Scan 0

This is a picture of my first usable 3D scan of a last displayed on my “Mac” using Meshlab. This is a mini progress report of sorts. Back in July, I received a Make|Learn|Build grant from the Oregon Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) to explore the ways in which 3D technology might appropriately fit into the custom shoe making process.

While it has never been an area of focus for me, 3D scanning and printing technologies have been a steady companion topic since I took my first shoemaking class back in 2004. My instructor, Alan Zerobnick, created one of the very early 3D foot scanning systems – Digitoe. My reason for learning to make shoes was to get out of technology, not deeper into it, so I have kept the 3D stuff mostly at arm’s length. In 2010, when visiting Ortho Baltic in Lithuania to learn more about the company and the lasts I purchased from them, I had my feet scanned using the Easy foot scanner which they manufacture themselves. It makes an extremely accurate scan of feet or lasts in seconds. Many early studies of using 3D scanners to scan feet focused on whether they actually work. Here’s a meta study of foot scanning from 2010 which mentions that scanner and was published not long after my visit (totally unrelated). Did they accurately record the measurements of the foot? Yes. We know that the scanners, scan quickly and accurately. Interestingly, the paper notes that the actual obtaining of measurements is a bit more nuanced than you might think. There’s more to it than just the the linear circumference of the foot as a cross-section of the mesh.

Over the past 10 years, more scanners for feet have become available. Some new ways of obtaining scans have been developed as well, including different types of structured light, infrared and LIDAR. None currently compare to the old Class 3 red laser for accuracy and speed. It’s clear, however, that this technology is being used extensively now in the development of orthotics and prosthetics. I am wondering, “How useful is this for the custom shoemaker?”

This question was asked in a research study commissioned by the EU and published in 2003. In that study, however, the emphasis was really on integrating 3D scanning and customization and large scale custom production of footwear. As you may know by now, almost 20 years later, we are not strolling through the foot scanners and picking up shoes made just for us on the way out. The report from IDEA-Foot (2012) summarizes a pretty comprehensive approach for scan to shoe at smaller scale. Despite a fairly comprehensive understanding of what this might take, the scan to production at any scale has mostly just fizzled. What you see now is more of a digital Brannock device. For roughly $7,000 you can have a system that will match scans of feet with shoes you carry. In theory, that’s why you might organize your shoe inventory by size, but hey, it’s out there. It’s really a system to aggregate demographic information that could be used to inform shoe shapes and sizes, but it’s not scan to shoe customization large or small.

The chatter and hype around 3D scanning and shoes never seems to diminish. It’s like 20+ years of the self-driving car discussion. These are some of my questions:

  • Are some of these newer scanner types useful?
  • Can they improve the custom shoe making process as it is?
  • How and where is this sensible to apply 3D scanning and where is it just a time-wasting exercise in new technologies?

To start with, there is plenty of time wasting. It’s been months of struggle to get one usable scan. Let’s say you’re already a seasoned shoemaker who has previously developed applications for mobile platforms – they taught you that where you studied shoemaking, right? For example, to get this scan I had to complete the following steps.

  1. Install a UEFI bootable installation of the latest Macintosh OSX operating system in order to compile an application for a non-Macintosh operating system (iOS for iPad).
  2. Download and run the most recent version of XCode in order to compile the app for the most recent version of the iPad. (This assumes you already know how to use a beast like XCode to do anything.)
  3. Get the C++ SDK for iOS.
  4. Write some new C++ routines in order to simply save the obtained scan to the device.
  5. Sort out depth-sensing calibration issues.
  6. Arrange fixturing to get 360 degree access to the last.
  7. Scan!

Now I can officially get started gathering real data for my exploration. Stay tuned!

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