Designing a 3D image of an object for use with additive manufacturing (AM) can be a time-consuming project. You can find fairly simple CAD programs, but these aren’t likely to offer the kind of detail necessary for anything beyond toys or for replacing that missing rubber bit from the end of a chair leg. Some of these programs are even available for mobile devices.
Using a 3D scanner speeds up the process of creating a CAD model, but most scanners aren’t what I’d call affordable for the average consumer. Rapid Ready covered a handheld scanner from Artec with the reasonable price of $16,000. Reasonable for companies, that is, less so for someone with a MakerBot.
Autodesk has come to the rescue of the maker community and AM hobbyists with its new app for the iPhone, 123D Catch. The app uses information gleaned from photographs to construct a 3D image of whatever you are trying to create. This does require the user to circle his target, snapping away with the iPhone the entire time, so a steady hand and accommodating terrain are required. Oh, did I mention 123D Catch was free?
Not only is the app free, it comes with online support on the 123D website. The website offers tutorials, allows you to browse images submitted by other users and offers printing services for people without a 3D printer. The service bureau angle even offers multiple material options.
I think this kind of service is a boon to the hobbyist AM community and is also good for raising awareness about the technology. Sure, the app is a lure to hook customers into spending money on other Autodesk products, but I don’t see any problem with that. I have game apps that want real cash for virtual objects, so why not pay for something I can actually touch?
Below you’ll find a video about 123D Catch.