Thursday, November 5th, 2020 Posted by Jim Thacker

Polycam turns your iPad Pro into a real-time LIDAR scanner

Originally posted on 30 September 2020. Scroll down for updates.

Developers John Stalbaum, Elliott Spelman and Chris Heinrich have released Polycam: a neat iOS app that turns new Apple tablets into low-cost LIDAR scanners.

The software uses the LIDAR sensor in the latest iPad Pros to create textured 3D scans of objects or environments as the user walks around them, showing the mesh building up in real time.

A workable low-cost LIDAR scanner based on the sensor in the 2020 iPad Pro
Polycam takes advantage of the LIDAR sensor in Apple’s latest iPad Pros to build up full-colour textured 3D scans of the tablet’s surroundings.

Whereas the sensor itself is primarily intended to improve user experience in augmented reality apps, Polycam is aimed at generating 3D scan data usable in production.

According to the Polycam team, the resulting geometry is “generally accurate down to about one inch”, and the quality of the raw scans looks pretty good, particularly for previs workflows.

The process is also near-real-time: processing is done locally on the tablet, with single-room captures taking “only seconds to process”, making it possible to see the mesh building up as you walk around.

Early adopters cite speed and quality of textures as key selling points, with one review on the App Store commenting that Polycam “generates the best-quality captures of any 3D scanning app out there”.

“The spatial resolution is not as good as what you get using [source] images and something like RealityCapture, but the speed and convenience make it a fantastic tool nonetheless.”

Once generated, 3D scans can be exported from Polycam to DCC applications or game engines in a range of standard file formats, including OBJ, STL, glTF and USDZ.

Updated 5 November 2020: The Polycam team has released Polycam 1.1.2, an update that “seriously increases” the maximum size of scans that can be captured.

Users should now be able to process a “3,000 sq ft house or larger” – or, in the case of the 430 ft x 200 ft test capture of the Pasadena auditorium embedded above, roughly half a city block.

Polycam is also now runs on an iPhone, although since it needs a LIDAR sensor, the only models it currently works with are the new iPhone 12 Pro and upcoming iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Pricing and system requirements
Polycam is available for iOS 14.0+. You will need an iPad or iPhone with a LIDAR sensor to make use of it.

The base app is free, and can be used to generate an unlimited number of scans, but to export the geometry to other software requires a one-time in-app payment of $9.99 $11.99.

Read more about Polycam on the App Store

See 3D scans generated with Polycam in Chris Heinrich’s Sketchfab gallery