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Green Building News

A New App Creates 3-D Scans

With an iPad, the manufacturer says, a user can produce accurate scans of an eight-room house in about 30 minutes

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Occipital's Structure sensor allows accurate modeling of house interiors much faster than taking measurements by hand and can be used to produce CAD files for remodeling.
Image Credit: All images: Occipital
Occipital's Structure sensor allows accurate modeling of house interiors much faster than taking measurements by hand and can be used to produce CAD files for remodeling.
Image Credit: All images: Occipital
The Structure sensor works in conjunction with the lens on the back of an iPad to produce detailed views of a room. 3-D images of house interiors can be turned into CAD drawings, a process that takes a couple of days.

A spatial sensing device mounted on an iPad, coupled with new software, lets a user produce 3-D scans of a house interior quickly and accurately.

The Occipital Structure infrared transmitter and sensor mounts to an iPad and plugs into its Lightning port, an article posted at WIRED said. Sweeping the sensor across the room gives it enough information to build a 3-D scan with an iOS app called Canvas. The scan provides a model of the space complete with distances between objects; no tape measure is required.

The equipment and software register thousands of measurements a second, the article said. The infrared sensors on the $380 device work with the camera lens on the iPad to capture depth of field and the relative positions of features in the room. The data can be submitted via the software for translation into a CAD file, a process that takes a couple of days.

Occipital co-founder Jeff Powers told the website it would take about 30 minutes to scan an eight-room house, with a per-room charge of $29 to turn the scans into a CAD. Powers said that contracting the same work to an outside firm would cost about $2,000.

The Structure sensor is made specifically for the iPad, but might be tweaked to work with other devices in the future, Powers said. A YouTube video explains how the device and software work.


  1. Chris B | | #1

    The thing that really bugs me about all these app startups is that they're more obsessed with creating an 'ecosystem' than providing useful products.

    $30 a room and several days to create a cad file? That doesn't work when you have no influence on the process and can't make them go back and fix what they got wrong.

    They should make the raw point cloud data available immediately (transfer to dropbox/onedrive/google drive) in a format that revit and other point cloud software can understand. Then this might be useful for professionals.

  2. Jeff Powers | | #2

    Raw data & CAD conversion
    Good points. We actually do make the raw point cloud (mesh) available immediately after scan. You can view it, perform measurements with it, and share it via email -- and there's no cost for that.

    One problem with free 3D tools is that they can become neglected over time if they don't generate any revenue to fund continued development. Our hope with the per-room CAD conversion charge is that we can use it to fund the continued evolution of Canvas, both the free features (point cloud, on-device measuring, sharing) as well as the paid ones (CAD conversion, server-based color model export). At the same time, we're hopefully saving people a lot of money per project by offering this CAD service at such a low price relative to more manual processes.

    Regarding your point about fixing things, we do take feedback, but can't guarantee a fix due to the relatively cheap cost per CAD model. On the plus side, we've had exceptionally positive feedback from the CAD we do export, and since it's in a simplified form (versus a raw mesh), it can be more easily tweaked after you receive it.

  3. Chris B | | #3

    Format and transfer methods?
    Thanks for the info.

    What file format is the data saved in? Basically I want to know if it can work with revit's point cloud tools - viewing and measuring in proprietary software doesn't really get me anywhere. If it works with revit comfortably I'll buy one tomorrow.

    Also - what do you do with a file that's too big to email? I can't imagine any kind of large house or much of any commercial structure being a small enough file to get under the 10-30MB limits most organizations have set up for email. And on that point, where do the limitations of the iPad come into play? The last project I had scanned was 900MB of point cloud files. I haven't used iOS devices in a while, but it seems likely to be problematic.

    Ideally there'd be scanner compatibility with Win10 as surface devices are far more common than iPads in the field.

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