Microsoft demos 3D scanning mobile app in hopes of making it easier to 3D print

You have a 3D printer, but you don’t want to drop an additional $1,000 on a 3D scanner to start creating digital models of real-life objects. What do you do?

The camera in your phone actually makes for a decent scanner. Microsoft Research debuted an application for mobile phones  this week that builds a digital 3D model from imagery gathered while you pan your phone around an object.

“When people want to fabricate something, determining what kind of (tool to use) is a key problem,” Microsoft Research scientist Jiawei Gu said in a release. “If we can find an easy way for common users to create 3D content by themselves, we can imagine that, in the next five years, everybody will be able to create 3D content.”

The scientists said that as 3D printing becomes more popular, people will not be satisfied working with existing designs that can be downloaded from sites like Thingiverse. Instead, they will look to recreate objects they already see around them.

The software works by sending the object scan to the cloud, where it is constructed into a 3D shape. After about half a minute, it is sent back to the user’s phone, where they can then save it or send it to a 3D printer.

“If you have scanned somebody’s face, you can print out a cup with the face, for yourself or as a gift for a friend,” Gu said in the release. “If you go to a furniture store and see something nice, you can use a mobile phone to scan the furniture and put it into your home environment to see if it would fit.”

Microsoft hasn’t said if or when it will release the software to the public and what kinds of phones will be compatible. If they do release it, it would directly compete with Autodesk 123D Catch, an app that creates 3D models from photos snapped by the user. Microsoft has slowly been making a push into 3D printing with moves like printing compatibility built into Windows 8.1 and selling MakerBots in its stores.