Technology used in 3D laser scanning is used to create 3D models, which are used across several industries and for all kinds of purposes. This technology has become more popular as it has provided more effective ways to create products, investigate crime scenes, support academic research, assist in clothing design and even benefit medical fields.
But, 3D scanners weren’t always so high tech. Like most technologies, this one has humble beginning and is still being developed to do truly remarkable things.
The First 3D Scanners
While we often think of 3D scanning as a new technology, it has actually been around for some time. The first of this technology was produced in the 1960s. However, the first attempts weren’t as high quality as today’s results, since they were produced with scanners that used cameras, lights and projectors.
This technology worked, but wasn’t the most effective way to get desired results. It took a lot of time to make sure scans were accurate, and the results weren’t as good as they could have been.
In 3D scanning’s early days, it was a technology that was only used by professionals and industry experts. It wasn’t something that many people had access to, so its uses were limited and it didn’t have a big impact on a wide variety of industries, like it does now that it is more fully developed.
Another problem was computer storage. At this time, computers that could store all the data required to execute 3D laser scanning weren’t commonplace, like they are today.
The Problem with the Contact Probe
When computers became more accessible, engineers recognised that there was potential to make 3D scanning much more effective. The first attempt to do this included a contact probe.
The contact probe is exactly what it sounds like: a probe that touches objects and surfaces to create a map. The object being scanned is held in place while the probe does its work with sensors on a long arm.
Contact 3D scanning is still used in some industries and does work well, but it takes a lot of time to produce a good image. It also requires contact, which isn’t ideal for scanning soft objects or people. Scanning very large areas with a contact probe is also very difficult. So, contact scanning isn’t ideal for all situations.
The Laser Solution
To solve the problems that come with the contact probe, professionals decided to use light, which was much faster than any probe could be, to scan objects. Another benefit that comes with using light to scan is that it can offer very precise results, especially for soft objects, which can’t be scanned accurately with a contact probe.
With this development came three different options, each of which has pros and cons.
With this option, the laser needs to be moved several times to scan an object using a single point of reference. This worked well because it was very similar to the contact probe, which had proven results, but was still slow.
Area scanning was another option for 3D laser scanning, but it wasn’t ideal because it is technically difficult to execute and the equipment needed isn’t readily available.
Stripe scanning uses a row of several points at the same time as the scanner moves over an object. This means it can very quickly produce a detailed and accurate scanned image.
Stripe scanning became the option experts focused on as they worked to develop modern 3D laser scanners. This method allowed scanners to move quickly, providing results faster and remain accurate, so scans were more relevant and effective.
3D scanning works by combining several scanned images together to create one image. In order to do this, advanced software is used to merge the images and take out duplicated data and extra pieces of data. This software can do all that and very quickly, so that 3D laser scanning is practical and efficient.
Historical Uses of 3D Laser Scanning
One of the very first uses for 3D laser scanning was to create images of faces to be used in animation during the 1980s. This was done with a head scanner that captured the details and shape of someone’s head while duplicating things like spacing between eyes and the length of the nose.
But, head scanners were just that, limited to being able scan a person’s head. So, in the 1990s, the industry had developed full body scanners, which would create 3D images of a person’s body.
Then, in 1994, scanners that mapped objects and all their specific details were invented. These scanners took images of objects, rather than people, so had different applications in all kinds of industries.
Modern Uses for 3D Laser Scanners
Today, 3D laser scanning has been nearly perfected, making it a technology that is readily accessible, easier to use and more effective. It is used in all kinds of fields, making research, digital reproduction of objects and even exploration of areas easier.
Just a few applications for 3D laser scanners include:
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Documentation of Historical Sites
- Archaeological Research
- Film Production
- Civil Engineering
- Highway Surveying
- Building Evaluations
- Utility Mapping
- Coastal Monitoring
- Designing Medical Tools
Recently, handheld 3D scanners have hit the market, making this technology available to hobbyists. These can produce digital images of just about anything and some can even assist with 3D printing, so users can create a replica of almost any object they want.
In fact, some experts believe that 3D laser scanning is the technology that will make 3D printing more practical. Since the idea behind 3D printing is that you can create or duplicate anything, smaller, more convenient scanners could make 3D printing much more common.
While 3D laser scanning has come a long way, there’s no doubt that the technology will continue to be developed and become more commonplace, effective and efficient. As this happens, all kinds of industries will benefit.