change the way many industries do things.

IRL project leader Dr Robert Valkenburg says the scanner has the potential to fill a significant gap in 3D scanner technology worldwide.

“Now that we can perform mobile photo-realistic scanning of complex or cluttered scenes over a 2–40 m range, we are targeting structures that are difficult to scan by other means, for example, retrofits within the marine, aviation and baggage-handling industries, where there are many obstacles and downtime is prohibitively expensive.”

Other industries potentially interested in the technology include online merchandising, architecture, engineering, archaeology, computer game development, film-making, and accident and crime scene investigation.

The hand-held scanner records 3D information in real time, with the operator working like a spray painter to progressively cover the scene. The resulting 3D photo-realistic image can be viewed on a computer for fly-throughs, scene re-examinations from multiple angles, measurement and digital manipulation.

In the past, making complete 3D scans of complex scenes has been challenging. The existing technology required many scans to be taken from different positions, and the compilation of the gathered data was a complex process.

The IRL team has overcome this problem by placing numerous small LED (light-emitting diode) beacons around the site or object being scanned. This allows the mobile scanner to track its position relative to the beacons and results in just one integrated data file.

Dr Valkenburg says the scanner’s speed, mobility, photo-realism and non-invasiveness is unique and offers innovative opportunities in 3D content creation.

“Once the trials are completed, we anticipate significant interest from investors and manufacturers keen to commercialise this technology in the global market.”

Potential uses for the 3D scanner

Potential end-user clients such as Glidepath Group, Integrated Marine Group and Altitude Aerospace Interiors are anticipating that the data from these new trials, made possible with funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, will be converted into a useful format for their application areas.

Alex Tung, Engineering Manager with baggage-handling company Glidepath Group, says they have projects in almost 70 countries and that the speed and mobility of the scanner are major advantages. “With digital images like this, we would be able to precisely engineer the equipment on site, which cuts down significantly on rework,” he says.

“We envisage the scene scanner to be compact enough to be packed into a suitcase and taken to the site by one of our managers or engineers. This will allow us to take everything back that we see and makes the scene scanner a very powerful tool.”

Mark Wightman, Managing Director of yacht refitting company Integrated Marine Group, sees the scene scanner as a valuable device for streamlining its refitting processes.

“Invariably, the vessel will not have all the drawings we require, or the as-built vessel varies from the drawings, so to have a tool that can quickly draw complex shapes in relatively confined spaces will create significant efficiencies in so many aspects of our work.”

Activity idea

Watch Dr Adrian Dorrington as he explains the basic concepts behind 3D technology and how our brains help us see 3D


    Published 13 September 2010