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How To Create Quick, Affordable 3D Renderings Of Rooms (If It Was Doable)

PROJECT: Matterport 3-D scanner
GOAL: Create quick, affordable 3-D renderings of rooms

There's a big market for making 3-D models of interior spaces—for architects, party planners, realtors, and others. But laser scanners require lots of technical know-how and can cost $150,000. Why not use a far cheaper, friendlier device: Microsoft's Kinect?

At first, Matterport turned a Kinect into a small, handheld scanner that a user waved precisely throughout a room. But beta testers wanted something an untrained staffer could handle. So Matterport created this:

This is the overhead view of a 3-D room scan. It required three scans (dots indicate where the tripod was), so that the machine could see every angle. That's 72 seconds of scanning. Stitching together the 2,160 photos took another minute.

Remaining challenges
Provide hosting
"I don't ever want someone to think, Oh god, I have to engage a consultant to do my post-processing," says Matterport's Mike Beebe. So the company is developing a website that will import all scans, allowing users to navigate, annotate, and alter them without 3-D software.

Price it right
Matterport will sell the hardware and offer subscriptions to its cloud-based processing, but it hasn't decided yet on all pricing plans. Instead, it's waiting to see how its beta testers use the device so it knows what industries (and price points) to target.

Toughen up
Matterport is anticipating all the places its tripod will be used—from deserts to dirty rooms—and the many ways it's likely to be knocked over. That way, it can design casing to offer the most protection.

Future Plans
Matterport is still in beta testing but aims to release a version of the scanner by the end of the year.

How it works
The scanner takes photos. Software stitches them together based on image overlaps. By design it has no sensors to orient it in a room: "The software algorithms will only get better and cheaper. Positioning hardware will always be expensive," says Matterport marketing director Matt Beebe.

1) Two Kinect-style devices (now a hardware derivative called Xtion, made by Asus) can capture 3-D pictures at 30 frames per second.

2) Hit a button and the tripod spins for 24 seconds to capture a room in 360 degrees.

3) A connected iPad shows the scan as it develops.


A version of this article appeared in the September 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.