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New Tech: Expectations and Aspirations for the Structure Sensor

I simultaneously love and hate getting new computer hardware.

I suspect that the “love” part is easy to understand for some, and I suspect that everyone who doesn’t fall into that category understands the “hate” part just as much.

Now, to be fair, I have to concede that the “love” part is usually a lot louder, but there are some types of computer hardware that make me inherently nervous. Usually, this is the kind of hardware I’ve not really played around with much yet and have done more or less okay without: my first graphics card not built as part of the motherboard, my first CD-ROM, my first cell phone. These are all examples of things that I acquired pretty late in the game, and to be fair, that worked out in my favor more than once. After all, one must make a fair share more money than I ever have to be a habitual early adopter. There are always problems with new hardware and software that need to be worked out, there’s always the question of long-term viability (although, to be fair, I do still own several ZIP disks…), and ultimately I have to wonder about the utility of things. I’ve lived without whatever it is up to this point…do I really need it now that it’s easily available to me?

Here I am, though, looking at the Structure Sensor from the folks at Occipital, knowing that I don’t know the first thing about 3D scanning, let alone 3D printing or CAD, and yet I’m going to be buying one tonight.

Again, it’s probably pretty easy to see why I would be excited about such a product; it captures physical objects and renders them as a digital model in near- real-time, making it possible for everyday folks to begin capturing the world around us so we can manipulate it in a computer environment. This has implications for the work I’m doing on my dissertation, of course, but more than even that, I’m excited because this is a totally new frontier for me. I can scan my apartment and always have a “copy” of the space with me in case I need to measure something, for instance.

Likewise, though, I’m afraid that I don’t know what I’m getting myself into. Will this thing be worth the nearly $500 I’m going to drop on it? Will I be able to make use of it, or will I need to rely on friends to help me get the data I capture into some sort of usable form? Will I just break it?

Who knows?

In order to make a better, clearer assessment of what I get out of the device, I figured the best thing I can do is make a clear list of all the things I expect out of this piece of hardware before I even order it. Then, when I get it and use it, I can more readily look back with objective eyes and see exactly how much of what I thought I was going to get I got. Forgive me for dropping to a list here; it’s just easier to keep up.

  1. I expect to be able to scan objects as well as rooms and have both come through with decent quality.
  2. I expect to be able to take the data I collect and make use of it outside of the software that comes with the device
  3. I expect to be able to take my models and print them on a 3D printer.
  4. I expect to be able to easily map photos from the device camera onto the models and save them that way.
  5. I also expect to be able to offer these models for others to look at online with relative ease and a plugin or two.
  6. I expect to use the iOS operating system for some, if not all, of the work I do in Exeter, but it would be nice to not have to do that.
  7. I expect that I should be able to put the rooms I scan into some sort of VR framework without too much trouble.
  8. I expect to be able to use this information in some way as a Digital Humanities element to my dissertation.

Separately, I also have a list of things I’d like to see in the device. These are like cupholders in a new car; they’re not really dealbreakers on their own, but getting what I want now is going to make me a lot happier down the road.

  1. I really hope that this thing doesn’t destroy battery life
  2. I’d also like it very much if the “hacker cable” that I’m going to get for my PC was of decent enough quality that it’ll last several years. (It’s a $39 cable!)
  3. I hope that the big bad software package I’m ordering will interface directly with the scanner, not just in the remote manner that the website touts.
  4. I’d really like to see a lot more going on in the support forums since I’ll be using this device on a PC.
  5. I hope it can scan through glass

In any case, we’ll see how well the Structure Sensor stacks up to my little need- and wishlist here when I get both the device and the tablet/computer on which it’ll run (I’ll be borrowing an iPad for the trip if I can’t get the device to work on my new Surface). I hope this turns out like a lot of the great tech I’ve played with in the past: an amazing piece of kit that finds its way into my repertoire and changes aspects of the way I think in order to keep that space.

It certainly has the potential to do just that.

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