Stockholm-based Volumental is one research spinoff that’s going to be fun to watch. It’s roots go back to Kinect@Home, which made a lot of noise in the news recently with their tool that allows anybody with a Microsoft Kinect camera, which was created for the Xbox, to create 3D models of people or objects in a matter of seconds. To do so, all you have to do is make a circular video of the object with the Kinect camera, and then you can share, download, embed the model for online or 3D printing use.
The project was started as a research project by two Ph.D. students and a professor at the Centre Of Autonomous systems, a research centre at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Originally Kinect@Home was focused on the research opportunities of 3D modeling, with the aim of collecting a very large database of common objects in order to help robots navigate better. By understanding objects by their shape, robots would be able to access the database and understand a cup or a person for what they are. Although the technology can work with any camera that has RGB-D (Depth sensor), Kinect already had over 24 million units sold and was a natural choice for the team.
However as it attracted the media attention of BBC, Wired, Mashable and others, the team started receiving a lot commercial interest, and decided to spin-off as Volumental. In an interview with ArcticStartup, the CEO Caroline Walerud told us that: “Once we got this media attention in the fall, many companies started contacting Kinect@Home. There were these researchers saying, ‘We want to buy the company or your service’. We weren’t expecting this, I think, but then we were like, wow, we need commercialize this.”
Volumental is continuing to support the research group, however they are now working on selecting the business market for this technology. As Walerud tells us, “Thats one of the big challenges now – to decide what we should really focus on. So far, we’ve been in discussion with several 3D printing companies to make a ‘scan to print app.’ Hopefully we will launch a private beta of that in a month or two.”
The idea behind this app will allow you to automatically scan objects and then print them. The beauty of it is that it will also be “fixed” for printing – meaning that the background will be cleared and the model will be optimized for print. Other possible uses include medicine and online retail. Currently, you can go to the Volumental website and scan, save, share and embed objects for free.
The company has also just announced a €230 000 EUR of non-dilutive investment from Vinnova and another €30 000 EUR in equity-investment from KTH holding. Vinnovo is Sweden’s innovation agency while KTH holding is the public company of the KTH University and makes direct investments that are linked to the STING incubator program that Volumental is a part of.
Walerud tells us that the long-term vision is to become “The Youtube of 3D”. They have already partnered with OpenNI, a framework aiming to standardize all 3D sensing technologies. Additionally, Volumental is planning to open up the technology to other companies and startups to build their ideas on.
There are other companies that are producing 3D scanners, however those tend to be rather expensive. These scanners are able to make more accurate models and will not have any unwanted artifacts or objects in the background, however they tend to be expensive and will usually only scan smaller items and not whole apartments or people.
Here is an example of the Volumental technology in use:
Printed 3D model of a person:
Explainer video of Volumental: