Startup Offers Volumetric Video and 3D Scan with Phone
Tourists who are after an Augmented Reality (AR) experience in New Orleans can usually be found staggering the streets of the French Quarter, clutching “go cups” filled with fluorescent-colored Hurricanes and Hand Grenades. But just 20 minutes away, in a more sober corner of the city, a scrappy little startup called Scandy is developing 3D scanning technology that co-founder Charles Carriere hopes will play a role in nudging AR, Virtual Reality (VR) and related technologies further into the mainstream.
While our visit to the Big Easy primarily focused on finding Creole food and anything with crawfish, we decided to break up all that gluttony with a little bit of work. Carriere kindly agreed to an interview and demo at his HQ just off historic Lee Circle where his company is also involved in some cool collaborations. More on that later.
Origin Story of the 3D Scan with Phone
We first noticed the 3D printers from Markforged, Formlabs, and others, in the white-walled industrial space. It turns out that Scandy is something of a byproduct of another startup founded in 2014 by Carriere and co-founder Cole Wiley called Entrescan. The original premise was to build a 3D-scan-to-3D-print application, according to Carriere. Long story short, Entrescan eventually became a 3D printing company. More on that later.
Meanwhile, the duo and a small team were also continuing to work on middleware for 3D scanning applications, eventually getting to the point where third-party developers could drop about “10 lines” of Scandy code into an app to solve computer vision problems associated with bringing depth into a 3D scanning application.
Carriere, Wiley, and company spent about two years developing their software, Scandy Core, in close collaboration with a company called PMD Technologies, which was building 3D depth sensors for devices related to Google’s Project Tango. Tango, you might recall, was another one of those Google programs where a bunch of big brains spend endless months doing espresso IV drips while attempting to create a moonshot technology. In the case of Tango, the company was trying to build an AR computing platform to enable mobile devices to support a range of cool applications such as 3D scanning and 3D mapping.
Alas, what Google giveth, Google can taketh away. Such was the case with Tango, which the tech giant shut down in early 2018. That left Scandy, which had been talking to device manufacturers about integrating Scandy Core with the Tango platform, without a solid customer base. The startup, which has raised $1.7 million to date, survived long enough for Apple to release the iPhone X with its built-in TrueDepth for facial recognition.
A Mobile 3D Scanner
It turns out that the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone X also doubles as a great mobile 3D scanner in conjunction with the Scandy 3D Pro app, which was released last June. In 30 seconds or less, users of any (or nil) experience level can create and save a detailed “mesh” of an object or person’s face using the phone front-facing camera. Want custom-fit sunglasses? It’s possible, for example, to take precise measurements of your face with a few taps on the screen. And it all happens right on the device, without the need of any cloud-based processing. In addition, the company’s first 3D scanning app for the iPhone X, Cappy AR 3D Scanner, allows users to create and play with 3D scans in AR.
“The iPhone X is really a game changer for us, because for the first time you had tens of millions of units,” Carriere says. “That’s a market it makes sense to develop for.”
We actually first wrote about 3D scanner technology a couple of years ago. We came across five startups mainly working on the hardware end of the market. For example, on the mobile front, there is Occipital, a company out of Boulder, Colorado, that makes 3D scanners that plug right into an iPad. The company has more than tripled its funding since our original article, raising a total of $71 million, including a $38 million venture round last November. In fact, Scandy had developed software for Occipital’s Structure Sensor, among others, as it waited for the Apple release.
“By default, we had to build up a system that was sensor agnostic and platform agnostic,” Carriere explains. “So it allowed us to move very quickly when the iPhone X was released.”
Currently, there aren’t enough Android devices with the requisite sensor hardware to support an app outside of the iOS world, according to Carriere. As soon as there are, he says, Scandy will be ready to release an Android version of its Scandy Pro. Meanwhile, the company is busy on its next application – volumetric video.
Mobile Volumetric Video for Phone
The app, still in beta, is called Hoxel. This is where we get into Princess Leia hologram territory – people communicating in 3D. For instance, maybe you want to send your friend a quick voice message to congratulate her on graduation day. A few clicks on the app, hit send, and there you are in the room with her, delivering the message. It is also possible to live stream volumetric video. Take a look:
Says Carriere: “The problem is 2D content has become ubiquitous, bland, and not terribly engaging. So, if I can interact with somebody in 3D, if I can interact with someone in their space as opposed to my space, does that make communication more interesting, more engaging, or for people to more likely to interact than they would otherwise?”
Other use cases might include 3D volumetric video as an education platform or as a way for so-called social media influencers to turn more eyeballs on them. The audience is already there, Carriere argues. About a half-billion mobile devices are already AR-enabled, according to VentureBeat.
“I think the ability to capture in 3D and create in 3D is going to generate its own interesting set of problems and challenges, and the people that get up the learning curve the fastest are the ones who are going to be able to generate the most traction,” Carriere says. “It’s like the early days of the guys that figured out how to really engage with people on YouTube or on Instagram. We’re hopeful that we can be a tool for folks to want to engage the early adopters on augmented reality and virtual reality platforms.”
Beyond 3D Scanning
Scandy is also looking at making impacts in the real world by taking a lead in the New Orleans startup scene, specifically in 3D printing and advanced manufacturing. In collaboration with the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation, which owns the building Scandy occupies, the company is helping manage a co-working space focused on tenants who are makers and creators. Occupants will have access to both Entrescan’s bank of 3D printers and another workshop outfitted with everything from laser cutters to industrial sewing machines.
“So basically, if you’re making a prototype in the city, if you’re building a product, then this is going to be the coworking space that makes sense for you to plant your flag because you’re going to have a budget in both of these labs every month,” Carriere says.
Carriere envisions educational programs around design, 3D design, and even carpentry. Small-scale mock-ups of some of the furniture planned for the second-floor space were done in-house, for example. “There are a lot of skill sets that we don’t have enough of in this country and we want to find a way to promote that and create that,” Carriere says. “We’re trying to be part of transitioning the New Orleans economy toward more manufacturing, toward more of a diverse economy.”
One of the great things about writing for Nanalyze is that we get to travel the world, eat awesome food, and write about amazing technologies – not necessarily in that order. It also reminds us that interesting entrepreneurs don’t have to raise mega-rounds to develop ideas into a viable business, while also building equity into something equally important – community. And who doesn’t want to scan themselves into a VR game of Star Wars and say, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”