New 3D tech makes it easier for laymen to use

A new software developed by engineers here aims to make 3D technology more accessible, even to those with no computing or design experience.
Mr Murali led the team of engineers who came up with ReMake, a software that allows users to "scan" an object and build a 3D model of it, and then to modify, share or 3D print it, all on one platform.
Mr Murali led the team of engineers who came up with ReMake, a software that allows users to "scan" an object and build a 3D model of it, and then to modify, share or 3D print it, all on one platform.ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

It will help those with no design, computing savvy; also works with ordinary cameras

With advancements in 3D technology, it could soon be possible to print clothing at home or create customised prosthetics.

But even as 3D technology looks set to revolutionise people's lives, many may find it daunting to use.

However, a new software developed by engineers here aims to make it more accessible, even to those with no computing or design experience.

ReMake will be launched by technology firm Autodesk this month. The software allows users to "scan" an object and build a 3D model of it, and then to modify, share or 3D print it, all on one platform.

The user will also not need expensive, state-of-the-art scanners to capture the intricate details in an object, say, a statue. A point-and-shoot camera or camera- phone will do.

The user takes photographs of the statue from different angles, and ReMake will stitch them into a 3D model, which could have more than 100 times the detail of 3D images in video games or movies.

ReMake is the brainchild of a team of 10 engineers from the research and development branch of Autodesk Singapore's reality solutions division, led by senior manager for software development Murali Pappoppula, 43.

He said: "There are many professionals out there who may not be as comfortable with 3D technology as a CAD (computer-aided design) professional, but need to use the technology to finish their jobs, or to come up with new ideas."

For example, those who work in museums may want to capture and document artefacts in 3D. Compared to a 2D image, such as a photograph or painting, a 3D model has more detail, colour and texture.

3D technology is not new, and has been used in places such as research laboratories.

"But what was needed was something as powerful as professional software, yet easy to use, so a user does not have to be trained. The software should also work on tools that a user already has, and not require constant upgrades," said Mr Murali.

The team came up with the first prototype in 2013, after eight months of work.

But it was a challenge to capture reality. When objects are scanned at high resolution using digital cameras and scanners, a staggering amount of data is generated.

Photogrammetry - which involves taking several photographs of an object from different positions with significant overlap - could help process the data. But it is usually used with images taken by sophisticated cameras.

ReMake makes photogrammetry more accessible with its ability to process data from photographs taken with any camera.

"Each photograph overlaps the next by 70 to 80 per cent, and we found that it is this overlap which helps the algorithm create the 3D model," Mr Murali said. The software identifies the overlapping points of the images, and uses that data to create the 3D model.

Remake requires the user to take about 1,000 photographs to produce a 3D model, but Mr Murali believes this need not be a problem for users, who are "already taking many photographs with their mobile phones and cameras".

Associate Professor Tor Shu Beng, a researcher at Nanyang Technological University's (NTU's) Singapore Centre for 3D Printing, noted that 3D modelling technology has been around since the mid-1960s.

It gained traction recently due to the availability of affordable 3D printers and scanners as well as the advancement and adaptation of laser technology.

On Autodesk's new software, Prof Tor, who is from NTU's School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, said: "It is certainly a good and convenient way to capture images and to create 3D models in both soft and hard copy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'New 3D tech makes it easier for laymen to use'. Print Edition | Subscribe