Computer models are typically created by specialists using dedicated CAD software or animation packages. The more detailed the object, the more time and experience it takes to make it. One shortcut would be to scan a real life version of the desired object (if it exists), but 3D scanners are generally expensive, bulky machines that aren't practical for the average person. The advent of affordable, desktop-sized 3D scanners like the CADScan3D could change all that – and presents troubling legal issues for the growing maker movement.

Generating object data with the CADScan3D scanner – which appeared on Kickstarter earlier this week – is as simple as it gets. You place an object on the turntable, press a button, and it rotates while two scanning heads (one on top and another on the side) get to work. The result is an accurate, full-color 3D object. You can scan anything that will fit inside the 25-cubic centimeter (9.84-inch) volume, with a resolution up to 0.2 mm.

The process is so simple that you don't need any special training. The scan data doesn't need to be calibrated, aligned, or post-processed in any way. CADScan, the Chester, UK company behind the scanner, says it "is perfect for reverse engineering, prototype development, building databases of 3D objects, object replication, generating 3D virtual world content."

Not too shabby, considering the CADScan3D costs £699 (US$1,085), a bit more than the David-laserscanner, and about one-third that of NextEngine's solution (which it claims is the world's most popular 3D scanner).

Opening Pandora's box

Combined with a 3D printer, CADScan's unassuming little scanner raises some significant issues. Suddenly anyone can scan, digitize, upload, download, share, and print all sorts of real world objects – truly mind-blowing stuff. Makers are already doing that to some extent, but their prints are limited to a relatively small pool of objects. As 3D scanners get out into the wild, that pool will grow into an ocean of available objects – including products you'd normally have to purchase.

Currently, the CADScan3D fits only smaller objects, but this is just the beginning. As the technology matures, and with increased competition in the coming years, the fidelity of the scan data and 3D prints will gradually improve. It may become hard (if not impossible) to tell the difference between an original and a copy. To put it bluntly, if you think counterfeit goods are a problem today you ain't seen nothing yet.

And while it's clearly going to have a major impact on retail goods, it will affect other industries, too. It could, for example, facilitate the creation of props and set details in games and film, allowing artists to focus on more important details. Already a form of 3D scanning called Performance Capture has been used to great effect in movies and games such as L.A. Noire, but generally speaking these industries have only just begun to explore the possibilities of this technology.

You can see the CADScan3D scanner demonstrated in the following video.

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