From Reality to Digital Manufacturing through Xbox One Kinect At TTU

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.

A Day In The Life Of Virtual Reality Workshop Participants

On day one of the 2018 Virtual Reality (VR) Workshop held in Monroe Hall at Edmonds Community College, it was all “real” and “virtual” at the same time. Educators, 14 of them in total, came from as far away as Southern California to learn how to use VR in their classrooms to teach digital manufacturing.

The workshop is the brainchild of Dr. Magesh Chandramouli who started the MANEUVER (Manufacturing Education Using Virtual Environment Resources) project, based at Purdue University. It is focused on developing an affordable VR framework to address the demand for well-trained digital manufacturing (DM) technicians.

The two-day workshop was hosted by the TEAMM project and started out with sessions dedicated to manufacturing and a tour of Monroe Hall (which has served as the home to multiple National Science Foundation grant-funded projects including the National Resource Center for Materials Education – MatEdU).

This amazing building is the 11,000 square foot home for almost $2,000,000 of machines and tools offering a variety you won’t find on very many college campuses. It is also where The Facility, a new type of makerspace exists – that fuses college access and community access.

Here’s more of what took place on day one and day two of the VR Workshop:

  • Demos of Traditional and Digital Technologies
  • Introduction to Virtual Reality
  • Types and Uses (Google Cardboard Build)
  • Terminology
  • Opportunities (Advantages/Disadvantages)
  • Current technology and expected development (HoloLens practice)
  • Unpack and set-up VR equipment (using the Dell Visor)
  • MANEUVER website (We are creating a resource post that we believe you will find useful, stay tuned)
  • Design Opportunities in Virtual Reality
  • Case Studies: VR in a Classroom
  • How is it being used
  • What are the challenges / rewards

On day two, participants focused on a group project planning incorporation of VR into an actual lesson.

Here are photos from the event:

Additional resources:

From their website: “Project MANEUVER (Manufacturing Education Using Virtual Environment Resources) is developing an affordable virtual reality (VR) framework to address the imminent demand for well-trained digital manufacturing (DM) technicians. Over half of the 3.5 million required manufacturing positions in the US are expected to go unfilled due to a “skills gap”. Employment projections show a decline in conventional manufacturing jobs with marked growth in DM jobs.

“This VR instructional framework, targeted at two and four year programs, will not only advance the field of DM, but will also strengthen education by remedying the lack of clearly defined career/educational pathway(s) for entry-level DM technicians.”

AM News originally reported on this workshop: Virtual Reality Workshop For Digital Manufacturing Education.

Materials Scientists Working On Dental Enamel That Could Regenerate

You never know where an opportunity will present itself for a materials science technician. Your local dentist or dental lab may need help in the near future if this research from Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom develops.

Earlier this month, researchers announced they were working on a new way to grow “mineralized” materials that mimic hard tissues – dental enamel or bone.

The study, originally published in Nature Communications, show how new materials can be recreated to look and work like natural dental enamel. The researchers believe that it could help prevent tooth decay and sensitivity and also provide a way to treat those conditions.

According to the paper:

“Enamel, located on the outer part of our teeth, is the hardest tissue in the body and enables our teeth to function for a large part of our lifetime despite biting forces, exposure to acidic foods and drinks and extreme temperatures. This remarkable performance results from its highly organised structure.”

The paper cites “lead author Professor Alvaro Mata, also from Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, who said: ‘A major goal in materials science is to learn from nature to develop useful materials based on the precise control of molecular building-blocks. The key discovery has been the possibility to exploit disordered proteins to control and guide the process of mineralisation at multiple scales. Through this, we have developed a technique to easily grow synthetic materials that emulate such hierarchically organised architecture over large areas and with the capacity to tune their properties.'”

Mimic other hard tissues

As the researchers understand and control how the process of mineralization works, they believe they will be able to mimic other hard tissues. That potential makes it interesting and valuable to other specialties within the medical and dental communities, particularly in regenerative medicine.

An understanding of how materials work is going to be increasingly valuable in our materials research-based world. Whether it is dental enamel, human bones, or carbon fiber, materials science technicians have a bright future.

