When you have a 3D printer, you are always seeing photos of things out in the real world that would be fun to print. Copyright stops it being legal for anything recent, but there are lots of awesome out-of-copyright buildings and sculptures out there, particularly in older cities or towns.
While some folk are working hard at getting affordable desktop 3D scanners working for objects (see the ReconstructMe software using Microsoft’s kinect device), other folk are working on removing the need for special hardware altogether.
Autodesk (a major player in professional CAD software) has unveiled a free cloud-based service called “123D Catch“. It is part of a range of software they are aiming at “hobbyist” level users. That definitely includes us DIY 3D printer fanatics. You take a whole bunch of overlapping photos all the way round the object (or building) you want to model. Then you upload all the photos – they suggest between 50 and 75 – to their website. The secret software at the other end matches up all the overlapping bits, and compu-magically builds a 3D model. Including color maps, so far as I can tell. Then it emails you a link from which to download the model, so you can look at it from all sides on your PC.
Then you can convert the model to other formats, manipulate it in modelling software, upload the models to thingiverse.com, or print them out.
A crew from MakerBot even managed to hook up with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA. They got permission to go in for a massive photographic session, and they’ve uploaded 3D models of some of the Met’s famous ancient sculptures onto thingiverse.com. People have already started posting mashups of their own faces on classical sculptures.
This is -exactly- what I was hoping would happen when I wrote months ago about ninja-stealth sculpture-scanning adventures in the great cities of Europe and the Middle East. I so want replicas of all the wonderful deities and monsters from the Old World religions. Now people can do it! Thanks Autodesk.
Though I’ll be even happier when we can analyse our photos on our own computers instead of sending huge quantities of photographic data over the web. Maybe that’ll happen when 123D Catch comes out of Beta?