cWe’ve seen more than a few startups cook up their own impressive 3D scanners — there’s Makerbot and itsDigitizer, and dark horse Occipitalwith its mobile Structure sensor just to name a few — but one of the oldest and biggest names in 3D printers is clearly itching to get in the game too. South Carolina-based 3D Systems just recently outed a cheapish, consumer-friendly scanner called the Sense, and I swung by Engadget’s Expand show in New York this weekend to see the thing in action.
Here’s the TL;DR if you’re on a tight schedule: at $399 price is right and I came away awfully impressed with the little thing. And I do mean little, as 3D Systems concocted a portable affair that’s about the size of a small hardback or staple gun. Thanks to a plastic chassis it’s not much heavier either, which only makes sense given how you’re actually supposed to use it.
You see, while more buzzy players in the space like Makerbot have opted to run with a restrictive turntable design, the Sense is meant to be clutched firmly in your hand as opposed to be passively propped up on a desk. Once the companion software is installed on a connected computer, all that’s left is to just stand around your subject and slowly wave the Sense around until you’ve captured everything you wanted to. And thanks to that persistent tether to a PC, users can monitor a real-time visual representation of the scan in progress.
So yes, it’s handy. Naturally that wouldn’t make a lick of difference if the Sense didn’t deliver on its promise, but it certainly seems to get the job done with aplomb. If you’ve seen a 3D scanner in action before, then you’ve probably a got a pretty firm grasp on how these things work: a camera and an infrared sensor capture both an objects visual and geometric features and converts them into a 3D model. Thanks to a sensor array sourced from the folks at Primesense, the Sense is capable of scanning objects that measure up to 10ft by 10ft — at long last you can craft a digital representation of that lovingly battered couch in your basement.
And how do the resulting scans look? That all really comes down to you. The scanning process rewards slow, methodical motions over swish-and-flick Wingardium Leviosa antics and being a little too hasty with your hands only heightens the risk of introducing faults and aberrations to the mix. Thankfully, the software that ships with the Sense is smart enough to smooth over some of those minor issues as they crop up, and it only takes a few clicks to take that model and solidify it into a structure suitable for printing.