From Reality to Digital Manufacturing through Xbox One Kinect At TTU

TTU 3D Scanning w Kinect

The Kinect motion sensor (3D scanning) that Microsoft built for its Xbox 360 and Xbox One gaming consoles is a product that never quite caught on. The company discontinued the Kinect product in late 2017, but you can still find them on Amazon or other sites in new, used or refurbished condition.

So, why an update on a discontinued product and what could a gaming motion sensor have to do with digital manufacturing? Well, under the leadership of Professor of Manufacturing Technology Ismail Fidan, students at Tennessee Tech University (TTU) Engineering Department have the answer to that.

While the Kinect was mostly designed for use with the Xbox gaming console, savvy educators, engineers, makers, and hackers realized it also could be used as a real-time 3D scanner to create 3D printable models. A variety of TTU student engineers are using this humble, yet quite functional, sensor as a 3D scanner to do some fun and educational projects. Keep reading if you want to scan someone and turn them into a superhero action figure.

The Kinect has an infrared (IR) camera, which is part of its depth sensor that can stream a real time video projection. But with one more step, it can project those infrared beams at an object and return them to measure the distance to each pixel. This allows you to create a depth map that can be turned into a 3D model.

As professionals, educators, and hobbyists/makers discovered this 3D scanning capability, software quickly emerged to take advantage of this sensor. Many free and low-cost tools reached the market and TTU outlines how they did it.

After you have the Kinect, and it is all set up, you will need the following software programs from Microsoft (3 of 4) and one from Autodesk called Meshmixer to move you from scanning to 3D printing.

You can read more about the project on the TTU Engineering Research and iMakerSpace page.

Instructions on Xbox One Kinect 3D scanning and printing

Scanning instructions

  • Center the person in an area and remove all objects that may interfere with the scan.
  • Have the person stare straight ahead and make as little movement as possible.
  • Open the 3D scan app. There should be a live video from the Kinect on the screen.
  • Optional: adjust the settings of depth, width, and height as needed.
  • Click scan and, while holding the Kinect at chest level, move 360° slowly around the person.
  • At the end of the circle, move the sensor upwards at a tilt to capture the top of the head.
  • When the scan has been completed, click stop, and the scan will process.
    • Other recommendations:
      • Use the timer function if only two are involved.
      • If there is a third person, have them click start and stop manually.
      • The Kinect can work in a dark place, but light will capture more detail.
      • Also, the Kinect cord may not be long enough to go around the person. This can be solved by having the person step over the wire with care.
    • Open the scan to see the result.
    • Take another scan if the scan is not good.
    • Save as an STL file.

Meshmixer Instructions

  • Import the STL scan into Meshmixer.
  • Also, import the incredible body.
  • Slice the head of the Incredible in order to replace it with the scan.
    • This is done by:
      • Click select on the side menu. Then, find a perspective where slicing the head doesn’t affect other areas. Outline the head with the slicer, and clear the selection.
      • (The headless Incredible have been completed and can be loaded already.)
    • If needed, scale the STL scan down by clicking edit, transform and scale.
    • Also in transform, move the file to above the Incredible body.
    • Slice the STL scan to include the head and some of the neck.
    • Move the STL scan to where the Incredible head would be, and scale to have the body proportions balanced.
    • Select both objects, and combine. One of the objects should change color.
    • In the edit panel, make the object solid.
    • Use the sculpt tool to inflate or shrink the intersection of the two files. The bubble smooth tool is also helpful.
    • Once completed, export as an STL file and print.

More Resources on 3D Scanning

In addition to the popular Kinect, there are low-cost alternatives worth a look. Here are three:

The Orbbec Persee ($240)and Astra ($150) are impressive and can be coupled with the low-cost RecFusion software ($99, but has a free trial).

I have tested the Skanect software (free version for non-commercial use), which provided a very easy way to quickly obtain decent 3D scans of nearby objects, including people – but not pets or children because they can’t stay still long enough. Skanect was acquired by Occipital a few years ago and you can use the software with other scanners, such as, the Kinect or, of course, the Structure.

I have also tested the Structure by Occipital ($380) a few years ago and found it useful, but it was at an earlier stage in the product’s development and it didn’t work as well compared to the others. But many people have had great results with it.

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