The magic of 3D printing is getting even more accessible with MakerBot's first desktop scanner, the Digitizer, a $1,400 gizmo that will model all the 3D-printed trinkets you could ever want. Before the Digitizer, proficient knowledge of modeling software like AutoCAD was required to create the necessary file formats for 3D printers.
But MakerBot's scanner changes all of that. The barrier to 3D printing your favorite, er, gnome has lowered significantly. Just plop your knickknack onto the spinning turntable, and the Digitizer's lasers will scan the object. After a "point cloud" is generated, the scanner's software will automatically create a 360-degree, 3D model that you can then modify and print (MakerBot Replicators start at $2,200) whenever you're ready. And it all takes about 12 minutes.
There are a few caveats, however. The object must weight 6.5 pounds or less to be scanned by the Digitizer, which limits you to smaller, handheld objects. But MakerBot does believe that the desktop scanner, which takes "just two clicks" to operate, is simple enough to take 3D printing mainstream.
Since you're essentially copying an already-existing object, this potentially mass-market 3D scanner will have some interesting copyright implications. The technology is still so new that the legal consequences of this type of intellectual property infringement haven't quite caught up yet. There are, of course, tons of useful applications for 3D printing. NASA is sending a 3D printer to the International Space Station so astronauts can print parts and tools on demand.
The Digitizer can be preordered today and will ship sometime in October. MakerBot faces some fierce competition with Matterform, which, after a successful Indiegogo campaign, will be open to preorders for its own scanner in September. Matterform's 3D scanner is about half the cost of the Digitizer at $599.