The folks at MakerBot have been teasing their Digitizer desktop 3D scanner since this past March, but now they’re just about ready push it out the door. For $1,400, you too can scan all the little knick-knacks in your life and turn them into 3D schematics to print or share with others.
In case you haven’t been keeping tabs on the Digitizer, here’s how the thing works: you place an object on its central turntable and fire up the device, at which point a pair of lasers (for greater accuracy, naturally) will scan the object’s surface geometry and turn that cloud of data points into a 3D model. MakerBot says the whole process takes about 12 minutes, after which you’re able to push the file to a 3D printer of your choosing and have a grand ol’ time.
There are, of course, some limitations to be aware of. The turntable can only support objects that are 3kg (or about 6.5lbs) or lighter, and you should ideally use the thing a very well-lit room. And while the Digitizer promises to be fast and easy, at $1,400 it’s not exactly impulse buy material.
When we visited MakerBot’s new 50,000 square foot factory in Brooklyn, CEO Bre Pettis referred to the Digitizer as a "game changer" for the 3D printing movement and it’s not hard to see why. For the past two years now, MakerBot’s efforts have largely been about making the process of 3D printing as accessible as possible. With a little bit of tinkering (and some patience for the occasional screw-up), 3D printing novices can get a feel for turning the contents of pre-produced files into actual physical objects.
It’s the other half of that equation that’s so tricky – if you wanted things to print you either had to trawl Thingiverse in hopes that someone had already modeled the thing, or figure out a way to model it on your own. To put it mildly, that’s a fair bit of work. With the advent of scanners like the Digitizer though, the barrier to creating those 3D blueprints and disseminating them to the world is almost nil… as long as you can afford it.
Of course, MakerBot isn’t the only company making it easier to turn physical objects into printable data – hackers and startups have harnessed Microsoft’s venerable Kinect to do just that, there’s a sea of crowdfunded hardware projects that aim to put their own spin on the experience. Still, MakerBot is easily one of the best known proponents of the 3D printing movement, and a device like Digitizer may just be what the movement needs to make 3D printing a fixture of the mainstream.