We’ve previously talked about all the popular virtual reality headsets on the market today, some of the virtual reality content companies that are looking to create VR experiences, and even talked about how real-time virtual reality is the ultimate endgame. Behind all these VR companies, there is a wealth of new, innovative technologies being developed, including one that should catch your eye – volumetric 3D scanning.
We recently played a role-playing game for Oculus in which we had the strange feeling of staring right into the characters’ eyes at eye level. Even stranger was the ability to walk around the character and look at the back of his head from which flowed a large mop of scruffy hair. That character was purely created in a digital world, but what about doing something similar with real world characters?
Imagine attending your favorite band’s concert and watching from the location of your choice – front row, backstage, or directly from the stage itself. With volumetric 3D VR, you could walk around on stage and get a close up view of each musician as they play from any direction. Or, imagine a future where watching home videos means walking around your living room and watching old memories play out right in front of you in a 3D environment, rather than on a TV screen or projector. Or as Facebook is dreaming up, we all put on our Oculus sets and hang out with our long distance friends in virtual reality:
In order to display real volumetric 3D models in a display device, images of the object must be captured. There are many companies in operation today that offer 3D scanning that is capable of creating volumetric models, but most of them require the use of expensive hardware and cameras, making them an unlikely choice for consumers. Other types of 3D scanners are designed to scan small objects or are designed for specific business purposes.
There are, however, a few companies that have been working on handheld devices with the goal of simplifying the process, allowing content developers to give users the opportunity to scan themselves into virtual reality movies, video games, and other media. Offering handheld volumetric 3D scanners could provide a low barrier to entry for consumer use and open up many new opportunities for developers of VR content. It represents another step forward in the path towards making virtual reality closer to true reality, rather than simply another way to consume media. Here are 5 companies offering tools that allow you to scan yourself into virtual reality games, movies, and experiences.
Leading the foray into volumetric 3D scanning and content is 8i, a company that made it into our list of “6 of the Hottest Virtual Reality Companies Out There“. The company was founded in 2014 and has accepted $14.48 million through 2 rounds of funding so far. Included in their list of investors are Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund, and big brands like Dolby Family Ventures, and Samsung Venture Investment.
8i focuses exclusively on creating lifelike human models in a 3D environment. The company gained substantial attention in the industry after unveiling their new, innovative 3D/VR format based on light field technology. The technology uses 2 (or more) cameras to shoot a scene from different angles, then uses those viewpoints to construct “light fields” of the scene, allowing users to physically move around within the space. This differs from typical point-of-view content that limits the user to viewing the scene from where the content was captured from. 8i has several sample videos available on their website featuring people that have been captured using the technology.
Shining3D is an industry leader in the volumetric 3D scanning industry. Since their Founding in 2004, Shining3D has been on the cutting edge of the 3D digitizing and printing industry. In 2015, the China-based company announced that they would be opening up a subsidiary in the US, and were seeking $70 Million USD for mergers and acquisitions.
Shining3D is known for their handheld 3D scanner line, EinScan. The latest version, the EinScan-Pro+, offers 100 data capture lines (compared to 7 data capture lines for the previous model), and scanning speed that is +760% faster. Additionally, the scanning range is 1.6 times the size than it was in the Pro version. Below you can see the size profile for the device:
Although the company has placed most of their focus on 3D printing, the EinScan-Pro+ can also be used to capture volumetric 3D models to use in media. While it is possible to perform a full body scan using the EinScan-Pro+, the scanning area is a bit small for large objects and may require several passes for a complete scan.
Another interesting innovation in human 3D VR scanning comes from Uraniom, a company that focuses solely on enabling gamers to scan themselves, and then upload their personal avatar into virtual reality, augmented reality, and traditional video games. They have taken on an unspecified amount of funding to date.
Uraniom aims to make playing yourself in your favorite video games as simple as possible. Their 3-step process, coupled with game developer relationships, have made the process of scanning yourself and uploading your avatar for use in video games quite simple. Their software allows users to create a bust scan using any 3D-scan capable mobile device, upload the imaging data into their web platform, and import their custom avatar into partnered video games.
Uraniom is currently compatible with games that use multiple engines including Unity, Unreal Engine, and Babylon JS. The company’s technology has already been featured in popular games such as The Witcher 3 and EA NBA 2k16. Moving forward, the company has placed increased focus on offering their product to users of virtual and augmented reality content.
The Go!Scan 3D is known for its large scanning area, with the higher end version, the Go!Scan 3D 50, featuring a scanning area of 15 x 15 inches. The Go!Scan 3D is roughly the size of a power drill, and weighs a little more than 2 pounds. Although the product is mostly marketed for medical, manufacturing and design solutions, it is capable of scanning human bodies (or even larger objects) for use in VR and AR environments.
Founded in 2008, Colorado startup Occipital has taken in $20 million in funding so far to develop all kinds of interesting VR/AR hardware. One of these devices is the world’s first 3D sensor for mobile devices, capable of scanning humans and creating volumetric 3D models that can then be imported into virtual reality and augmented reality environments.
Structure’s Sensor is a small 3D sensor that can plug straight into mobile devices (currently compatible with multiple versions of the iPad) to create volumetric 3D models. By allowing third-party developers to create apps that utilize their hardware, Structure has been able to quickly ramp up their feature set.
Volumetric capture and the ability to scan yourself into virtual reality, and other media will play a large role in the development of “social virtual reality”. Ted Schilowitz, futurist at Twentieth Century Fox and adviser at 8i has said “over time, the medium will demand volumetric capture.” It’s not going to be a one time occurrence either. People are going to be redoing their scan every time they lose 5 pounds or want to show everyone their new haircut. The companies mentioned in this article all stand to benefit from people’s demand for the ultimate virtual reality selfie – a volumetric 3D scan of themselves.
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