Awesome Stuff: 3D Photography For All

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One of the oft-touted features of 3D printers, especially in the early days, was the ability to scan an object and reproduce it. But as the printers themselves have become cheaper and more accessible, the focus seems to have shifted to downloadable and shareable designs, with little attention being paid to the scanning devices that help complete the “replicator” vision of our 3D printing future. This week we’re looking at Bevel, an low-cost device that brings 3D scanning to any smartphone.

The Good

The most immediately noticeable thing about Bevel is the price. Some personal 3D scanners exist in the range of thousands of dollars, and a growing number in the range of hundreds, but I’ve never seen one that clocks in at a mere $50 like the Bevel. And this isn’t something that produces faux-3D images with some forced depth — it’s a proper scanning laser that works in concert with a smartphone’s existing camera to build a true 3D model of an object. The resultant models are 3D-printing compatible (though likely not without some care and tweaking, as is generally the case) and quite impressively detailed for such a small, low-cost device. Interestingly, the Bevel is not a USB/Lightning peripheral, but rather uses the headphone/microphone jack — which is great for compatibility, though it does mean it needs to be separately charged since it can’t draw power from the phone.

The Bad

The Bevel does appear to be tied down to a proprietary app, though for such a smartphone-specific device requiring presumably quite complex software, that’s not a huge shock. I’d love to see more interoperability in smartphone peripherals, and the separation of device drivers from specific apps, but it’s hard to lay the blame for that solely at Bevel’s feet. More curious and concerning is their insistence on trademarking the term “Genuine 3D” to describe Bevel’s photos. While I understand the desire to differentiate Bevel from apps that create a fake 3D photo effect, trying to turn the concept of a proper 3D scan/photo combination into a trademarked brand name seems unnecessary and potentially problematic, given that it’s a function and a type of media that is going to become increasingly commonplace.

The Creepy

Bevel’s 3D photos are quite impressive. It can capture very complex objects, even people, with a high level of detail. But… the results when it comes to people, while technically appreciable, are creepy as hell. I totally understand the desire to show off the Bevel’s capabilities, but using terrifying renderings of their team members as flagship examples is an odd choice. I can see lots of uses for the Bevel, but their marketing material seems to suggest the most popular will be capturing moments with friends, which I frankly doubt unless your friends are already wrinkly zombie creatures.

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