image: structure sensor, by occipital

We now live in a photocopiable world

About a year ago, I wrote about the first three-dimensional scanner available at an accessible price: it was still relatively expensive, but the Go!Scan 3D provided a glimpse of a future where it would be relatively simple to take any object and be able to convert it into either a 3D image or to reproduce it using plastic or other materials.

Shortly afterwards, two projects launched on the most-popular crowdfunding sites provided a further boost to 3D scanning technology: Matterform on Indiegogo was looking to raise $81,000; a month later it had garnered almost $500,000 to begin making 3D scanners that would retail at $440. Two months later on Kickstarter, a project called Fuel3D that aimed to produce a scanner for less than $1,000 raised $75,000 on its first day; the campaign ran for 32 days.

The price of these scanners mean that just about anybody can now afford to make a copy of whatever object they wanted. In the United Kingdom, a report has called on the government to develop a more flexible intellectual copyright policy to reflect the changes required by the 3D printing age, as well as maintaining incentives for investors and designers, while regulating these new products on the basis that if not, “the disruption caused to manufacturing and industry by 3D printing would be much greater than that suffered by the music industry, and the risks are potentially much more serious.”

Meanwhile, technology continued its unstoppable march. Makerbot, a company that already has a presence in the sector, earlier this year launched Digitizer, a $1,400 device with a scanner and a revolving platform that can copy the design of any object smaller than 20 centimeters and weighing less than three kilos. Unveiled in March, the first units will be available in the stores in October.

The latest addition is a new crowdfunding project on Kickstarter: Structure, a small sensor co-created by some of the members of the PrimeSense team that can be connected to an iPad using similar technology to Microsoft’s Kinect, and that three days on has already surpassed its initial target of $100,000.

The thinking behind it is open: code sources and design are available, its SDK is open to all platforms with complete low-level access, able to work with other devices, and with the possibility of creating independent apps based on the device… the important thing here isn’t so much the device itself, but the fact that developers will be able to design with it, from games of all kinds, to industrial applications.

The entry barriers are becoming ridiculously low when, with no more than an iPad and a small sensor costing $350, it is possible to travel the world and in the time it takes to snap a shot, “photocopy” whatever you want: an object, a design, a relief, a room, a face, in three dimensions to your on-screen design program. A device as ubiquitous as a tablet, now able not just to capture an image, but to “understand the world and its structure” and to reproduce it immediately in three dimensions. We now live in a photocopiable world.