Occipital Structure Sensor
The Occipital Structure Sensor is billed as the first “3D sensor for mobile devices.” After an impressive KickStarter campaign that made it one of the top grossing campaigns of all time, the company delivered what they promised with an overall solid product and impressive science behind it. The Structure Sensor works by using a process known as “structured light.” An infrared laser projector casts a specific pixel pattern on the objects in front of it. The sensor uses the dots to detect distortions in the environment being scanned as the scanner is moved around the object. This sensing of dots and the distortions therein creates a depth map of the scene which is, of course, the 3D aspect. The Structure Sensor uses the camera of your iPad to collect color information of the environment, and compiles it with the rest of the data collected, which puts 3D scanning literally at your fingertips.
The Structure Sensor pairs snappy looks and solid construction. Its anodized aluminum and glass build comes in silver and ice blue, and both look great attached to the carrier. When you order a Structure Sensor, you order the correct bracket for whatever iPad you will be using with the scanner, which is compatible with fourth-generation iPads and iPad minis. One box contains the bracket, and the other contains the Structure Sensor, Lightning cable and USB hacker cable. The infrared detector used for the Structure Sensor was developed by PrimeSense, who designed the IR 3D sensor for the Xbox Kinect, and the company is now owned by Apple. This unit is not some laminate wood thrown together prototype-style product, but a well-crafted tool designed and constructed with pride, purpose and quality in mind. It contains its own battery, with about four hours of charge for continuous scanning, but can last much longer on standby.
Once you get your Structure Sensor charged and rolling, it is time to download the recommended apps for its use. The main app is called Structure, and it basically collects the data from the scanner and your iPad’s camera and digests this information. The app has three data streams: IR, Depth and Depth+Color. The IR stream is solely infrared data. The Depth stream offers a false-color view for differentiating between near and far objects, using a hot-to-cold color scheme to show close up objects (red), as compared to distant objects (blue). The Depth+Color stream creates data using both true color and false color, based on depth. This data can be stored on the iPad, or can be sent to another computer via a shared Wi-Fi network. The app also gives you access to firmware information, the serial number of the unit and battery charge level.
Other apps are available, but they are few in number. One app, Itseez3D, allows you to scan objects and faces with amazing levels of precision. Also, Occipital provides a list of recommended apps for use with the Structure Sensor that show off some of the situations for which it is suited. One app shows off the virtual reality potential for the Structure Sensor’s use. Another is aimed at the physics aspect of the scanner. The Viewer app allows you to view objects in x-ray mode or solid object mode. The best feature of the Structure Sensor is that it is designed as a scanner, but foremost as a platform with implications that stretch for many miles. An open-software development kit and open-source drivers are provided. With the hacker cable, the Structure Sensor can be used with platforms like Android, and can be expanded for use in many other capacities besides just 3D scanning for printing. Beyond the abilities listed above are numerous others, which Occipital hopes that developers will harness by using the available SDK. The Structure Sensor has the ability to be used in a broad range of applications, from inspection and sensing to augmented reality games.
This new technology, which allows you to scan 3D images on-the-fly, is not without its limitations. Fixed scanners offer much more detail than that of portable scanners such as the Structure Sensor. However, portable scanners are obviously able to be used portably, and offer speeds that most fixed scanners can’t achieve. According to Occipital, in VGA resolution, the Structure Sensor has speeds of up to 30 frames per second. Of course, with any new technology, and especially in the first version of a product, there will be bugs, but we cannot rightfully discount the Structure Sensor for it. One of the biggest drawbacks is the scanner’s inability to “see” objects of a solid color with any detail. Another sight sensing problem arises on materials that do not report the IR signal back to the sensor, like certain plastics or materials, like liquids, that distort the IR signal. These are issues that will undoubtedly be resolved in coming versions and products.
The Structure Sensor is an excellent example of a device that could very well change 3D scanning and printing, but is also a device that could revolutionize optics and how they are integrated with computers and applications. The Structure Sensor hopes to become the industry standard for camera manufacturers and developers alike. The iSense, a very close cousin to the Structure Sensor, is also an iPad attachment 3D scanner with the ability to go more places and scan more things than fixed scanners. As a matter of fact, Occipital designed both products.
The debate over which one you should purchase is bound to happen sooner than later, so use the following advice as a guideline. The iSense is ready for Cubify software from 3D Systems, and integrates seamlessly with Cube printers. If you are a Cube fan, then the iSense is more than likely right for your collection. The Structure Sensor is more of an open-source tool with great implications for software and game developers. Even though the Structure Sensor is designed for developers and the like, apps are available for 3D scanning and printing. It is a quality product that has the potential to turn the market completely upside-down, and it is included in our list of iReviews 2015 best 3D scanners under $1,500.
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