Laser scanning is a lot like photography.

Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_scanner

A 3D scanner is a device that analyzes a real-world object or environment to collect data on its shape and possibly its appearance (i.e. color). The collected data can then be used to construct digital, three dimensional models useful for a wide variety of applications. (...) While a camera collects color information about surfaces within its field of view, 3D scanners collect distance information about surfaces within its field of view. The “picture” produced by a 3D scanner describes the distance to a surface at each point in the picture.

Its important to realize that these machines work on a line of sight. It will almost always take more than one scan to get a complete picture of a room.

These scans have to be brought in a common reference system, a process that is usually called alignment or registration, and then merged to create a complete model. This whole process, going from the single range map to the whole model, is usually known as the 3D scanning pipeline.

When we used the Leica HDS4500 at the Federal Courthouse in Chicago, we used special targets to align all the scans. Some of them were simple paper printouts but others were magnetic paddles made to keep an absolute center while they could be rotated in different directions to keep the target facing the scanner as you move through a space.

To really make sure you have enough information about where the targets are, you take extra detailed scans of the target area. Then you put a dot on the place they are on screen and ask the computer to aquire them. It looks like this:


There are a wide range of laser scanners. Some are designed to record objects, some spaces, and some only for people. There are also some projects devoted to home-made laser scanning devices. The prices can range from under 100 € to 100 000 €.

There are many companies that offer different laser scanning solutions

High definition surveying and industrial models



desktop scanner for small models


home made


using photography to create 3d models



This is a home made laser scan


This is Naomi Campbell getting scanned by a fully body rig


another kind of full body scanner from Cyberware


This is what the cloud point data looks like before it's processed


Here's another example of cloud point data


this is a high definition surveying scanner for environments


Here I am using a Leica HDS4500 on loan from the Feds, laser scanning Logan Square park in Chicago. There was some kind of landscape painting event going on at the same time



A typical laptop and scanner set up


Stock laser medical images


Screenshot from the free David laser scan program


Example of a home laser scan system


heritage scanning project!


z-scanner handheld


a good example of the line of sight nature of 3d scanning, what you can't see you can't model!


Lets imagine a future with laser scanning and rapid prototyping that will let us reproduce everything all the time for everyone!