Update 28 March 2018

Only a week after publishing the preview below, EORA 3D released an updated version of their iOS app that improves on many pain points I discovered:

-Completely new calibration
-No turntable alignment scans
-Mesh export
-In-app scan alignment tool
-Free-form scan alignment
-Smarter Calibration

Full update text can be read here.

I’ll update this post soon.

Back in August 2016 I wrote a post about upcoming, crowd-funded 3D scanning hardware for smartphones. One of them was a turntable for photogrammetry: Pixelio, which I’m pretty sure went out of business that same year. The other two are both 3D scanning solutions that use a laser line as the light source and the smartphone camera for capturing.

I reviewed Bevel — a $89 clip-on smartphone accessory aimed at making 3D selfies — last year and concluded that it didn’t work very well. I couldn’t imagine consumers paying that amount of money to carry around an extra device to make 3D selfies that don’t look flattering or sometimes horrifying. And while there is certainly potential in capturing 3D selfies, Sony showed at MWC 2018 that this can now be done without special 3D scanning hardware. I tested it and it works pretty well indeed.

But in this post I’m writing about the third solution on that 2016 list: EORA 3D. It also uses a laser for 3D scanning, but is aimed at scanning objects. And arguably also at a more professional audience.

In this post I’m diving into my experiences with EORA 3D to find out if dedicated 3D scanning hardware is still relevant now that smartphone 3D capture is moving towards software-only solutions. I deliberately labeled this post Preview, since the EORA 3D app for iOS is still in beta and can only be used through TestFlight. For Reviews I require software to be publicly available and finished.


Hardware and Pricing

You cannot buy an EORA 3D at the moment. It was available through Kickstarter where it pledged almost $600k while the goal was $80k. Pre-orders are closed but according to the product website there will be exciting announcements soon.

While it’s not clear when the device will be available for purchase, according to the Kickstarter page the expected retail price is $330. I got confirmation from the manufacturer that the retail price will be $599. That’s a lot more than the $89 Bevel I mentioned earlier but that’s hardly a good comparison functionality-wise.

The EORA 3D price point is still half of what you have to pay for the most affordable desktop structured light scanner I’ve tested, which is the $1190 EinScan-SE (Review). It must be said though that that PC-operated structured light scanner comes with a much larger turntable and a pair of embedded cameras so you don’t need to supply your own in the form of an smartphone camera.

But let’s get back to the EORA and see what you will get for the price:

The main device inside the EORA 3D box is the scanner itself. It’s a heavy, milled aluminum cilinder that hoses a green laser light in its movable head. An extending arm will hold your smartphone firmly. Firm enough that it won’t fall out if you put the scanner on a tripod by using the standard tripod thread on the bottom.

Between the body and the head there’s a semi-transparent LED light ring that will change color depending on what the scanner is doing. It looks nice but since you’re looking at your smartphone’s screen its real functionality is questionable. Overall through, the EORA 3D is a great feat of industrial design and engineering. It’s heavy and solid and feels very professional. This is a device that Apple enthusiasts will put on a shelf when not using it to wow their friends and colleagues.

The device comes with a small turntable. With a diameter of just 10 cm it’s actually kind of cute. It’s also made out of milled aluminum although the one I got came in a different colorway than the scanner. The top plate has etched markings that I will go into later.

Both the scanner and turntable are powered by a single adapter that uses a separate splitter cable. In my experience these cables are on the short side. And since the aluminum devices don’t have rubber undersides the whole setup easily slides when the power cables touched in any way.

Aside from the sliding issue it’s also unpractical that the smartphone sits flat on the table. It can’t be charged this way and scanning with the EORA 3D drains the phone’s battery quickly because it’s constantly using the screen, the camera, Bluetooth and basically every bit of computing power in the phone.

To be able to make multiple test scans throughout the day without the scanner sliding or the phone losing power I had to make it a lot less elegant:

On the positive side: it worked and the phone I’m using charged fast enough to keep scanning.

Compatible Smartphones

It’s noteworthy that the EORA 3D in itself isn’t a complete 3D scanner. You get a light source in the form of a green laser line but the software uses your phones camera to capture both the distortion of the line and color images for texturing. So the experience and scan quality will partially depend on the specs of your phone.

