For this week's Continental View, I caught up with Artec Group's Director of Business Development, Anna Zevelyov, who gave us some exclusive news about a forthcoming product launch and provided more insight into Artec's recently-announced collaboration with PrimeSense, the people behind the range camera technology in a Kinect.
Introducing the Spider
One of several exciting new developments at Artec is a new high-end handheld 3D scanner called the Spider, which is set to be unveiled at the Control show in Stuttgart in May (14-17). "This is going to be another breakthrough for us because right now the accuracy and resolution of our current high-end scanners are sometimes not enough for the really small details for rapid manufacturing," explains Zevelyov. The name Spider comes from the fact that the new device "has a lot of eyes, a lot of cameras," she says. And most significantly, "it will be under 20,000 euros, which is an unheard of price in this high-end market…" We are really going into manufacturing, high-end precision, but at a really low cost compared to what's out there."
This price point and scanning accuracy in the '10s of microns' range mean that Artec believes the Spider can compete with devices from the likes of GOM, Breuckmann, FARO and Solutionix when the new product starts to ship in June. In addition to being lightweight and handheld, the new 3D scanner will have texture and markerless real-time scanning and fusing. "You'll be able to stop and start the scan without aligning the frames afterwards - it will be a huge breakthrough," says Zevelyov.
The PrimeSense collaboration
As mentioned at the top of this piece, Artec Group recently announced that, working together with PrimeSense, Artec Studio, the software that comes with its high-end Eva scanners, now supports the consumer-end PrimeSense, MS Kinect and Asus Xtion 3D sensors. Zevelyov sees the combination of Artec's software with PrimeSense's technology as potentially playing an important role in seeding the market for scanners, in a similar way to the textbook business school case study of how Honda 'saved' Harley-Davidson by stimulating demand for all kinds of motorcycles, the expensive as well as the low cost. "There are so many people that have heard of 3D scanning, but the barrier to entry is really high…This is a great way to [test it out]," says Zevelyov. Artec hopes that professionals (say a doctor or a sculptor) will gravitate from the 15-day free trial to making a 500 euro investment in Artec Studio for their PrimeSense device and then eventually shell out for a professional scanner. "From a business point of view it's really wonderful for us because now more people will be able to afford this entry level scanner and the ones that need something more, they will come to us and they wouldn't have otherwise," says Zevelyov.
And, it seems, Artec and PrimeSense are so taken by the possibilities combining forces affords that further collaborations between are in the pipeline: "We're definitely working more with them very closely. We have some projects that I'm not at liberty to discuss yet," says Zevelyov. She believes that there is a "nice convergence" of interests in the fact that Artec is moving from high-end scanning towards the entry-level, while PrimeSense is seeking opportunities to move from the bottom end of the market towards the middle section. She also believes that PrimeSense's success in selling 20 million units should be more widely recognized within the scanning community.
Going mass market
If working with PrimeSense is a good way to increase the scanner market as a whole, the next step must surely be to incorporate 3D scanning technology into smart phones such as the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. However, Zevelyov cautions that this is still some way off: "Every single manufacturer has been trying to integrate a 3D scanner into an iPhone. I don't know of anybody in our industry who hasn't tried or thought about it, but at this point we are still a little bit away from making it doable. The primary reason is the processing power of the device itself, and the second reason is the lighting. Improve the flash, graphics card and processing power and," she says, "you will see 3D scanners popping up in these mobile devices. But at this point, and for the next year at least, I don't think anyone will come out with anything useful."
The lack of mass market availability is also one of the reasons why 3D scanning is some way behind 3D printing on the hype curve, even if scan data is a crucial input for many of the 3D models now being made physical. However, the hype will come, believes Zevelyov: "Scanning is behind printing, but not too far and it will have its heyday pretty soon - we're talking about a year, maybe two years, where everyone will be talking about it as well."
Linking the blossoming 3D printing sector to 3D models is one of the goals of Viewshape, an online community launched by Artec in 2010 that allows registered users to upload their scans and view and download those of other users. "Initially when it all started three years ago, we just wanted to create a viewer for our models," recalls Zevelyov. "And then we took it a step further - let's create a mobile viewer for an iPhone. And then we took it another step further - let's have a way for people to share models, like Flickr for 3D - that's how we described it to each other."
The next step is to try and monetize the project: "The idea is that we will give businesses, e-commerce, the ability to have 3D models on their website, and that would be a premium service that they would pay for." Realizing that few online stores would have the expertise to add full 3D functionality to their websites, Artec hopes to be able to step into the breach and provide the code "for a small monthly fee," says Zevelyov. In the interim the service remains free and Artec is encouraging people to sign up, share 3D models with friends and colleagues and also use it as a storage space. "With time it will be more and more acceptable to share models, to share work, to talk about problems and benefits and success stories. Right now it's not a huge community, but it will be. I'm 100% confident in that," believes Zevelyov.
To reward existing users and encourage more people to post material on Viewshape, Artec is currently running a cash-prize competition with celebrity judges called Winter Fun: "We're really curious how people are using this bundle," says Zevelyov. "We want to see that it's useful, we want to see that people are excited about it."
Artec is also encouraging interaction of another kind - the firm has recently opened a space on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California that serves as part office/part retail showroom. Among the technology on display is Artec Welcome, a facial recognition software that, when it is fully developed, will allow the user to link a computer to a Kinect (or other PrimeSense device) and access it without needing to enter a password. Zevelyov has just moved to the US from Moscow to head up the new site and encourages anyone who's interested to come down and take a look at the future of 3D scanning: "We love visitors…we're big enthusiasts and start-up kind of folk."