This New App Puts 3D Scanning In The Hands Of Designers

Canvas makes it easier to take 3D scans of spaces and turn them into usable CAD files.

In 2013, the startup Occipital launched the Structure Sensor, a portable 3D scanner that hooks up to an iPad, on Kickstarter. After becoming one of the site’s most funded campaigns at the time, the company began selling the sleek product to consumers and providing an SDK for developers. Since then, independent developers have launched 36 apps using the company’s 3D sensing technology, applying it to everything from body scans for medical applications to capturing volumetric video.


Today, Occipital is launching Canvas, its first iPad app built in-house. Using the Structure Sensor itself–with industrial design by NewDealDesign–along with a new wide-vision lens that is attached to an iPad, the app takes a full 3D scan of any room in minutes. Instead of measuring every detail of a room before doing some home improvement or presenting an idea to a client, Canvas gives you a model to reference on the go through an intuitive user interface. Simply press a button and move the iPad over the area you want to scan–the UI shows you which parts you’ve scanned already and gives you tips to capture the best scan. Once the scan is complete, tapping different parts of the screen allow you to get either point-to-point or planar measurements, which the company claims are accurate to somewhere between one and 3%. The scans can be transformed into CAD files within two business days if you’re a professional, or used to take measurements between any two points in the room if you’re more of a DIYer.

This kind of technology has long been used by scientists to do things like scan ancient mummies and artifacts. But Canvas is a play for architects, builders, and even DIYers, which it aims to hook by making the tech more accessible. The sensor and lens combo will cost $399, plus $29 per scan to CAD conversion, while the app itself is free.

As architects and designers begin to experiment with how VR and AR can be used in the design of spaces, an accompanying technology that can capture rooms in minutes becomes useful as well. “I think a few years from now we’ll initiate most home projects by somehow mapping your space and sending it out and not actually having anyone come on site,” says Jeffrey Powers, cofounder and CEO of Occipital.

While Occipital is moving towards the construction and design industry, Canvas isn’t meant purely for the pros. Alex Schiff, the app’s lead product designer, says it will allow users to carry a model of their homes in their pockets, and believes the app’s “scan to CAD” option will give home improvement enthusiasts who want to use modeling apps like Google SketchUp access to technology that would normally be out of reach.

Occipital calls this idea the “augmented home,” and Powers and Schiff imagine that Canvas could eventually include full-color scans and the ability to see what potential furniture might look like in the space from any angle. “That opens up to a much much wider set of people that can be engaged in that process of figuring out what they want to do to their space,” Schiff says.

While it’s hard to say whether the design community will take to the app, or if it will have the kind of impact Occipital is hoping for, it represents the early stages of how 3D scanning could be used by architects and designers. “I think we’ll probably look back at today as a time, just like the 1830s, when we just started to have photographs,” says Adam Rodnitzky, the company’s VP of marketing. “We’re now entering the era when we’re going to start having a 3D record of the world around us.”


About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.