3D laser scanners are becoming more and more common — you hear about them more and more and how they are being used to create everything from machinery components to chocolate sculptures. The technology is advancing so rapidly that there are now 3D laser scanners that are handheld models. You can use them with a personal computer, although they are still expensive and used for professional purposes only — the technology is not quite to the point where someone could have the 3D laser scanners in his or her home, ready to replicate pieces of furniture. Nevertheless, the technology is advancing and increasing in its versatility.
People have already wondered if 3D laser scanners will eventually progress to the point where people will have them in their homes, able to replicate clothing, furniture, and even food, straight out of science fiction. Those are a long, long way off, but companies are already using them for art reproduction and manufacturing. What effects this will have on costs and resource availability are unknown because resources will still be needed to provide the materials from which the copies will be made. The scanner itself does not produce the item, but it does scan in the shape and sometimes colors of the original, and a printer then produces the item.
One advantage to having a 3D laser scanner is it allows 3D representations of items to be scanned into programs. If you have an antique that you want to reproduce, for example, you could conceivably scan the item with the scanner so that a computer program has a 3D representation of it on file. If you could find a 3D printer and the materials necessary to print it out, you could create copies. That is a simplistic example, but it shows you a possible, simple application. Because the programs and images are done via computer, the representation will be very precise. With a good-quality printer, the image could be reproduced so that it looks exactly like the original. Waiting for technology to improve to the point that it comes down in price can take a while, especially if the applications of the technology are not those that you would normally see in a regular, private household.
There is also the issue of resources, because those 3D copies made from the scanned items have to be made out of something. If you have everyone making replicas of artwork, utensils, tools, and so on, this is going to use up resources. However, in limited applications, 3D scanning and printing can save money and not use that much more in the way of resources. However, it will take vigilance to ensure things stay under control. The technology is very helpful, especially when preciseness is an issue, so being able to scan and copy a 3D item is actually quite convenient. How quickly the price will come down, at least for professional applications that will directly benefit from having precise 3D copies, is also unknown just because the technology is so new.
3D scanners and printers have not been around for all that long, so it remains to be seen how the technology will change over the next few years. For example, ebook readers are relatively new, yet the past few years have seen the technology advance considerably and come down in price by a lot. Regular computer scanners are now relatively easy to get, with many home printers having their own scanners included in the machine. It is not that unusual to see drops in price that occur rapidly; it is just that with 3D technology, the timing is not as easily predictable as with something like an ebook reader.