Got an iPad? You may not know it yet, but that means you have a portable object duplicator in your hands. The key to unlocking its abilities is an app that lets you capture and create 3D renderings of objects in the real world. Once you've captured the object, it's super-simple to send the rendering to a 3D-printing service and have it made.
From Autodesk, the free app is called 123D Catch and is part of the company's suite of 3D graphics software. Autodesk previewed it before, but as of Wednesday morning it's live in the App Store, ready for download. There's already a desktop version of Catch, but the iPad version has the advantage of being tied directly to a camera.
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It works like so: Say you're at a friend's house and notice a fantastic vase that he got on a trip to China. Instead of trying fruitlessly to find a website that sells something similar, you just snap a couple of dozen photos of the vase, moving the camera slightly each time. It actually helps if the surface the vase is resting on and the background are as noisy as possible -- it helps the software track the position of the camera.
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Once you've got all your pics, you upload them to Autodesk's 3D cloud storage (called MyCorner), where servers crunch the numbers to create your 3D rendering of the vase. From there, you can send it off to be printed, but if you want to make some tweaks (was the diamond pattern too green?), a sister app called 123D Sculpt can help you with that.
One limitation: Since the object must stay in the same position while you photograph it, you won't be able to capture the bottom of it, at least on the first go-around. To get the full picture, you'd have to do a second rendering of the bottom, then merge the two with another piece of software called MeshMixer.
A desktop version of 123D Catch has existed for a while, but pairing the app with a portable device equipped with a camera is a natural move. We asked Autodesk if iPhone and Android versions are in the works, but they said there are no plans as of yet.
What do you think of using your iPad to capture objects for 3D printing? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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This story originally published on Mashable here.