By Alec | 3Ders
One of the biggest problems with the 3D printing hobby is that it takes a lot of preparation and knowledge. Everyone who’s ever dabbled with this technology will know that making truly unique items or creative solutions for unavoidably demands a thorough knowledge of modelling software. To be sure, our lives are made much easier by the web’s gigantic database of files, but that isn’t really what creating should be all about.
All these problems could be easily fixed by a plug-and-play 3D scanner, which can quickly generate 3D models, but these aren’t exactly easy to come by for your average hobbyist. These can quickly be insanely expensive, or feature a terrible mesh quality that result in bad prints.
But don’t despair, for a very promising alternative can be currently found on Kickstarter: the Atlas 3D laser scanner kit. Developed by the Kentucky-based software engineer Uriah Liggett (from Murobo LLC), this is basically a DIY assembly kit for a very affordable and yet highly accurate 3D scanner. Why pay thousands for a 3D scanner, if you can assemble one for just $200?
How on earth is such a low price possible? In a nutshell, Uriah cuts down on all the necessary costs by combining the multi-purpose Raspberry Pi computer board, which can run a large variety of basic programmes, with open-source software and hardware, all packed in housing that you need to 3D print at home on your desktop printer.
As he explains on his Kickstarter, he first got his inspiration from the same obstacles that haunt many of us. ‘I purchased a 3D printer with the goal of being able to print everyday items that I needed around the house. Websites such as Thingiverse were a great source for models but often didn't have the models that I needed. I determined that I needed a 3D scanner in order to create my own models from objects that I had.’
Not wanting to spend more on a scanner than he did on his 3D printer, Uriah began experimenting with 123D catch. But he says, ‘I didn't like relying on a cloud based solution which could disappear at any minute, and the model quality was not good enough. Most of the other scanners I discovered were targeted towards commercial metrology and were too expensive for the average consumers. At this point, I decided to create my own.’
Through a series of iterations, prototypes and improvements, Uriah settled on a turntable design that can easily and fully scan objects without any hassle. The scanner itself relies on a clever laser system that can generate high resolution models in a short period of time. Essentially, the laser will illuminate objects, and the scanner will use 3D triangulation to ‘generate a point cloud for each location where the laser hits the model. Neighboring points are then connected as triangles to form a 3D model.’
The final model can subsequently be processed in any typical modelling software, like Meshlab, before being sent to your 3D printer. And remarkably, all of this can be achieved using open source hardware and software, packed in a Raspberry Pi. ‘The Raspberry Pi was an easy choice since it has an excellent 5 megapixel camera add-on, is able to drive lasers and motors, and has enough memory and CPU power to perform a 3D scan.’ he says. It won’t require you to install drivers or other software, and can communicate with the scanner through a web browser and Wi-Fi. The scanner itself runs on open-source FreeLSS software, which has been released on Github under the GPL license.
And the idea is that when you order, you also receive all the necessary 3D printable files as part of your kit, which you can simply print on your desktop FDM 3D printer in ABS or PLA. As it stands, Uriah is considering two different kits: the Full Kit, featuring all the necessary parts - the new Raspberry Pi B+, a 5 megapixel CMOS sensor, Wifi adapter, 2 laser modules, electronics board, power supply, stepper motor, rubber coating, rubber feet, fasteners, cables and 3D printable files – and a ‘Bring Your PI Kit’ for those users who still have a Raspberry Pi lying around. Whichever you choose, each can be easily assembled with screws and fasteners; no soldering or electrical knowledge is even required.
All this makes the Atlas 3D Scanner Kit an absolutely amazing innovation, and it’s totally unsurprising to see that its done so well on Kickstarter. At the time of writing, there were still 28 days to go on this crowdfunding campaign (closing date is February 7), but more than $18,000 has already been pledged – considerably more than Uriah’s original goal of $3000. I therefore do not doubt that this design will do well once its released (which will be late 2015). Anyone looking to jump on board of the Kickstarter, a pledge of $209 will be enough to get your hands on an Atlas 3D scanner kit, which, if all things go well, will be delivered sometime during the summer. Check it out here.
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