Manual 3D Digitizer Works A Bit Like 3-Dimensional Measuring Tape

Digitizing an object usually means firing up a CAD program and keeping the calipers handy, or using a 3D scanner to create a point cloud representing an object’s surfaces. [Dzl] took an entirely different approach with his DIY manual 3D digitizer, a laser-cut and 3D printed assembly that uses rotary encoders to create a turntable with an articulated “probe arm” attached.

Each joint of the arm is also an encoder, and by reading the encoder values and applying a bit of trigonometry, the relative position of the arm’s tip can be known at all times. Manually moving the tip of the arm from point to point on an object therefore creates measurements of that object. [Dzl] successfully created a prototype to test the idea, and the project files are available on GitHub.

We remember the earlier version of this project and it’s great to see how it’s been updated with improvements like the addition of a turntable with an encoder. DIY 3D digitizing takes all kinds of approaches, and one example was this unit that used four Raspberry Pi Zeros and four cameras to generate high quality 3D scans.

26 thoughts on “Manual 3D Digitizer Works A Bit Like 3-Dimensional Measuring Tape

  1. Memory is pretty fuzzy on exactly which studio did this, but I think it was an early Pixar founder. In the early days of computer graphics they wanted to render a wireframe arm and hand. Drew triangles all over his arm and hand with a pen/marker and did all the measurements between the points manually to translate them into polygons on screen.

    Halcyon days I tell ya!

    This is a really interesting project and look forwards to watching it grow.

      1. Very cool. Prior to the link I had only read about it, never had the opportunity to see it. They briefly show a gantry setup with a stylus and footswitch. Something bespoke they made or is this more commonly used for something else back in the early 70s?

  2. Very nice ! I want to build one but …
    Does anybody know what encoder is used ? I didn’t spot a part reference on the github or the original blog post. Those 1200 positions’ encoders are clearly not like the ones I got here.

      1. Thank you, I really didn’t know where to start, I could only find the usual 24 steps encoders I already got. The price of those 1200+ steps encoders (~25$ min. for chinese E6B2CWZ1X knock-offs, wayyyy more for the official German ones from OMRON) puts a halt on my desire to reproduce the build for now.

    1. I agree, the project is not that well written up – and there isn’t a proper parts list..
      A quick search on aliexpress finds quite a few – but they all seem pretty pricy and of course you don’t know which ones are ok..

      1. Have you tried updating the Processing code to export a DXF file?
        I’ve looked around at the examples for exporting dxf but I’m failing.
        Everything else is working with the table. Great project but I want to take it to the next level….too doopid though


  3. Dude above me beat me to it! Was just going to say that. Cheaper than a Faro arm.

    Always wanted a Faro arm- Ive worked in shops that had them. Now in a place that has a Hexagon Metrology 3D scanner equipped CMM.

  4. not sure why exactly you say he is taking a different approach when this is a copy of what many home cnc guys have been doing for years. Nice build and i like the details he put into it but the author really needs to get out more or at least learn how to do a cursory search on literally any search platform.

  5. This reminds me: I’ve got an old Microscribe digitizer from the nineties that works just like this. It’s lying around in my interesting electronic objects pile I’ve accumulated over the years via University dumpster dives, estate sales and eBay impulse buys. It’s an old serial peripheral, and the software and drivers are now unobtainium. So I think I might try to adapt this source code to its geometry and read from the encoders directly.

    Everything about it is absurdly high-quality, from the carbon fiber and milled aluminum construction to the bearings and the enormous super-fine-pitch optical encoders. The balance of the whole instrument is also superb. Responds to your touch weightlessly, and there’s never any notchiness or slop in the joints. I think they still cost several thousand dollars. I’d love to get it operational again.

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