Skip to main content

The best portable 3D scanner is about to get way more precise

The best portable 3D scanner is about to get way more precise


Lynx Laboratories' algorithms will make Occipital's Structure Sensor even better

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Occipital, the maker of the Structure Sensor, has acquired a company called Lynx Laboratories, one that launched its own mobile 3D scanner on Kickstarter a few years ago. The Lynx staff will join Occipital at its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado. But more importantly, Occipital now has access to algorithms developed by Lynx that make 3D depth mapping far more accurate than ever before — algorithms that will make the Structure Sensor even better.

Lynx's IP won't increase the resolution of the Structure Sensor, but it cuts back on the sensor mapping errors by up to 90 percent. Occipital says that initial tests reduced the error of its 3D depth maps from 5 inches down to 1/4 inch. "It’s a big deal for the idea of mapping your entire home," says Jeff Powers, Occipital's CEO. "Usually we're limited to an object, or an artifact, or a person. But this tech really lets us blow that out to something like a room."

The new tech will actually roll out to Structure Sensor owners as an update at some point in early 2016, probably not long after the company shows off the new capabilities at CES.

The increased performance will be a big deal, but anyone who's had one of these devices for a while is probably used to seeing it get better with age. "From the first time somebody had a Structure Sensor to what we can do with it now is just — you wouldn't think it's the same device," Powers says. "When we launched the structure sensor and people first received units they couldn't even capture things in color."

The Structure Sensor is the go-to product for easy 3D scanning

As months went by, things like color support and HD texturing were added, making the device more and more capable with time thanks to carefully constructed software updates. "With computer vision it's as much about the algorithms as it is about the inputs," Powers says.

The Structure Sensor isn't the kind of thing that you see every single day, but in situations where someone needs a 3D scan it's usually the go-to product. I had my head scanned by one at a 3D-printing festival earlier this year, and during a recent trip to the Museum of Natural History I saw it being used by a college professor to 3D-map dinosaur skeletons. If you watch closely, you can even see it being used during our look inside Industrial Light and Magic's secret Star Wars VR lab.

A scan of stairs done without (left) and with (right) the new, more accurate tech.

Eventually, 3D scanning could (and probably will) be a touted feature on your phone just like the camera or the voice assistant. This new tech from Lynx could help inspire that to happen even sooner, but for now, it helps Occipital distance itself from all that impending competition. Powers also says that it gives them a little more breathing room until the company needs to release new hardware.

The more immediate impact might be seen in virtual or augmented reality. After all, mapping a user's movements and their surroundings is hard, and is something we've seen universities dedicate entire rooms (and budgets) to. "I think building it into smartphones is obviously going to be huge, but also building it into wearable devices is really going to be interesting, like VR and AR headsets," Powers says. "But it's hard to say which will happen first."