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Raspberry Pi 3D full-body scanner interview

We talk to Richard Garsthagen about why he needs 40 Raspberry Pis to take a picture of you

How did you get started creating these practical projects and working with the Raspberry Pi?

“In the last five to six years I began working with 3D printers and CNC machines. I started to build stuff, such as furniture and gadgets, and my first Raspberry Pi project was the Pi Snap Box. It’s the size of a mini-PC and is a box you put on the wall with one button on it. If you press the button, it takes three photos. It posts the first photo to a Facebook account for whoever the box belongs to. So for example, if you hang it up in a hairdresser’s salon and get your hair done all nicely, people could then see the good results on the hairdresser’s Facebook page.

This is good commercially to attract visitors, but we’ve had one of those boxes in my home for a year now, and my son has been posting pictures of himself to Facebook on his own for the past year. That was my first Pi camera project, and I really fell in love with the camera as it’s easy to use and very low cost. That gave me the idea that if one was so cheap, I could scale it up to 40 at least.”

The Raspberry Pi camera allowed Garsthagen to set exposure, ISO and shutter speed like a manual camera
The Raspberry Pi camera allowed Garsthagen to set exposure, ISO and shutter speed like a manual camera

What gave you the idea to create the Pi 3D scanner in the first place?

“I have to say that as I have kids in my life I have a lot of challenges I’d like to do – kids give you a lot of reasons to build projects. As for my 3D scanner, my youngest kid is two, and of course there are lots of methods out there to do 3D scanning. But pretty much all of them [require you] to sit still, and my two-year-old does not sit still, I can tell you that! So I really wanted them to be able to be actual 3D scans and then print my youngest son.

I was aware that Hollywood did this with multiple cameras, but it is very, very expensive to do – typically they use 80-100 cameras, costing about $1,500 plus all the other gear. I could buy a house for that!”

What made you decide to use the Pi Camera over standard digital cameras? Surely they wouldn’t be much more than a Pi and Camera board together?

“I started researching that, thinking maybe I could buy a cheap digital camera, very cheap, with an eye at $40 to $50 for each camera. I probably could wire them up so that I could automatically synchronise them, but then I would still have the problem of all the images sitting on all the SD cards in each camera. With the Raspberry Pi, at the time I had only one, it had a camera and it was network connected so I could see its potential.

One thing I liked a lot about the Raspberry Pi camera was that I could set full shutter speed, exposure, ISO settings like a manual camera. Plus I could upload, fully automatically, all the images, so the whole process was completely automated. You hit the button, all the cameras take an image, they send a copy to a central file server where you can either render the 3D image yourself locally or send it to Autodesk’s free cloud software to turn it into a 3D model.”

How have you been able to use the scanner so far? How much time does it need to develop an image?

“We went to the Maker Faire in Gronigen where we allowed everyone to get a scan of themselves for free – and the system worked extremely well. Taking the images to create the 3D object takes a second – less than a second actually.”

Further reading

To learn more about the 3D Scanner and where you might see it next, visit the official website.