The manufacturer recommended to use an iPhone 6S or higher for optimal performance and quality. I’m using an iPhone SE for this review, which has similar performance in a smaller iPhone 5-like body. You basically need an ARkit-capable phone. The iOS app is currently only available through TestFlight.

There’s also an Android app, which is available on Google Play, but that one is currently a lot more limited than the iOS app. For example, it doesn’t offer turntable scanning yet. One thing I did like when I tried it on my Pixel 2 was that there’s no need to manually pair the scanner through Bluetooth: it simply detected it automatically and started scanning. I’m not sure what the final system requirements will be but I guess you’ll need a recent handset to get the most out of EORA 3D. I guess an ARCore compatible phone is a safe bet.

Calibration

Like most 3D scanners, the EORA 3D must be calibrated. You have to do this before first use and occasionally to guarantee accuracy. To do this you’ll have to place the included calibration board vertical. Interestingly there’s no stand included to hold it that way and the manufacturer advices to use the box as a stand. Depending on the location of your phone’s camera you might also need to elevate the board upwards so it fits in the on-screen rectangle. I used a stack of business cards to get the right height.

To me this procedure doesn’t really match the sophisticated design of the hardware. And calibration started to get even more frustrating when it failed multiple times. I had to resort to EORA’s help pages to discover that calibration is very sensitive to lighting conditions and reflections on the calibration board. That makes me wonder why the board is made out of shiny plastic… Also, the black dots are screen-printed on so you have to be really careful not to damage them.

Luckily, after a few tries I managed to get to the two-step calibration process. You’ll have to do this process twice if you want to use both the standard and high quality scan modes, which are labeled 1MP (megapixels) and 8MP. When doing the 8MP calibration it already became apparent that this mode is very slow.

Turntable Placement

I’ve tested quite a lot of desktop-style structured light scanners with included turntables, like the HP S3, EinScan SE/SP and Scan in a Box. All of them have ways to detect where the turntable’s center axis is in relation to the scanner. Either by using a small calibration board or by rotating the object a few degrees back and forth.

As opposed to those active ways of axis calibration, EORA 3D requires the user to place the turntable in a very specific spot manually. You’ll have to align a static laser line with two of the markings on the turntable while also making sure the center marking aligns with a line on the smartphone screen. This means that the turntable can only be in one specific place, limiting its use to objects that fit into the camera’s viewfinder. I also experienced that objects that are wider than the 12.5 cm turntable will be clipped.

Turntable placement is quite time consuming, especially because both the turntable and scanner can slide so easily. You really have to touch the screen as gently as possible if you want to keep the scanner undisturbed. My advice would be to put some kind of anti-slipping pads under both devices or simply put everything in place with foam tape like I did.

It’s also noteworthy that turntable scanning only works with the scanner placed flat on the same surface as the turntable. This is very limiting because most small objects are better scanned from a slight down-facing angle. EORA 3D can basically only scan the sides of objects in this mode.

Scanning

You can use the EORA 3D with or without the turntable. If you don’t want to use it, you simply disconnect it and the software will go into single-scan mode. If a turntable is powered and paired, you have the option to set the amount of stops (between 4 and 10) by and execute the turntable alignment mode by long pressing the on-screen shutter button. I’d rather have dedicated buttons for these features.

Single-scan mode does give you more flexibility in object sizes and placement. It might be handy to capture shallow reliefs on flat objects but it’s not very usable for curved objects. The laser moves across the object but since it’s projected at an angle you’ll always end up with holes in the scans.

In single-scan mode it makes more sense to switch to the 8MP high quality mode since the time it takes for a single scan is still doable (about a minute). For turntable scans, which require at least 8 stops for most objects, total scanning time became too long for me to be usable in a a professional workflow.

I did want to test the 8MP mode with the turntable for this post but somehow I couldn’t get past the turntable alignment phase because the laser line stopped at an angle that made it impossible for me to position the turntable in the center of the camera feed.

Scanning with the turntable in 1MP mode worked fine and reasonably fast. I set it to 10 stops per rotation just in case although 8 or even 6 stops can be sufficient for some objects. I like the fact that the turntable gently accelerates and decelerates. It takes a bit more time but it does prevent delicate or light objects from shifting.

