3D Body Scanners: What They are and How They Work

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Nowadays, data can be more valuable than any currency. With the advanced processing power we now have, we can analyze trends of data at volumes that were previously impossible. Big data analysis has been harnessed to solve a lot of our world’s problems, including healthcare. One way in which this data can be collected is through the use of 3D body scanners.

3D body scanners are a relatively new thing and are certainly considered a novelty, making it a doubly curious technology. How does it work and what is it used for?

What are 3D body scanners?

A 3D body scanner is basically just a 3D scanner meant to be used to create 3D models of the human body. There’s really nothing different in the technology behind a desktop 3D scanner and a 3D body scanner except the scale of their operations.

3D body scanners create models by collecting spatial data of individual points in the human body and connecting them via splines or planes. The resolution and quality of the model may vary based on several conditions, including how visible the features are, how many data points are being collected, and the 3D modeling algorithm that the scanner users. In any case, the results of 3D body scanning is a fully navigable and infinitely measurable 3D model of a human body.

What are 3D body scanners used for?

3D body scanning technology allows us to quantify the field of human body analysis. Imagine knowing the curvature around your pinky finger or drawing a perfect profile of your face. The thousands of data points collected in a body scan can be analyzed, combined, and modeled to produce information that is useful for various industries.

Healthcare

health care

The healthcare industry is at the forefront of attempting to leverage 3D body scanning technology for advanced diagnostics and patient monitoring. While 3D body scanners cannot record vital signs and don’t have any X-ray capability, they can capture very subtle changes in the patient’s body shape and size.

Combined with other diagnostic tools, 3D body scanners can be used to track the progress of patients under study or to detect illnesses early. Has the tumor-like growth increased in size over the last couple of weeks? How is the pregnancy of this woman progressing? With 3D body scanners, we can answer those questions with concrete numbers and not just visual observations.

Clothing design

Imagine being able to order a custom suit without even having to physically visit the tailor. This is the driving vision behind the use of 3D body scanners in the fashion and garment industries. Since 3D body scanners convert the shape and size of your body into digital data, it can also be shared with anyone in the world.

Anthropologic research

Concerns over the privacy of 3D body data are understandable, but would you consider contributing your data in the name of science? The ability to make an unlimited number of extremely intricate measurements on 3D data may pave the way to a new era of anthropology. Are there subtle differences in the skull shape and size of people from different ethnicities? What does this say about the process of human evolution?

With the help of thousands of data points collected from millions of people, there’s bound to be several new discoveries about the history and biology of humans if we can properly harness 3D body scanning technology.

3D-printed selfies

Now, here’s something fun – have you ever wanted an accurate miniature figure of yourself? With 3D body scanning partnered with 3D printing, you can probably get one in just a few hours. These make great souvenirs and tokens and would surely be a hit in a crowd. The capital expense for putting up such a business is quite high, but this is an idea that is still quite uncommon and is a venture that is ripe for the taking.

How do they work?

All 3D scanning technologies are based on the concept of collecting data from real-world objects and converting them into data points. Each point in the object is associated with a location in 3D space, after which all the points are connected to create a coherent surface. These are common goals for 3D body scanners, but different technologies may take different approaches.

Photogrammetry

3d model

Photogrammetry is the simplest method of 3D body scanning because it doesn’t require sophisticated equipment. All you need is a good high-resolution camera and a means to move it around the person you are scanning.

This technique works by taking multiple photos of an object from different angles with the objective of ensuring that the photos have significant overlapping areas with each other. The number of photos needed and the angles from which they will be captured is typically dictated by the photogrammetry software being used.

The same software will then take all these overlapping photos and attempt to reconstruct a 3D model. Think of it like the old-fashioned stereoscope, which is simply a pair of overlapping photos that create the illusion of depth when viewed together. In this case, however, you have potentially hundreds of overlapping images.

The benefit of photogrammetry, aside from the accessibility of the technology, is that it’s a very fast method for 3D body scanning. Some companies that offer this service claim that a full-body scan can be done in less than 10 seconds with photogrammetry.

However, lighting has to be perfect for photogrammetry to work properly. Otherwise, you may miss out on features that are not immediately visible to the camera.

Structured light

In structures light 3D scanning, a light source continuously emits light on the object, The light then reflects off the object towards a receiver, which notes the angle at which the reflected light was received. This is done several times for every pre-programmed point in the object being scanned.

While structured light scanning typically results in higher resolution 3D models, the technology is also generally more expensive. The scanning process also takes more time since the whole process of light emission and reception has to be repeated for each one of the pre-programmed points. This is a very challenging proposition in 3D body scanning, as any significant movement in the subject could result in the model being ruined.

