Microsoft's Kinect, a depth-sensor that has the ability to map the world around it in three directions, was a huge step forward for 3-D imaging. The Structure Sensor, which is currently burning up Kickstarter in only its first day on the crowdfunding site, wants to take the tech a step further.
A depth sensor like the Kinect can be used as a 3-D scanner, as a sort of photocopier for 3-D objects. You move the sensor slowly around an object to scan it, and that data can be used to create a file which can be sent to a 3-D printer like the Makerbot. Then you can print it out, essentially replicating (in plastic, but still) the real-world object. But the Kinect has some limitations; it wasn't designed as a 3-D scanner, but as a game accessory, so it's sort of tricky to use with a computer. Besides that, it isn't mobile and requires power from an outlet.
That's where the Structure Sensor comes in! It's a small sensor that clips onto the back of an iPad. Inside it has a depth sensor (using infrared projection) and an internal battery, and connects to the iPad via the USB port. The internal battery is a great idea; you charge the Structure Sensor up separately from the iPad, so it doesn't drain your iPad's battery while in use. It can sense objects best between 40 centimeters and 3.5 meters away.
The Structure Sensor is designed specifically to be used in a mobile environment and with a variety of operating systems and hardware; it's not an iPad-specific accessory, though that's what's recommended. It comes with a mounting bracket for the full-sized iPad 4, but you can pop it out of the bracket if you want to attach it to another tablet or device. Even cooler, if you want to attach it to a less-common device (sorry, Motorola Xyboard 8.2 owners), you can actually print out a plastic mount with a 3-D printer.
The project is blowing up on Kickstarter; today is its very first day of eligibility for funds, and in just a few hours, it's already broken the $70,000 mark. The goal is $100,000, but given that the project has 45 more days to go, it's pretty likely that it'll break that many times over. We'll keep a close eye on the project and see if we can get a look at it in person as it progresses.