More resources and information:

The full research paper was published at Nature Communications: ‘Protein disorder-order interplay to guide 1 the growth of hierarchical mineralized structures’. Sherif Elsharkawy, Maisoon Al-Jawad, Maria F. Pantano, Esther Tejeda-Montes, Khushbu Mehta, Hasan Jamal, Shweta Agarwal, Kseniya Shuturminska, Alistair Rice, Nadezda V. Tarakina, Rory M. Wilson, Andy J. Bushby, Matilde Alonso, Jose C. Rodriguez-Cabello, Ettore Barbieri, Armando del Rio Hernández, Molly M. Stevens, Nicola M. Pugno, Paul Anderson, Alvaro Mata.

Details from Queen Mary University of London news post: Scientists develop material that could regenerate dental enamel. The research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant (STROFUNSCAFF) and the Marie Curie Integration Grant (BIOMORPH).

An early release of the research was featured in Labiotech.eu and it has a good breakdown of what it looks like and what it means for dentistry and for us as patients: Dental Enamel Biopolymers.

Photo used with permission from Queen Mary University of London. Credit: Alvaro Mata.

If you are interested in other materials science advancements for technician education (and future employment opportunity ideas), check out this post on TEAMM AM News: Disney Research Uses Materials Science To Invent Touchscreen Walls With Conductive Paint.

Disney Research Uses Materials Science To Invent Touchscreen Walls With Conductive Paint

Virtual Reality Workshop For Digital Manufacturing Education

The TEAMM project is hosting a two-day workshop on using virtual reality technology as a classroom tool. It will be hosted at Edmonds Community College on August 22 and 23 at Monroe Hall.

The 2-day workshop is sponsored by Manufacturing Education Using Virtual Environment Resources (MANEUVER), an NSF project, and will be covering VR-based digital manufacturing (DM) instruction modules.

This workshop is directed towards community college instructors and high-school teachers interested in digital manufacturing instruction using virtual reality tools and techniques. There is no fee to register; Washington State Clock Hours are available; and seating is limited.

  • If you are interested to attend at Edmonds Community College, please contact Robin Ballard for the August 22-23 workshop in Washington. Here is the EventBrite invite page.
  • If you are interested in the Purdue University workshop for July 17 – 18, contact Magesh Chandramouli.
  • For the Tennessee Tech University (TTU) workshop on July 28 – 29, contact Ismail Fidan.

To learn more about how manufacturing and VR are coming together, here is a brief abstract (from the NSF grant page) of the work that Magesh Chandramouli is doing:

Project MANEUVER (Manufacturing Education Using Virtual Environment Resources) is developing an affordable virtual reality (VR) framework to address the imminent demand for well-trained digital manufacturing (DM) technicians. Over half of the 3.5 million required manufacturing positions in the US are expected to go unfilled due to a “skills gap”. Employment projections show a decline in conventional manufacturing jobs with marked growth in DM jobs. This VR instructional framework, targeted at two and four year programs, will not only advance the field of DM, but will also strengthen education by remedying the lack of clearly defined career/educational pathway(s) for entry-level DM technicians.

MANEUVER is developing an innovative multi-modal VR framework for DM instruction. This framework decouples the 3D DM database from functionalities, thus giving the instructional designer access through immersive, augmented, and desktop VR. Instead of pairing functionalities with the VR database, which prevents access by other modes, the decoupled approach allows for mode-independent approach, facilitating affordable access and broader implementation. The resultant curricular modules can be replicated for use on multiple machines without additional costs. During manufacturing process training, VR tools serve as a viable alternative offering a cost and material-efficient solution. Industry standard software and hardware is being used to develop and deliver advanced DM exercises for instructional and training purposes. Using a “train-the-trainers” approach, a replicable faculty development model is being developed for secondary and post-secondary institutions. By addressing regional and national entry-level workforce needs, the project benefits society and contributes to national economic progress and prosperity.

You can also read how The Facility is a partner of Purdue’s work: “VR Lab at The FACILITY Makerspace at Edmonds Community College.”

VR Lab at The FACILITY Makerspace at Edmonds Community College