Tech giants buying up technology for games and entertainment may have smaller companies scrambling to use leftovers for more serious applications.
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (COFES 2014) - The best 3D scan device was made with PrimeSense hardware. PrimeSense was bought by Apple in a $345M deal in November 2013.
One person not happy with this deal is Amir Rubin, CEO of Paracosm, a startup intent on using 3D scanning for engineering and architectural application. "Apple pulled the Primesense cameras off the market," says Amir. "Here was the best cheap scanner you could get. There are a lot of great products built using Primesense as the underlying platform. They even shut down the website. "
(picture from IEEE website)
PrimeSense 3D scanning hardware. Good, cheap, now unavailable after Apple bought company.
Amir's company used PrimeSense hardware to create 3D models or building interiors from scan data. "Primesense nailed the tradeoff of cost vs performance," he says "There aren't any viable (sub-$30,000) alternatives for acquiring 3D structural data readily available on the market. You can't get that kind of scan from point and shoot camera. You have to have a laser, an infrared laser. Photogrammetry [3D models from photos] gives no scale. That building is going to be the same size as... this candle holder," he says pointing to the candle holder on our table during closing night open bar at COFES.
Amir's company has managed, by hook and by crook, to stockpile a couple hundred PrimeSense devices. He seems to think the patented technology of PrimeSense prevents another company from making anything as good, as accurate, or as cheap.
What is PrimeSense?
PrimeSense makes the Capri, which is a 3D imaging signal processor on a chip.
(picture from 3D Systems)
It is used in the $399 Sense device sold by 3D Systems. How the Apple acquisition of PrimeSense affects the future of the Sense product is not known at this point.
Similar hardware was developed by Canesta, which was bought by Microsoft in 2010 for use in their Kinect gaming system. The acquisition cost was not disclosed but Canesta had been able to raise $60M from investors before Microsoft bought it. Microsoft is no stranger to billion dollar deals (it paid $1.4B for Visio in 2000).
Stakes Too High for CAD
A pity for Autodesk, who is trying to get into the 3D scanning in a big way with ReCap. With promising technology being gobbled up by tech giants at hyperinflated prices, what are CAD companies to do? Even the biggest CAD companies don't make $3B a year. One of the biggest deals in CAD -- Dassault buying SOLIDWORKS in 1997 for $316M -- was smaller than the PrimeSense acquisition. It's possible that Autodesk was in the running for PrimeSense but it's likely that Autodesk would have folded early as the stakes climbed.
Enough With the Toys - Let's Do This
It sucks to watch sky high deals being made for gamers and watching television (Apple won't say but rumors are it bought PrimeSense for remote control of its media box) leaving serious technology applications, from Paracosm to ReCap, out in the cold. But while the tech titans can afford to pay billions for toys they must have tomorrow, it is the CAD companies that have the tools and the time to put something together. Most technical professionals don't know they need 3D scanning right now. We have 6 months, a year, maybe more before demand builds up. Why not throw a skunk works design team together? A couple of engineers ought to do it. Tell them to put something together. Or how about sponsoring a maker contest? Sensors, IR transmitters, even microprocessors, are stuff of Radio Shack. An infrared beam emitted and detected, with the direction and the difference in time used to give position. The hardware is cheap. The Leap Motion device does that and it sells for $80. Then the rest of the magic is done in the software. How hard can this be? And who better than CAD companies to do software -- and have design tools?
Maybe this is a chance for CAD companies to actually make something, practice what they have been preaching. It beats crying in your beer about those big bad tech giants.
For More Information
- Google's 'Project Tango' Smartphone Uses Apple's PrimeSense Technology - MacRumors, April 16. 2014
- Sense by 3D Systems - corporate product page
- Paracosm - service that does 3D scans of interiors
- Leap Motion - $79 3D input device
- ReCap - 3D scanning by Autodesk