Polycam: 3D Scanning Made Easy

3D scanning has long been reserved to those who can afford expensive equipment. This remains true for high quality imagery (costing at least around a thousand USD for low-end desktop scanners up to tens of thousands of dollars for industrial-grade devices). The mobile application Polycam allows users to create 3D scans using the camera of the smartphones, thus drastically reducing the upfront costs.

Example of a drone-made scan

When used on a drone, the program delivers a proper 3D render of the terrain and buildings and supports integration with popular design software (AutoCAD, Unity, Sketchup…). It even allows LiDAR imaging on high-end phones that are equipped with the corresponding sensor. The Pro version adds a plan tool that generates top-down views of scanned buildings.

Example of an automatically generated plan

Once an item is scanned and uploaded, it can also be georeferenced. This opens new possibilities in participatory mapping processes on a much larger scale. However, one must recognize that this application will not replace (yet?) professional scanning solutions, as it falls short of the technical requirements, especially regarding level of details and detection of depth. After all, the result is limited by the camera onboard a mobile phone. Nonetheless, it remains a practical and affordable alternative to conventional scanners, if not simply a very fun tool to use.

Notice the measurement tool showing the scale of the scanned item