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TearDown: Inside a 3D desktop scanner

Posted: 08 Oct 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D scanner? multiStripe laser triangulation? CGI? prosthetics?

NextEngine 3D Scanner

Inside the NextEngine 3D Scanner (click image to enlarge)

The desktop NextEngine 3D Scanner rivals the capability of more expensive scanners by creating mesh files of three-dimensional objects for industrial design, reverse engineering, CGI and content creation apps. With the highly anticipated release of the 3D motion picture "Avatar" now almost a year behind us, it's clear from the film's phenomenal success (over $2.7 billion in gross receipts) that the demand for three-dimensional media has kicked into high gear. All major movie studios are now fully invested in 3D movie projects as they try to replicate a portion of the success realized by 20th Century Fox Studios with "Avatar."

In fact, since 2009, some 30 movies have been released in RealD 3D format, and 20 more 3D movies are expected to be released to theaters between now and May 2011.

As Hollywood embraces 3D technology, so do the major HDTV manufacturers. As content makes its way from the big screen to the living room, TV manufacturers, such as Sony and Samsung among others, are fully invested in supplying the market with a variety of 3D-ready high-definition television sets.

At UBM TechInsights, we decided to deconstruct the Samsung UN46C70003D HDTV to reveal and better understand the latest technology these manufacturers are leveraging to bring 3D media into our homes.

3D has already found a home on the Internet, as a cursory search of YouTube reveals numerous amateur clips now being delivered in three dimensions. With the rush to 3D, one has to question how content will be created in the future, particularly for hobbyists posting YouTube videos. A quick search of 3D animation turned up the Web site of NextEngine, demonstrating its "low-cost" desktop 3D scanner.

At $2,995, the NextEngine 3D Scanner is touted as the "world's most popular 3D scanner, with thousands of users in over 80 countries." Claiming to be one-tenth the price of competing scanners, the dictionary-sized NextEngine 3D Scanner provides the same capability of more expensive scanners by creating mesh files of three-dimensional objects for applications such as industrial design, reverse engineering, CGI (computer-generated imagery) content creation for animated videos, art reproduction and orthotics and prosthetics design and manufacture.

SoC drives 3D laser tech
Noncontact 3D laser scanners are broken down into two major types: time-of-flight and triangulation. Time-of-flight scanners are generally used for scanning large objects such as buildings or natural structures, with the scanner located at distances measured in kilometers from the object being scanned. The most common type of time-of-flight scanner is the laser rangefinder used in sports, hunting and the military.

Triangulation, where the distance between the scanner and the object being scanned is measured in decimeters or meters, relies on the mathematically computed length of the side of a triangle formed by a laser emitter, the laser dot projected on the solid object being scanned and a camera.

The NextEngine 3D Scanner employs a variant of triangulation scanning called structured light scanning, where a pattern of laser stripes is projected on the object being scanned. Cameras are used to examine the deformation of the laser line pattern as it is swept over the solid object, and a technique similar to triangulation is used to calculate the distance of every point on the lines. The primary advantage of structured light scanners is speed since they scan multiple points or the entire field of view at once.

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