Review: Structure Sensor

I give this Scanner an 9.1 out of 10

Who is it for? Architects, Software Developers and anyone jumping into the world of 3D scanning.

When I first picked up the Structure Sensor, the first thought that went through my head was, “What is with the iPad?” When I explored the Occipital website though, I found that Occipital has made the first 3D scanner for mobile devices. This small gadget, which clips onto an iPad, provides depth information for 3D scanning. It does this by projecting an array of dots onto the object in front of it, and based on how far away the dots are from it, forms a digital mesh. This method can help it act as a 3D scanner, architectural aid, 3D mapper, or virtual reality gaming device. I’ve found this process to work very well, even on my iPad Mini. As I mentioned earlier, by default the Structure Sensor does all it’s processing on the iPad itself, however you do have the option to do the processing on a computer with Occipital’s Skanect ($129) if the iPads processing isn’t fast enough for you.  Skanect also offers a free trial, and a touch up option to fix any minor holes you may find in your scan (more on this later).

In the beginning, I said that this 3D scanner was for anyone ready to jump into the world of 3D scanning, well there is one catch. The Structure Sensor alone is $379, which is expensive enough on it’s own, but if you add in the cost of an iPad + the cost of Skanect (optional) you could be looking at a price of around $900. But if you are willing to buy it, you can purchase the Structure Sensor here. Other then the price though, this truly is a ready to use 3D scanner.

In terms of actual scanning though, this scanner is one of the fastest and most accurate I’ve ever seen. The first thing you have do when trying to scan, is calibrate the camera and the scanner. Occipital has a special app which walks you through how to do this. I found the process to be relatively simple. And it helped that the instructions within the app were very thorough and clear. Once you have done the calibration, it’s time to scan! Occipital also has a separate app for that too. Basically, the app asks you to position the object you want to scan in a box. The size of this box can be adjusted as needed.occipital-structure-sensor-object_scan_3-1500x1000  Once you have the object in the box, the object will turn red. Sometimes I’ve found that you need to move around a little to get the object to become highlighted in red. Anyway, once you have the object highlighted you click “Scan”. Immediately the object turns white. When the object initially turns white, the scan is very rough and lumpy. But if you sit still for a second, the scanner will correct itself and produce a much cleaner mesh. Once this happens all you have to do is just move around the object using the same process as before. Be sure to go all the way around the object, or you will end up with a big hole in your scan. Unfortunately, this process isn’t perfect. Sometimes the scanner will stop tracking the object and that will throw your whole scan off. This can be caused by a number of things including a bad calibration or sudden jerky movements. Another problem i’ve had is that sometimes the scanner will fail to scan some parts of an object. This usually happens on steep overhangs or sharp curves. This is fixable in other software (like Skanect), but the holes are kind of a nuisance. 

Now take a second and notice how this scanner is called a Structure Sensor not a Structure Scanner. That is because this scanner can do much more then just scan. In fact, the scanners main app isn’t even a scanning app! The scanners main app is called “Structure” and it can do lots of things with depth. In fact it offers three features. First, IR which provides only infrared data. Next, depth, which shows you a different color view, with the nearest objects displayed as red, farther objects as blue, and objects of in between shown in different shades of orange, yellow, and green based on the objects distance from the Structure Sensor. Depth also tells you the distance to whatever object is in the center of your screen. Finally, Depth + Color, which combines the actual color with the false color based on depth. In addition the app gives you info on the sensors firmware, serial number, and how much battery is left in the Structure Sensor. I feel this app helps you realize the true possibilities of the Structure Sensor. Occipital has also created a SDK for the Structure Sensor, and there are already quite a few apps compatible or for the scanner itself. Occipital seems to have focused on making physics apps, for example Ball Physics, where you scan your surroundings and then launch a ball at them. If a ball hits an object you scanned, then it bounces back.

In terms of design, the Structure Sensor seems to work perfectly with the iPad. All you have to do is screw the Structure Sensor down onto it’s bracket, and then slide the bracket onto your iPad. In fact everything seemed to fit together seamlessly and snugly.

Finally, I believe that the Structure Sensor is the future of 3D scanning. To be able to just slide something onto your iPad and then scan the object next to you, is a truly amazing concept. Also, the world of 3D printing is evolving too, so soon people might be scanning something, then duplicating it on their 3D printer. Also, one of the main reasons people have stayed away from 3D printing is the steep learning curve of CAD programs. Well with the Structure Sensor, you can avoid those programs all together. And all those reasons together are why I believe that this 3D scanner has the potential to create some truly epic 3D models.

Pros:

Fast!

Compact

Works well with iPad

Can act as a scanner and a gaming device 🙂

Opens up many new opportunities in the world of 3D printing

Cons:

Holes in some scans

Scanner can have tracking issues

Most apps are a proof of concept

Only comes in two colors

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