The LEGO 3D scanner

March 26, 2009 // 10:01 a.m.

Tags: #3d-scanner #homebrew #lego #nxt #philo-hurbain #technics

If you never quite grew out of building things from LEGO, you'll be interested in Philo Hurbain's little creation: a working 3D scanner constructed entirely from the clever little plastic bricks.

As shown over on Make, the device is designed for use with the LDraw LEGO CAD application – specifically to make it easier for Hurbain to model complex LEGO parts in the software.

Constructed entirely from LEGO Technic parts – aside from a small needle used as the probe for the scanner – the device uses a linear actuator to convert the rotational movement of a motor into a linear movement which could be measured by the surprisingly high resolution LEGO NXT encoder.

The video of the device in action shows how the system moves the probe needle around the device and signals to the computer the points at which contact was made. A second movement module allows the object being scanned to move around and rotate, meaning the scanner can operate completely independently of human control. Using the data recorded by the NXT encoder, the scanner is able to provide a cartesian or cylindrical scan.

While the device is certainly neat – and full plans and source code is provided if you'd like to have a go – Hurbain admits that the device is somewhat slow, with a single scan taking “several hours” to complete. Despite this – and due largely to the fact that the device can be left running overnight – it still represents a significant improvement over measuring and modelling small parts by hand.

Tempted to create your own 3D scanner and create models of teeny-tiny objects, or are you simply in awe of how far LEGO has come since you played with it as a kid? Share your thoughts over in the forums.