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One of the things about making stuff is that I’m never sure what might be the best way to share our projects. But with the technology in our pockets getting better all the time, maybe the best way to let you experience one of our projects it to actually scan it and put it on the internet for you to see and download. Maybe even check it out in virtual reality. Folks, we live in the future and it is weirder than we ever could have thought.
Back in 2014 I wrote a blog post called “Turning Physical Memories into Digital Ones with Photogrammetry.” In it, I talked about using an old Autodesk app called 123D Catch to scan a craft the kids and I did for posterity. Well, the whole 123D line of apps is now gone, and ever since I’ve been looking for a quick and easy way to scan our stuff to share and keep it digitally long after the physical object itself is gone.
Enter Qlone by augmented reality company Eye Cue Technologies. It’s a free app for iOS and Android that, unlike other photogrammetry apps, uses a scanning mat and augmented reality to – in theory – make it quick, easy, and relatively painless to scan an object using only your phone.
So – how does it work?
First I downloaded the app on my Samsung Note 5. We printed the scanning mat from Qlone’s website and ran a quick calibration sequence. We placed the object to scan on the mat. Then, we circled the object until all the faces on the AR Dome were filled in. At this point in the process, the app processes the scan data and outputs a textured 3D object, which you can share to different online services or social media.
In practise, we had a little trouble on our first attempt. Turns out our initial calibration was a little off, and we simply could not get the scan to complete. It was almost impossible to fill in all the faces on the AR Dome and get a finished model. Since there’s no obvious way to re-calibrate, I had to uninstall and reinstall the app.
Once it was calibrated properly, scanning went much smoother and I scanned a small assortment of cool objects we had floating around. I found it much easier to throw the mat on a rotating cake plate and just spin the object around.
The results were extremely cool and also extremely mixed.
The good stuff is very good. The feedback you get during the scanning process is clear and direct, which is not the case for other apps I’ve tried. The AR Dome is a great way to visualize the scanning process, and there’s a little real-time voxel depiction of your object that builds as you scan, so if you’re getting terrible results right away you can stop the scan and try again. It’s really satisfying and joyful to take a scan in a way that other photogrammetry or scanning apps just don’t care about.
One thing the app does not tell you is that the AR Dome is the absolute limit of the scanning range, so to do anything larger than about five inches long you’ll need to print a larger scanning mat. Even scanning a banana for scale was out of the question on a letter-sized scanning mat. Look at what it did to a miniature terracotta warrior replica:
Something else I want to commend Qlone for is giving the option to do multiple scans of the same object from different angles to produce a better result. The fact that it can seamlessly match multiple views of the same object together is really cool, and must be computationally difficult. So – kudos. It solved a lot of mesh errors with the bust below:
After the scan, results on the other end are kind of disappointing. Now, huge caveat here – I’m using an older phone with an older camera and I suspect that the results would be better if I was on newer hardware. But I’m not, and not everyone has top-of-the-line phone cameras, so the results are what they are.
The objects that are produced by the app tend to be high-density meshes with very little actual surface detail, so if you’re looking to scan an object and then 3D print a facsimile that’s probably not happening. Similarly while the textures look OK from a distance, when you get up on them they look extremely processed and chunky. This soapstone carving gets particularly muddy in spots.
This is where that joyful user experience goes downhill fast. There are tools to refine and adjust your object, like smoothing, sculpting, flattening, etc. They are not fun to use and don’t give good feedback about what you’re doing or what the results are going to be. For example, it took a lot of fussing to even start to smooth out the flat surfaces on this scan of my watch. (In fairness, the app did an excellent job handling the reflective surfaces, but cleaning it up after the fact was a pain.)
And when you go to export an object to, say, Sketchfab, the feedback I was getting was just terrible. It gave me no indication of progress, and then told me “upload failed” when in fact I’d created about five copies of my watch on my Sketchfab account.
Other sharing options are better. A video shared to Facebook uploaded quickly, and uploading to my OneDrive account was painless, too. But it still lacked feedback so I knew exactly what was going on, and in the end, the quality of the videos aren’t excellent. There are a lot of other file formats and services you can upload to for a small in-app purchase that I haven’t messed around with yet, so maybe more on those options at a later date.
So to sum up, here are some first impressions of Qlone.
- Easy and surprisingly fun to scan stuff
- Great visual feedback during scanning
- Scanning multiple poses is brilliant and impressive
- Shares to Sketchfab as a textured object
- Shares to social media and elsewhere as a video
- Plenty of free features to get you started
- The resulting object doesn’t look great (at least on older hardware)
- Editing tools are not fun at all
- Sharing and exporting lacks feedback
So here’s where I am with Qlone: trying to answer the question of “what am I going to use this for?”
There are some obvious things I might want to use an app like this for. For me, scanning and 3D printing objects is an obvious one. But these 3D objects are nowhere near print-ready. Filmmaking is another possible application – for example, using Adobe After Effects’ built-in 3D capability to put objects into a scene. But on my poor old phone, the texture resolution you get just isn’t high enough to make that an option. Realistically, the thing I think I’d be using Qlone for is simply as a way to scan and share little curios and projects, for the time being. And there’s merit in that. But we’ll see what other trouble we can get into with it down the road.
All in all I’m excited to spend more time with Qlone and see it develop. And if you want to follow along, you can get me on Instagram at lovemakeshare. You can also see the scans I’ve done so far on my Sketchfab account at sketchfab.com/lovemakeshare and see more of everything I’ve mentioned here on the blog.
I hope you’ve been inspired – go make something!
And, as always, paddle your own canoe.