It’s good to realize that unlike most PC-based 3D scanning software, the EORA app doesn’t actively align the separate turntable scans with algorithms. It simply puts them next to each other so quality of the alignment really depends on how accurately you have placed the turntable. This is why accidentally shifting the scanner has so much effect.

Editing

The app has some basic editing (and measuring) features built-in. For instance, you can interactively erase unwanted parts by using the touch screen. On my 4-inch iPhone SE that wasn’t really handy but I can imagine that it works better on an Plus-size iPhone.

However, when loading a turntable scan it becomes clear that this is actually just a group of separate scans and you can only edit each scan separately. For a 10-stop scan it’s completely unrealistic to erase unwanted parts that way.

There are no options to combine separate scans within the app or perform-hole filling so if you’re intended purpose is 3D printing the EORA app is currently too limited for direct export.

Exporting

You can export your scans as PLY, STL or OBJ files. Interestingly though, the PLY feature generated a colored point cloud (within a minute) of the result while the OBJ produces a mesh (which can take a few minutes) but without color. For my purposes, I’d really like a colored mesh (preferably UV-mapped but per-vertex is better than nothing).

EORA 3D’s help pages offer a guide on how to mesh the PLY point cloud using the CloudCompare sofware but for the purpose of this review and making fair comparisons I wanted to use the EORA app’s native meshing capabilities. That’s why I have opted to create colored meshed as explained in the panel below.

How to transfer color information from a point cloud to a mesh

To make judging and comparing the scan results easier, I colorized the OBJ meshes manually in the open source software MeshLab on my computer by using the color information from the PLY point cloud. But before I could even do that I had to merge the separate scans (at the moment it simply exports a ZIP with 4-10 separate scan files). I made a screen capture of this process if you’re interested.

This method of simply merging separate scans will result in a lot of overlapping geometry. MeshLab also has (automatic) alignment features that can give more optimized results. That’s a bit beyond the scope of this post but feel free to leave a comment if you’re interested in a separate tutorial about aligning 3D scans.

I exported my files to Dropbox but you can also send them to other apps or email them..You can link the EORA 3D app to your Sketchfab account for direct sharing but that also only works with separate scans, not with turntable scans.

Results

First, let’s check out the difference between the normal quality (1MP) and high quality (8MP) modes. I chose to scan the drill below because it’s a technical object with a lot of surface details. It also has various levels of glossiness and colors.

In the result below I’ve put the 1MP version on the left and the 8MP version on the right. I’ve used the color transfer mode I mentioned earlier to colorize the meshes manually but you can disable the color by pressing the 3 key on your keyboard and the 1 key to switch back to the per-vertex colorized version.

So if you look at just the geometry it’s not hard to see that the 8MP scan is more detailed. It’s actually a 1.4 million polygon model versus a 1MP scan with a polycount of 247k. But as with many other 3D scanner I’ve tested it’s not clear how many polygons count for actual detail and how many are geometric noise. In this case there’s quite a lot of noise in the 8MP model that makes it unnecessary heavy. And that model also contains a lot more holes.

The 1MP model is actually quite detailed in itself and the color information (even though it’s per-vertex) is very good as well (you can read the label!). Geometry-wise it’s a lot more detailed than scans you can make with an infrared depth sensor like Structure Sensor (Review) or Intel RealSense (Review). To illustrate this, here’s a single scan of my famous Teddy Bear from the EORA 3D in 1MP mode followed by the same object scanned with Structure Sensor on an iPad mini 2 with the itSeez3D app (Review):

Sure, the last one is a complete 360 degrees scan, but I couldn’t fit Teddy on the small turntable. But if you look at the scan quality, especially the geometry, it’s clear that the EORA 3D’s laser scanning concept can indeed capture a lot more details. And when comparing the scan from the $330 $599 EORA 3D to that of a $13k Artec Eva (Review) I was surprised to see how good the former is.

That last comparison is, of course, completely an apples-vs-oranges thing but it does show the potential of laser scanning with a smart phone to acquire high resolution geometry.

As a final comparison, below is the same Teddy bear captured with an iPhone but without using any special hardware — Only the TRINIO (Review) Photogrammetry app.

This makes clear that using a laser results in much higher-quality geometric 3D data than current software-only solutions can offer. Plus the EORA 3D is processed locally on the iPhone (within a few minutes) while the TRNIO capture was rendered in the cloud (taking almost an hour when you include all upload, download and waiting times).

