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Got a 3D printer – now what?

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Scanning the area

That alternative is Reconstruct Me which uses a depth sensor. Usually expensive custom hardware, but Microsoft's X-box Kinect has just the hardware: produced mass market and subsidised. It works by projecting a grid of quite large squares in infra red onto the scene and then looking at the distortion in the squares. If you point the Kinect sensor at a white object in a dark room and look at it with a mobile phone camera you can see the projected pattern. The resolution isn’t great but it’s workable.

3D scanning

The Xbox Kinect does more than you might think

The Kinect has a proprietary connector which plugs into a socket on newer X-boxes and which provides power as well as data. For older X-boxes which only have USB you need a power supply with the USB pass through. This serves our purposes of plugging the sensor into a PC very well. At around £120 quid for the sensor and power supply you have scanning hardware. You can pick up second hand hardware for around half that.

The Kinect API gives a point cloud of the image. This is where Reconstruct Me comes in. It takes the points and produces 3D meshes dynamically as you move around the target. There are other programs which support the Kinect but these produce images from static viewpoints and the meshes have to be stitched by hand.

It’s telling just how hobbyist this areas is, given that the slickest, easiest to use piece of scanning software runs in a DOS window with command line switches. There is no simple instal which looks at what your system needs and gets it for you. Instead you need to instal the Open NI drivers first. Then you need to make sure you have the Microsoft C++ runtime – including installing the x86 version on 64-bit systems and update your video drivers.

Most of the processing is done on the video card using OpenCL. Just checking under Windows devices to see if you have an up to date version isn’t good enough, you need to go to the card manufacturers website and force a download of the latest version.

3D scanning

ReconstructMe software has its CLI moments

The ReconstructMe software is incredible but is very light on documentation. Getting a good scan is pretty hit and miss. The default scan area is a cube of one metre and the nearest you can get to the object is 40 cm. This is a Kinect limitation. If you use Microsoft’s drivers instead of the OpenNI drivers that becomes 80cm, so you wouldn’t want to do that.

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