3D scanning using Kinect and free software

I assume that everybody will at least have heard about the Kinect from Microsoft. It is a mainly a camera that sees depth and color. In addition, it has a whole image interpretation library that is used to detect gestures and poses from people standing in front of it. However, a use that seems more directly applicable to architects and designers is 3D scanning.

While there are more accurate methods, especially using terrestrial laserscanning that captures millions of points accurately and fast and photogrammetry, that uses plain images, but requires more extensive 3D reconstruction algorithms, the kinect is very attractive, as it is cheap (around $100-150 standalone), is working on "any" computer, partly due to the Open Source drivers that have become available, but also more recently by the Microsoft SDK, although this only works on Windows.

That said, the majority of architects and designers are not really into coding. Luckily, there are some free and cheap ready-made solutions.


For Windows, you can try ReconstructMe, which is an all-in-one program, that has a non-commercial version for, well, non-commercial work (e.g. students).


As an alternative, there is also Skanect, which is available for Windows and OSX. It is not Open Source, but uses several Open Source libraries and is free to use (for now?).

I connected the Kinect to an USB port, ran the software and all worked out-of-the-box (at least on OSX).

The interface is basic and rudimentary: you see the depth image, the RGB camera image and a point-cloud 3D view. You set a main accuracy resolution (e.g. 10 mm) and press start. The Kinect starts capturing the points (with added color) and when you move the Kinect around slowly, taking into account that you get enough overlap the measured points are added to the whole scene.

Scanect with the view on my office (about 860.000 points)
When you are ready, you can stop and export the results into a PLY file. You can open this e.g. with the Open Source Meshlab or Blender applications, to further edit and export them. The process is fairly simple for the user, but beware that you get huge files. E.g. the scan of the example I show here, is about 420 MB. You also have to take the limited depth into account, so you might have to wander around and carry the laptop with you to get close enough.

PLY file loaded into MeshLab (some clipping occurs)
When you have some reference measurements, you can then use this scan as a quite detailed and accurate reference model, although translating this into optimized polygonal meshes or even BIM models is a whole other endeavor.