Unfortunately the EORA 3D only allows full-360 turntable scanning of objects that are smaller than Teddy. But I have plenty of those so let’s get to it.

First up is the Toddler Sneaker I scan often. And for this comparison I’ve chosen to compare it to the EinScan-SE structured light desktop scanner I mentioned in the intro.

Here’s the EORA result followed by the same object scanned with the EinScan-SE.

Although the geometry that the EORA 3D has captured isn’t bad quality, this comparison does show that it’s not good at producing a usable 360-degrees scan. Part of that is due to the scanners inability to perform turntable scanning at an angle other than 90 degrees. And the other part is that complex objects like this really need proper active alignment, global registration and hole filling.

Unfortunately the nose and back of the toddler sneaker where clipped even though it’s only slightly bigger than the turntable. It’s also noteworthy that the lack of editing capabilities of the complete set of 360-scans didn’t allow me to remove the turntable from the captures easily. I think that could even be an automatic function since the height and distance of the turntable is known.

Let’s try an “easier” test subject in the form of an old jar. It fit’s nicely on the turntable and because the phone is held in portrait mode the height is no problem. Again, I’ve added a result from the EinScan-SE because this object makes for a better comparison.

While the geometry of the EORA scan isn’t as detailed as the EinScan result, it’s actually really good. And keep in mind this is also just the 1MP quality. Because of my forceful merging of the separate scans, the colors are a bit patchy but the resolution is good. I really hope the EORA software will be able to produce a single, preferably watertight, mesh with nicely blended colors.

But even if that feature will be added, there’s still no way I could have captured the top or bottom of the jar from this angle. For that the scanner needs with the turntable at an angle and the software needs to be able to fuse two scans with the jar facing up and downwards.

Finally, I started noting that the EORA 3D has problems with scanning certain colors and/or materials. In the first example of the drill, the (slightly glossy) red battery pack didn’t get captured at all and I experienced the same with this small plastic toy that has a red shirt (which otherwise has the same specularity as the lila and white parts).

I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it has to do with the green laser, red object, RGB sensor…. Or maybe it’s bad luck.

It did trigger me to test how the scanner handles and object with a glossy surface. So I put a beer can on the turntable and the result is very interesting.

Let’s just say that this scanner is not for you if your sole purpose is digitizing your beer can collection.


Verdict

First, let me repeat that this is a Preview. I’ll update this post when the EORA 3D is available to purchase and when the software is publicly available.

As it stands now, I think that using a laser for object scanning on a smartphone is an interesting concept. Especially now that most mobile scanning is moving towards real-time software-only solutions there is a gap for scale-accurate, high-detailed 3D models. And the EORA 3D can capture details of most surfaces that are a lot more detailed than scans made with similarly-priced depth sensors. It’s even comparable to more expensive, PC-based desktop 3D scanners in terms of pure geometric quality.

The industrial design of the EORA 3D is impressive but it has a few practical disadvantages like the absence of rubberized pads on the bottom to prevent accidental movement of the scanner or turntable, and the fact that the phone’s charging port is not reachable when the scanner is put flat on a table. The latter is crucial because 3D scanning and processing drains the battery quickly.

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But where EORA 3D currently really falls short is the software. Making single scans probably has use cases but for object scanning the turntable is essential to make full 360-degrees captures without holes. But because of the lack of active alignment algorithms, the the quality of the alignment of the partial scans relies on how well you place the turntable. And because a turntable project simply consists of multiple, separate 3D files they cannot be directly exported as a single model or to services like Sketchfab. More importantly, turntable scans cannot be edited as a whole and the turntable isn’t removed from the scans by default.

Simply put, I’d like this solution to be able to generate turntable scans that are aligned, manifold meshes, with color.

As it stand snow scanning with the EORA 3D currently requires knowledge of external mesh-editing software like MeshLab or CloudCompare to create usable meshes. And although they’re both open source and free, they’re not very user friendly. And I believe that the user experience is where mobile scanning solutions can offer the most value.

Wrapping up, I think EORA 3D has great potential and can’t wait to see how the software develops in the future. I’ll surely test it again when the software is in a further stage of development and the device is available for purchase.

This post has been edited after publishing to reflect the actual retail price of the EORA 3D, as confirmed by the manufacturer.


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