Feb 22, 2016 | By Alec

If you want to get a good notion of just how quickly technology is progressing anno 2016, it can be fun to take a look at the remarkable number of patents that are being approved every week. Over the last week, an astounding 6,759 patents were issued by the US patent office, with each adding something new to our collective knowledge. Among them is a very interesting Disney patent that could dramatically change 3D scanning with the purpose of creating a 3D printed copy. While that particular application is still plagued with low resolution models, Disney now details a new technique that involves hooking a 3D scanner up to a database of 3D models. Upon making a low resolution scan, the database selects a high resolution copy from the database and 3D prints that instead.

This intriguing technique is detailed in the patent entitled ‘Object Recognition for 3D Printing’, and was filed way back in August 2014. Invented by Jeffrey Voris, David Crawford, Benjamin Christen and Jorge Alted for Disney, it has now been approved under publication number US20160048609.

As they explain in the publication, there are already a number of existing 3D scanning solutions with an eye on creating a 3D printed replica, but they can do little more than produce low-resolution results. “The typical components of an accessory scanner for a 3D printer, e.g., a turntable, an image capture device and a plurality of light emitting devices, are generally only capable of generating a low resolution 3D digital model,” they write in the patent. “Therefore, it is very difficult and expensive to get a high quality, 3D printed copy of a scanned object.”

Of course the most logical way of increasing the resolution of 3D models is improving the scanning power of the 3D scanner in question, but this is a very costly solution that could take some time to realize. Disney thus seems to have found a way around the hardware solution by increasing the software side. In a nutshell, their technique revolves around a typical 3D scanner (with low resolution) that also acts as an object recognition system. “[It] performs object recognition directly or uses the 3D digital model generated by the 3D printer scanner […] to recognize the object that is being 3D printed, retrieves a high resolution 3D digital model based upon the recognized object, and performs 3D printing based upon the retrieved high resolution 3D digital model.”

In essence, they are effectively talking about setting up a very detailed database of 3D models. An object recognition algorithm matches the scan with an existing 3D model in their database, and 3D prints that rather than the actual 3D scan. “The process and system receive a second 3D digital model of the object from the server based upon a matching of the first 3D digital model and the second 3D digital model, the second 3D digital model having a higher resolution of the object than the first 3D digital model,” they write. This would obviously require a truly massive database that might be unrealistic to assemble, but it does make higher resolution 3D prints possible without upgrading the 3D scanner itself.

Of course, the actual Disney patent is far more detailed than that and covers all conceivable steps and of this detailed process to ensure no competitor can find a loophole. The only question is: will we actually see this interesting and useful technique come to life, or is it just a preemptive strike in a patent war surrounding 3D scanning and 3D printing? Time will tell.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Jason S. McMullan wrote at 2/22/2016 3:09:23 PM:

This is easy to understand why Disney would want this. As primitive 3D scanning becomes more accessible (ie 123D Catch and other smartphone apps), the number of low resolution versions of Disney copyrighted designs that are available on Thingiverse and other STL sites will increase. Disney can use this technology to automatically identify the infringing scans, and (depending on regional laws) either send DCMA style takedown notices, or (more likely) require that the object database site provide a link to "Disney(c) High Resolution Model - $1.99". These are steps between '504' and '505' in the flow chart that Disney is skipping over in the patent application.

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