Despite the difficult year we've all just been through, the 3D scanning market continues to grow. More than ever, life is becoming digitalized (a development accelerated by Covid-19), while the need for virtual solutions and information continues to be a priority. This trend will have a considerable impact on the 3D scanning industry as we enter a new year, and will influence developments in the field.
Augmented reality, virtual reality, 5G and automated manufacturing: these are the future trends in 3D scanning and its applications.
Augmented reality and virtual reality will become even more widespread
Remote collaborations and online events will continue next year, increasing the use of AR and VR by organizations that may never have relied on the technology before. Virtual reality will increasingly be used to make online training more stimulating and realistic - and, as a result, more effective. These training tactics could become the new norm for the many companies that are abandoning the office environment in favor of a remote structure.
VR and AR will also begin to reshape our face-to-face experiences. With museums no longer able to accommodate as many visitors as they once did, we'll see more of these establishments organizing larger exhibitions online. These tactics are already being adopted by major trade shows and events, which are scrambling to find new ways of connecting their visitors.
E-commerce is perhaps the most notable and sophisticated use of AR/VR, and many customers have already adopted it. Major online retailers are using applications that allow you to virtually place furniture and other objects in your real home. The pandemic has brought this technology to the attention of many customers who prefer to avoid physical stores. Retailers who don't yet use these tools are quickly falling behind.
3D scanning is essentially a portal between the real and the virtual. As instruments for transporting real scenes and objects into a virtual world, 3D scanners are crucial for the aforementioned applications. As a result, there will be increased demand for these tools. Indeed, manufacturers expect sales of 3D scanners to rise in 2021.
3D body scanning at home
Virtual fittings have recently seen rapid development thanks to 3D scanning. Using scanners, retailers are looking to create software capable of precisely fitting 2D and 3D images to human body models. We're so close to seeing production-ready technology that I think 2021 could be the year it becomes a reality.
This technology will have a huge impact on online shopping for clothes, shoes and other items that usually need to be tried on. What's more, it will pave the way for personalized clothing. Lingerie designers are already using this technology to design bespoke bras, and it's a safe bet that other companies will follow suit. While most of this scanning takes place face-to-face, we're not far from seeing mirrors with 3D scanning capabilities providing measurements to retailers.
3D scanning will also find its way into various fitness applications that will be able to estimate, track and analyze very precisely a person's body changes over the course of a sports training program. The successes of companies such as Peloton and other manufacturers of cutting-edge home fitness equipment have been propelled by the need for social distancing that emerged this year. Current demand for this technology could continue to grow.
More than ever, 5G will connect scanners
Another element to pay attention to in 2021: the development and increased deployment of 5G, which will offer the possibility of making 3D scanners that are always connected - "smart scanners". Scanners are beginning to be equipped with connectivity capabilities, which the addition of 5G will enhance more than ever. Whether you're in an office or in the field, smart 3D scanners will be able to upload data to databases in real time, harmonizing the whole process. What's more, this will speed up data sharing across the globe, as well as the sharing of research and information.
Recently, we took part in a 3D scanning project at an archaeological site in South Africa to scan a 2-million-year-old fossil. The scan data was almost immediately shared with the archaeologists' research lab, and was also used to train students in real time. The future development of 5G could accelerate this process even further - and at lightning speed. In addition, global companies could use 3D scan data to tackle engineering and product design challenges by mobilizing resources located in their various offices around the world.
Automated manufacturing and delivery
In 2021, we expect to see the biggest changes in robotics/automation. The recent shift to teleworking has led to a huge demand for automation of manufacturing and delivery processes. As a result, many research labs are focusing their efforts on this task, and many have already made considerable progress. This year, we're likely to see AI algorithms being used to control processes that would previously have required human intervention.
It is also crucial that AI applications include 3D vision and the ability to map environments so that technologies (such as autonomous robots) can operate in the real world without being limited to pre-programmed trajectories. Their ability to react to changes in their environment will be key to the development of these technologies and their intelligence in the years to come.
2020 will remain a year apart. In 2021, life will no doubt return to a certain normality, but the need for digitization will persist - and not only will it maintain the need for 3D scanning technologies, it will accelerate it.
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