A Brief History of 3D Scanning


Man has long sought to capture reality.


For artists and craftsmen, progress has been measured by increasingly accurate ways to produce their designs or to capture the myriad abstractions of nature.

  With the advent of computers it was possible to build up a highly complex model, but the problem came with creating that model. Complex surfaces defied the tape measure. They still do.  
  3DS video  
  Renishaw Cyclone  
  So in the eighties, the toolmaking industry developed a contact probe. At least this enabled a precise model to be created. But it was so slow. If only someone could create a system which captured the same amount of detail, but at a speed which made application more effective.....  

So experts started developing optical technology.


Using light was much faster than a physical probe. This also allowed scanning of soft objects which would be threatened by prodding.


Three types of optical technology were available:

  • Point, which is similar to a physical probe in that it uses a single point of reference, repeated many times. This was the slowest approach as it involved lots of physical movement by the sensor.
  • Area, which is technically difficult. This is demonstrated by the lack of robust area systems on sale.

  • Stripe - the third system - was soon found to be faster than point probing as it used a band of many points to pass over the object at once. It was accurate too. So it matched the twin demands for speed and precision
three technologies from Peter’s paper    
  So stripe was clearly the way forwards. But it soon became apparent that the challenge was one of software. To capture an object in three dimensions, the sensor would make several scans from different positions. The challenge was to join those scans together, remove the duplicated data and sift out the surplus that inevitably gathers when you collect several million points of data at once. And to do all this fast...  
  Cyberware Head scanner  

One of the first applications was capturing humans for the animation industry. Cyberware Laboratories of Los Angeles developed this field in the eighties with their Head Scanner...


Cyberware whole body scanner


which by the mid-nineties they had developed into a full body scanner...

  This is where 3D Scanners came into the picture.

In 1994 3D Scanners launched REPLICA - which allowed fast, highly accurate scanning of very detailed objects. REPLICA marked serious progress in laser stripe scanning.

Meanwhile Cyberware were developing their own high detail scanners, some of which were able to capture object colour too. But despite this progress, true three dimensional scanning - with these degrees of speed and accuracy - remained elusive.


One company - Digibotics - did introduce a 4-axis machine which could provide a fully 3D model from a single scan. But this was based on laser point - not laser stripe - and was thus slow. Neither did it have the six degrees of freedom necessary to cover the entire surface of an object. Neither could it digitise surface color...

  Digibotics scanner

While these optical scanners were expensive, Immersion and Faro Technologies introduced low-cost manually operated digitisers. These could indeed produce complete models, but they were slow, particularly when the model was detailed. And again, they could not digitise surface color.


By this time 3D modellers were united in their quest for a scanner which was


Immersion Arm

  • accurate
  • fast
  • truly three dimensional
  • capable of capturing surface color
  • and realistically priced.
Faro Space Arm  
  At last that wait is over.  
  In 1996 3D Scanners took the key technologies of a manually-operated arm and a stripe 3D scanner - and combined them in ModelMaker. This incredibly fast and flexible system is  
  the world's first Reality Capture System. It produces complex models. And it textures those models with color. Color 3D models can now be produced in minutes. ModelMaker is shipping today.   ModelMaker in action


Page last updated : 15/09/98 Author : Vasco Hoffmann
1995-1998 3D Scanners Ltd email : info@3dscanners.com