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Kinect as a 3D Scanner: An Easy Beginner’s Tutorial

Picture of Jaime Rios Velasco
by Jaime Rios Velasco
Mar 2, 2019

Can the Kinect be upgraded to a real 3D scanner? Yes, it's true! Learn how to build your own Kinect 3D scanner without breaking the bank.

Kinect 3D Scanner What is 3D Scanning?

Picture of a phone scanning a figure
Picture of a phone scanning a figure Source: Eora 3D/Kickstarter

3D scanning consists of turning a real-life object, such as an action figure, a room, an entire building, or anything that has three dimensions and can be scanned, into a virtual 3D model.

There are two common types of 3D scanning, the first one, as the name already says, “3D Scanning”, and the second one “Photogrammetry”.

3D Scanning utilizes a 3D scanner, which takes a video, of sorts, of the object. This 3D scanner can be any sort of camera with an infrared sensor to be able to measure the depth of field. However, it will need to be simultaneously connected to a computer running a software which turns the real time video scan into a 3D model.

Meanwhile, Photogrammetry consists of taking multiple pictures at different angles of an object. A normal camera can be used for this, no need for fancy cameras with infrared sensors to get good results.

The Kinect 3D scanner uses the same technology a mid-range 3D Scanner might have, a camera, and an infrared camera used to calculate the field of depth of and around an object.

These two “cameras” used by the Kinect allow it to make a decently accurate 3D scan of almost any object you wish to scan.

In the rest of the article we will show you how to use the Kinect of an old Xbox 360 or Xbox one to create awesome 3D models!


Kinect 3D Scanner Acquiring the Hardware

Picture of a laptop and a Kinect.
Picture of a laptop and a Kinect. Source: Jaime Rios/All3DP

First thing we need to do is acquire the necessary hardware. There are only 3 things you will need in order to start 3D scanning with a Kinect.

1. The Kinect – can be from either the Xbox 360 or the Xbox One

These can be purchased at any game or electronics shop, for as cheap as 20€.

2. The PC adapter – As you may know, the Kinect was made to be used in its respective Xbox, not in a PC. That’s why you will need to obtain a Kinect 360 to PC adapter and Kinect Xbox One to PC adapter.

3. A PC – This can be a laptop or desktop computer with a free USB port.

Before you get started, make sure yours meets the minimum requirements listed below:

  • Latest Kinect drivers downloaded
  • 64 bit Processor
  • Dual core (3.1Ghz) or faster CPU
  • 4GB of Ram
  • Nvidia CUDA graphic card or a Kinect Fusion compatible GPU
  • A compatible USB 3.0 port (Intel or Renesas chipset)

Kinect 3D Scanner Downloading the Drivers and Software

Screenshot from the Kinect driver installation program.
Screenshot from the Kinect driver installation program. Source: Jaime Rios/All3DP

It would already be too good to be true if you could just plug-in the Kinect and magically start 3D scanning, but it doesn’t get much more complex.

Once you have your Kinect plugged in to your PC, you will need to download the drivers. This is the code that will tell your computer how to handle the Kinect, because as mentioned earlier, the Kinect wasn’t supposed to run on a PC.

If you are running Windows 10, it’s very likely that the drivers will download automatically after your PC recognizes the Kinect. Very handy dandy, right? If that wasn’t the case, you will need to download the drivers from Microsoft.

Secondly, you will want to download software which will allow you to use your Kinect for 3D scanning:

  • 3D Scan is a free Window’s 10 app which will use your Kinect to create 3D models. You can download 3D Scan from Microsoft
  • Skanect is a third-party software that is compatible with the Structure Sensor, Microsoft Kinect or Asus Xtion. Skanect has both a paid and free version, the only main difference being that the paid version allows you to export the model with more faces and in color. You can download Skanect from Occipital.

This article will use Skanect to demonstrate how to start using your Kinect 3D scanner.


Kinect 3D Scanner Scanning

Kinect 360 being used to scan a person.
Kinect 360 being used to scan a person. Source: Allthingsd

The process of scanning may seem quite simple, just hover the Kinect over the object and it will appear on the computer. And you’re not wrong, its mainly that, but they are some things to take in mind in order to get better scans.

  • Avoid rotating the object. Instead, move the Kinect 3D scanner around the object like if it were orbiting the object.
    • The software will use the background to help track the position of the object, so if you rotate the object, the background you will be scanning at will always be the same which will make the scanning harder.
    • This applies mainly to Photogrammetry, but can still be applied to normal 3D Scanning.
  • Make sure there is good enough and steady lighting through the entire scanning process.
    • Bad lighting won’t just make it harder for the Kinect to capture the objects colors, but in the final render you will get a poorly colored model.
  • Take your time!
    • Most scans will work best if done slowly and with patience, so don’t rush while scanning an object, make sure you pass the Kinect 3D scanner through various angles around the object and check the screen on your PC while scanning to make sure all the areas of the object are appearing properly.

Kinect 3D Scanner Using Skanect to Get the 3D Model

Skanect interface.
Skanect interface. Source: Skanect/YouTube

Setting Up the Software

If using Skanect, go ahead and open the “.exe” file once the download is finished.

You will be presented with a very simple interface, as it is designed to run step by step making it easier to use.

  1. Click the New section on the menu under the “Prepare” tab. Here you can mess around with various settings depending on what object you want to scan.
  2. Choose the bounding box size most appropriate to the object you are scanning from the presets given, or use a custom one clicking the slider and moving it with the mouse.
  3. Choose a Path to save the scanned object. This won’t be the final model, only the “.skn” file, which you can later open in Skanect again.

Once you have finished this setup, click the Start button and you will be taken to the next step in the scanning process.

3D Scanning with the Kinect

Now you should see a bounding box and an area with a grid. The scan of the model will appear inside this box as you scan with your Kinect 3D scanner. You can navigate through this area using your right, left and wheel buttons on your mouse.

  • Press Delay to effectively ‘pause’ the scanner to while you get your scanner prepared.
  • Press the Red Button in the top left of the screen to start 3D scanning.

Follow the steps mentioned in the section above in order to get a nice and accurate scan.

Once finished, click the Red Button again to stop scanning.


Kinect 3D Scanner Processing the 3D Scan

Image of: Processing the 3D Scan
Kinect 3D scanner bring use to 3D scan a person. Source: Microsoft

If you’re happy with the scan, you will then need to click the “Reconstruction” on the top bar of the interface. This will allow the 3D scan to be converted to a 3D model.

Skanect allows you to use the CPU or GPU for the reconstruction process, remember that a stronger PC will take less time to reconstruct your model.

Click “Run”. After Skanect has finished reconstructing the model go to the Process tab. Here you will have various options to edit your scan, or you can just leave it as it is.

Lastly, click the Share tab for the final process. Here you can choose whether to save the object locally, or export it in up to 4 different formats.

Viola! You can now use your 3D model taken from your Kinect 3D scanner in your chosen software, to 3D print your new model, or however you desire.

Feature image source: Polygon

License: The text of "Kinect as a 3D Scanner: An Easy Beginner’s Tutorial" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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