This past week our class was generously offered a chance to visit the Beckman Institute to gain access to object scanners that can be used to create digital representations of physical objects. The generous offer did entail a relatively large fee but education is priceless! Though it better be considering the price-tag to attend Illinois… The workshop was really interesting but it was especially useful for me since I got the lucky side of the coin and was in the half of the class that got to check out the scanner first and got the most facetime with the technology.
Travis, the coordinator of the visualization lab at Beckman, kicked our session off by giving a brief history of the lab and some of the cool projects they work on, including the digitization of the Alma Mater. The scanner itself is a behemoth and only cost around $75,000, a steal according to Travis! After familiarizing ourself with the facifilities, we all collectively chose an object to try out. Arielle offered up her racing glove (a plastic glove meant for propelling a racing wheelchair) as the object to scan. On a side note, the plastic glove is custom made and extremely difficult to replicate for racers. Having a digital copy of a good glove means the ability for a user to create multiple copies using 3D printing! Our coordinator soon got things on its way by starting the scan. We were able to watch the object materialize digitally on a monitor and everything looked great. Travis on the other hand did not seem too happy with the process and soon announced he would have to shut it down.
Troubles and Troubleshooting
So there were some issues. It was soon explained to us that the scanner requires a near opaque object in order to have a high fidelity result. The scanner shoots out beams and the beams are meant to bounce off and return to the computer. An object that is even slightly translucent, like the racing glove, doesn’t allow for the lasers to bounce off correctly. Travis stopped the whole process and decided to start from scratch. Funny enough, the way to fix the problem with the translucent glove was to spray it with talcum powder. This would make the object completely opaque for the scan and easily be washed off. The scan began again and we were at square one. By the time we had to leave we had only finished one rotation of the glove on the scanner plate.
Fast forward a week and now we’ve got the object to mess around with on GeoMagic. Pretty friggin sweet. Well not so sweet when I messed around with GeoMagic, but sweet to see what Travis, a seasoned veteran, was able to get done with it. The glove was beautifully fixed up and ready to be saved as a standard CAD file. Watching him play around with the $7,000 dollar software (that’s with a student discount, apparently) made me day dream about the kind of work the visualization lab at Beckman did on the Alma Mater. I’ll be attending EOH this Friday and will get a chance to see the digital version of Alma in all of her glory! As for my future use of scanning and GeoMagic? I may have to stick with the cheaper options..