Tech Watch: Autonomy in Scanning

“Our scan system is able to measure any component, irrespective of its design—and you don’t have to teach it.”

In describing their new autonomous scanner that’s mated to a 3D printer, researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD (fraunhofer.de) suggest a kind of classic application. If the armrest on a vintage car is broken, the researchers note, this robot arm-mounted scanner will help you produce a one-off part that’s been out of production since the silent movie era. But the big innovation with the scanner, which doesn’t appear to have a name, is how it could be used in the near future: as a robotic assistant for very small batch production. 

The robot arm maneuvers the scanner around a component, such as the aforementioned out-of-production part, creating a three-dimensional image of the object in the background. A simulation of the 3D image verifies the eventual 3D recreation will hold its integrity. The system is then able to rapidly measure objects without any sort of companion CAD file. 

“Our scan system is able to measure any component, irrespective of its design—and you don’t have to teach it,” says Pedro Santos, department head at Fraunhofer IGD.  “Also, you don’t need information about CAD models or templates–in other words, the specifications of standard forms that a component usually has.”

The Darmstadt, Germany, institute foresees the scanner serving as a manufacturing assistant, capable of improving the interaction between humans and machines. 

“Our 3D scanning system now enables robots—via comparisons with the database—to recognize what component it has in front of it and also to determine which component its human colleague needs next,” Santos says.