An Experiment in 3D Scanning
I recently ran across a computer application called David Laserscanner. I had seen a review on web broadcast tech program. During the progam the reviewer kept verbally calling it “David dash laserscanner” as the web URL has the dash http://david-laserscanner.com.
I suppose it was to emphasize the fact the URL has the dash. Printed everywhere else, the dash is not used, so it is David Laserscanner. Why David? The maker says it is the little biblical David who slew the big name “Goliaths” of the laser scanner market. Follow the link above
The best thing is the program (now version 184.108.40.20662 I tested) can be run for free with only some of the save functions and detailed editing functions disabled. I understand it was totally free in earlier versions but now it is a going (for profit) business. Current price (full version) is 329 EUR or $420.17 on today’s market. For me that takes it out of the cheap range. Well. It is cheap as scanners go so I guess I’ll let them have that claim.
Two other items required are a USB video camera and a laser that produces a thin red (or other color) line. I happen to have both so for me this was a totally free trial. I have a Logitech webcam pro 9000 and my kids gave me a Black and Decker construction “Sight Line” red laser level several years ago.
There is a new and faster scan method that requires a video projector. It is called a “Structured Light” setup. A series of black and white lines are projected on the object to be scanned. Of course this adds the cost of the projector to the project. Cheap low power projectors (possibly inadequate) are in the $400 range while standard power projectors are about $2000.00, too rich for my experimentation. I have one I could borrow if I want to test further.
I won’t go into a full how-to here in the review. You can get all that from the web site.
My original thought was if I could justify the cost with results, it would be a good addition to my 3D machining and milling interests. I could scan an object then import it into a 3D drawing program and resize and edit to my heart’s content for use in one of my projects. Yes, it certainly can do that if I have a full working day and skills to produce a fully finished scan.
To save you further reading before I explain, David Laserscanner is a great but rather expensive program (except for the free trial) suitable for hobbyist whose hobby is producing 3D image scans. For use as a practical tool it requires way too much investment in time and “fooling around”. But it is fun.
Hand holding the laser is shown as a method. Hand holding does not produce a good scan. I rigged up a tripod to hold the laser and control movement and results greatly improved. There is a third setup option where the camera and laser are firmly mounted and controlled by motor (a hobby servo works) for steady even scans appropriately named the “motorized setup”. I highly recommend this last option if you have the skills to produce the rig.
After fooling with about a dozen fragile setup options, software, lights, camera, and laser action, I was able to create what I considered respectable scans.
Next all the scans from all sides or angles have to be joined together. That software is built into David Laserscanner but is a separate operation. Let me say that is another whole area of exploration. There is a lot of work to get all the parts assembled. It does work and the results are interesting but labor intensive.
Texture software is also built in. The user can grab a real light snapshot of the item being scanned and the software will apply that photo as a texture on the surface of the scan. That is really cool as it looks very real.
Another major issue is the speed of the program. I don’t know what to expect as I have not used 3D scanning previously so I have no reference. In my opinion though, it is agonizingly slow even with my quad processor PC. I did see all four cores (occasionally) working on the math or I assume that is what was happening.
The reason is certainly or partly the quality of the hardware (such as the USB camera). Exploring improvement areas that need some experimentation for optimum response and accuracy is what this application is all about.
I can see how David Laserscanner can be used as the core component for development of a personal 3D scanner system. If someone has the time (like a hobby) to play with the development toward excellent results, the $420 software cost may be justified. But then add in all the other required parts and I can see where this project is headed. Um… toward the money pit, AKA hobby.
The web site displays some outstanding examples of the quality of the output that can be obtained… with considerable time, effort and skill the excellent results are proven.
I highly recommend this product for the dedicated nerds (like me) who like exploring complex problems with a partial solution that has the ability of producing a quality result. If my thought is to play with out of the box 3D scanning, yes I was able to do it because of the key parts I already own.
If I needed high quality 3D scans for production, David Laserscanner is NOT the way to go. I would purchase an established product that was turnkey in producing high quality output.
I will probably play a lot with this as the free version. I will NOT spend $420 for the full version. I might try the “Structured Light” variation which seems to be the better method but more costly. (I can borrow a projector.) It is a diversion to my shop work so I cannot or will not spend a lot of time with it.
I highly recommend readers give it a try if you too have a web cam and a line laser. It has been an interesting diversion and felt somewhat magical using it. I know a lot more about 3D scanning than I knew two days ago.