The limitations of 3D body scanning technology

As many of you can probably already tell, 3D body scanners are still far from common, even for high-end medical or research institutions. What challenges does the technology still have to overcome before it can be used at a wider scale?

Cost

money

For such a novel technology, it’s not surprising that 3D body scanners are still very expensive. Most 3D body scanners have price tags that start $5000, with some even hitting figures closer to $40,000. As with any technology, we can expect 3D body scanners to become cheaper as they become more common.

Right now, NakedLabs is already selling a 3D body scanner meant for home or personal and only costs less than $1500. If home-use 3D body scanning technology proves to be a hit, we can expect more brands to come up with their own cheap versions.

High processing power needed

3D modeling is a very resource-intensive process that requires the handling of thousands of data points. Aside from the cost of the scanner itself, you will also need to have a very powerful computer to process the data you’ve collected from a scan. Such a computer would also be quite expensive.

Companies that offer 3D scanning software have managed to get around this problem by doing processing and modeling in the cloud. Under this scheme, the data points are uploaded on the company’s server where modeling is done using their powerful processors. This has made 3D scanning accessible to more people, even if they don’t own sophisticated hardware.

Can only scan visible areas

A 3D body scanner relies purely on optical sensors whether in a camera or as a light receptor. This means that it’s limited in scanning features and areas that are normally visible to our eyes. Thus, any hidden areas in the human body cannot be captured in the 3D model. It also cannot penetrate the skin, which is limiting in its use in the healthcare industry.

The scanning process isn’t perfect

The accuracy of a model created from 3D body scanning isn’t just a function of the quality of the scanner. There are several other factors that come into play, making the scanning process imprecise and difficult to repeat. Some of these factors include the lighting conditions, how snug the clothes of the subject are, and how well the subject can hold a fixed position while the scan is ongoing. Thus, there’s an exceptional level of skill that needs to be achieved before 3D body scanning can be for fields that require measurements with very high accuracy and precision.

Where can I buy them?

If you’re looking for a 3D body scanner that’s affordable and can be used at home, then we have bad news for you: the technology hasn’t quite matured to that level yet. Most 3D body scanners available today are meant to be used at a professional or research setting, and the price tags reflect as much. Just to give you a good sampling of what these scanners are capable of and how much they cost, here is a short list of the most popular models:

1. TC2 Labs TC2-21B

Price: $30,000

The TC2 Labs 3D body scanner is among some of the most advanced scanners available today. Aside from the sophisticated photogrammetry technology, the design of TC2 Labs also focuses on improving the user experience. It is a chamber-type body scanner that provides privacy, even if the scanning had to be done without clothes. This makes it excellent for use in the field of medical research and diagnostics. With an integrated changing room and a touchscreen interface, the whole scanning process can be done with minimal operator intervention.

2. Artec Shapify Booth

Price: $39,000

This 3D body scanner on the go has been making the rounds of conventions in the last couple of years, allowing people to experience the possibilities of 3D body scanning technology. The Shapify booth has four wide-angle 3D scanners that revolve around the person, capturing shots from all the essential angles in just 12 seconds. When the booth shows up in these events, it comes integrated with a 3D printer so that people can go home with their very own 3D-printed selfies. More impressively, the whole process – from posing to printing – only takes 15 minutes. With the Shapify booth being made available in major tourist spots and malls around the US and UK, Artec has contributed a great deal to spreading awareness about 3D body scanning technology.

3. Fit3D ProScanner

Price: $10,000

As its name implies, the Fit3D ProScanner is designed primarily for use in gyms and health clubs as a means for fitness tracking and diagnostics. It can do a complete 3D scan in just 40 seconds, after which it generates a posture analysis and an overall wellness score based on body shape. Combined with body composition analysis, the Fit3D ProScanner has to be one of the most comprehensive tools for wellness tracking.

4. Naked Labs Full Body Scanner

Price: $1395

The full-body scanner from the Naked Labs has probably become the most famous body scanner and has been covered by various tech-related websites in the last two years. What makes it unique is that it costs only $1395, making it a viable 3D body scanner for personal and home use. It’s also remarkably compact: all it takes is a full-length mirror and rotating platform to allow cameras to capture you from all angles.

Naked Labs have gone the extra mile to improve the user experience for this body scanner and give it extra value. Right now, you can use the 3D models generated by Naked Labs to shop for clothes or for general fitness tracking.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that 3D body scanning technology has massive potential. It can change the way we shop for clothes and allow manufacturers to design more ergonomic tools for regular use. More than its potential for wellness tracking, body scanning will give researchers a way to create a database of human morphology and relate this to our history and evolution.

However, this technology is still very young. With such a small user base, it can be argued that it hasn’t even entered the stage of early adoption. There’s still a lot of growth that the technology needs to go through – it remains to be seen if the growth will continue, or if it stalls somewhere along the way.