Like so many helpful innovations, this project began when a designer saw someone they loved struggling. Richard Knieper’s grandmother lost her sight completely and found herself cut off from the images that had captured some of her favorite memories.
“[My grandmother] used to enjoy looking through the photo albums of our family but slowly, she lost the ability to see anything. With my 3D printer, I was able to print replicas of some family members and when I gave her the print, she was the happiest I had seen in years.”
That was when he realized that he had a service that he could offer that might help bring that kind of happiness to more people. Knieper, owner and operator of Knieper 3D Printing in Oceanside, CA struck on the unique idea of taking his 3D portraiture mobile – traveling to events to memorialize the occasion directly into 3D form. Alternately, he would travel to people’s homes to meet their needs for 3D portraits. His Kickstarter campaign is trying to raise $15,000 in order to purchase a used high-resolution 3D scanner to complete his collection of 3D equipment.
The creation of 3D portraits is not new – it’s been around since the first person made a clay model of another. What is new to our time is the widespread availability of 3D printing technology. So, while President Obama has been scanned, it’s not only the high and mighty who are taking advantage of this, and in fact, companies such as Twinkind in Hamburg, Germany offer miniature versions of people and pets that run from about $260 at 1:18 scale to about $1,400 for a 1:5 scale. There are also well over a dozen other companies which are doing the same.
What makes Kneiper’s project unique is the mobile nature of the process and the connection he has made between 3D printing and the needs of visually impaired people. Twinkind’s services, for example, are available only to those who can visit their physical location.
As 3D scanning technologies become more widespread there are already applications for smartphones that can scan objects on a small turntable. As all technologies tend to get smaller and cheaper with time, it will be interesting to see how the investment in the high-resolution scanner pans out over time. It may be that in several years it can be replaced by a smart phone but what Kneiper needs is something more than the consumer grade versions currently available, in order to get the level of detail and quality that he is looking for.
As these technologies become more common, we can easily imagine that weddings will no longer have just a photographer, but also a 3D scanner as well in order to capture the memories. Until that becomes the norm for everyone, however, it does at least provide a particularly appropriate way for people with limited sight to preserve memories and enjoy revisiting them.
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