Microsoft Issued Patent for 3D Depth Scanning Camera & Software — May Accelerate 3D Design & Printing Exponentially


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images (2)It’s certainly not a shock to see that Microsoft has been working overtime behind the scenes to take over the 3D design world. The only surprise is that it took the technology giant so long.

There’s little to no doubt it will have been worth the wait as Microsoft’s new patent indicates some serious latitude coming down the pike for users in being able to scan, modify, and head right to the 3D printer. The patent is for a depth scanning camera and technology that will allow you to take any everyday object–say, just something cute sitting on your desk or shelf, scan it, and quickly reproduce it in 3D print.

Okay, so we can already scan and print a lot of things, right? What exactly is so groundbreaking, revolutionary, and gamechanging here? Most importantly, you will have the ability to scan that hideous object from your mother-in-law’s curio cabinet, tinker with it and make what you think would be suitable modifications to it, and then replace it to everyone’s (?) satisfaction. This has huge implications not only for all the choices you have in customizing objects the way you want, but will most likely open the door for many other companies that produce services and video in 3D, offering real world renderings.

UntitledThe scanner and accompanying software has the potential to revolutionize a number of sectors further, as the patent points out that for recreation enthusiasts, such as skateboarders, they could simply scan a board they liked and then modify it to personal specs. The concept takes what was already an exciting future for prototyping and manufacturing at the desktop and has the potential to accelerate processes enormously for the hobbyist, entrepreneur, developer, and so on.

The implications for digital design, 3D printing, and also self-sustainability are somewhat mind-boggling, with the user’s ability to improve on so many objects, as well as producing them and putting them into action quickly without waiting on a middle man.

According to the patent, “depth images of an object captured by a substantially static depth camera are used to generate the model.” Users can rotate the objects while scanning, while “hands that occlude the object are integrated out of the model as they do not move in sync with the object due to re-gripping.”

Once again, we are looking at a product that we’ve seen time and time again–in the movies. It of course invokes images of Terminator–always an inspiration in the digital design world—as well as every other sci-fi movie where an ‘expert’ was click clacking on a keyboard and producing magic on a screen. While it’s one thing to basically be able to make an image from a scan and then 3D print exactly that, being able to take the genius of what others have created and then modify it to your own liking certainly sounds like a lot of fun.

This should also send those worrying about ownership and copyright directly into a frenzy, as it will lead to a bevy of intellectual property questions without a doubt. With this type of approach, you obviously cut out everyone in terms of downloading, streaming, and being held to–or held up by–any other source.

skateboardThe image is tracked and oriented, and unwanted elements can be removed, with it all being displayed for the user in real time. From the patent and what Microsoft and their inventors have submitted, it would seem that intended uses for this will be:

  • Scanning, tracking, and storing an image
  • Modifying scanned images by deleting elements as well as adding and enhancing
  • Using scanned objects for integratation into video games and more
  • Computing corresponding points and mapping distances

While many will be attracted by the obvious latitude afforded in the scanning, real-time, and modifying features, there is a lot of information in the patent that would point to mapping and geography as being a focus here, with language that while is obviously highly technical as well as thick legal jargon regarding drawings submitted, it specifically points on numerous counts to mapping functions, discussing corresponding point tracking, distance measuring, and calculating ‘signed distance functions’ from varying points.

The improvements they are trying to make are listed in the patent information and all are extremely relevant regarding plans to restructure affordability, speed, and accuracy. The patent information discusses what are seen as current limitations:

“Such systems are limited in use because the turntable restricts the size and type of object that can be scanned, and it is complex to produce a turntable that rotates at a reliable known rate to produce an accurate computer model. The use of turntables also restricts the ability for different views or faces of an object to be scanned. Furthermore, whilst such an object scanning system can capture the shape of an object in a computer model, it does not capture the color or surface patterns of an object,” states the patent information.

The depth of the scans will allow not only for platforms like gaming, but also robotics, with the ‘dense 3D models’ allowing themselves for seamless integration and continued, expanded creativity. The sky really will be the limit for animators.

While it will be interesting to see how they deal with the intellectual property issues sure to crop up when and if this product is available for public consumption, we surely can’t wait to see the innovations that arise as designers have the opportunity to add so much more complexity to designs.

Is this a product that you think will add to the current revolution digital design and 3D printing offer to the world? Discuss what you think Microsoft’s plan is with this product and how you think it will transform current processes in the Microsoft Receives Patent for 3D Depth Scanning Camera & Software forum thread over at


Example of current Microsoft scanning and slicing technology with the Kinect 3D scanner


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